“My boyfriend hasn’t proposed yet. Should I break up with him?”: On devotion, garden gnomes & eating menus
An excellent letter here that brings up issues about commitment, devotion, masculine and feminine essence, the map and the territory:
Three years after my divorce from a marriage of 22 years, I met this wonderful guy. We are both in our 50s. When we met 1.5 years ago, I made it clear that I was looking for a partner with whom to spend the rest of my life. He said he was on the same mission. We’ve been inseparable since then. Last year, I was diagnosed for breast cancer and he was there for me the whole time. He is a very devoted, compassionate person. He expressed his love for me over and over and said he would marry me. But until now he hasn’t proposed to me yet.
Because of his professed love and intentions, I was expecting a proposal, but since it wasn’t coming, I was getting frustrated. I threatened to break up with him a few times, but he would always spring back to me saying his life is meaningless without me. Then why he wouldn’t propose? I told him I don’t want to force him do things if that’s not his desire. I asked him please let me go if the marriage is not his plan because I don’t want to continue the relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend. He said, “You don’t make me feel special to like you used to,” and “Marriage is from both parties. What is your contribution to that?”
I finally gave him an ultimatum few weeks ago, because I was really tired of the situation. He is very quiet now. My questions are: What’s going on in a man’s mind when he said I am the love of his life and he would marry me, but not acting on his word? Did I made a good decision giving him the ultimatum? Or did I chase a good man away by acting on my emotions focusing on marriage? — Maria from Canada
A long time ago, on a tiny blue planet in the Milky Way galaxy, I picked up this book called Tao Te Ching. And Chapter 36 of this book got me to thinking, “Y’know, this sounds relevant to a lot of life. Especially relationships.” Which may be why this chapter I have quoted more than any other. It goes like this:
If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception of the way things are.
The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.
Of course, the first time I read this, it blew my head to smithereens. What the hell does it mean that before you can shrink something, you must allow it to expand? The slow overcomes the fast, the soft overcomes the hard? It’s all paradox! THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!
Ahh, but it does. Let’s think about this line:
“If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.”
Let’s say I’m interested in a woman, so I want her phone number. I could just go up to her and say, “Hey, what’s your phone number?” Points for boldness, yes, but with significant room for improvement. Instead, what if I spoke to her for a few minutes, inquired about her thoughts, passions, and values, found her charming and delightful, and then suggested an event — a talk, a concert, a reading — that nicely meshed with her worldview? Then she just might say, “Omigod, that sounds great! I’d love to do that. Here’s my number.” Instead of taking something, I have created the circumstances that make giving that thing to me the most natural thing in the world.
While we’re on stereotypes, let’s say a woman wants commitment from a guy. She can say, “Hey, where’s my ring?” Or she can create the circumstances such that the man feels supported, strong, 50 feet tall and capable of moving mountains. He’s sitting there, shaking his head, telling his friends, “Man, I can’t believe how good she is to me. What have I done to deserve this? I ain’t never letting this one go.” And that’s when a man’s thinking goes from “I’ve got a good thing going, so heck, I’ll stick around a little longer” to “I need to lock this down now because I’m never gonna find this anywhere else.”
That, my lovelies, is feminine Goddess Power — the power to make the people around you feel like a trillion bucks. It is the power of devotion. It is real power, because it is always at your disposal and can never be taken away from you.
This is the thing that makes you irresistible. As in, who the hell in their right mind would want to resist that? “No thank you. I do not want to feel supported, told that I’m the greatest partner in the world, feel like I can move mountains. I’m just gonna go sit in the corner over there and do my best imitation of a neglected garden gnome.”
Now, Maria, let’s see what’s happening with you. You say he’s devoted and compassionate. You guys have a great time together. And he stood by you during the cancer thing. Sounds like you have a good thing going with a standup guy.
And yet, you have chosen to strain the relationship. He’s saying things like “you don’t make me feel special to like you used to” and “marriage is from both parties; what’s your contribution to that?”
Now I understand that you went into this relationship with marriage in mind. And he was on board with that. Cool. Now I’d like you to imagine a conversation he’s having with his best friend about how he finally arrived at the decision to marry you:
BEST FRIEND: So, what made you decide to pop the question, bro?
YOUR GUY: You know, she was just… so… demanding. Like, hounding me about it day after day, that I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s so hot. I’d be a fool to let her go.”
And if you’re having a difficult time imagining this conversation, it’s because it has never happened in the history of mankind. Actually, he’s much more likely to be turning the Janet Jackson question around and saying, “What has she done for me lately?”
The second issue, which is more subtle, Maria, is that by insisting that he marry you, you’re putting yourself in a no-win situation. It’s possible that your reminders of his not keeping his word will make him feel less trusted and irritate him enough to leave. Then, both parties lose.
Or he buckles under your demands and proposes. Now you’ve got yourself a man whose masculine essence you can’t really trust, because he hasn’t been true to himself. And if he does marry you, he’s doing it only grudgingly. Once again, both parties lose.
The third issue is this, Maria: what’s important to you about this marriage thing anyway? I mean, if you really love someone and he loves you back, why do we need to bring the lawyers in? Do they somehow make the party better? Where does this insistence on a piece of paper, a ring of metal on your finger come from? What would having that do for you?
I can imagine that for two young folks who want to have kids and raise a family together, there are practical aspects of marriage that make it desirable — kids having the same last name, taxes, finances, etc.
But if you’ve already had a 22-year long marriage and grown kids, what’s important to you about this contract? Is it some kind of hedge against abandonment? Some legitimacy you crave, formalized by the state? What is it?
I would encourage folks to consult Stephanie Coontz’s excellent Marriage: A History – How Love Conquered Marriage. (ebook and paperback). This whole notion that “if you love me, you will marry me” is a very recent fabrication in the history of mankind, and a potentially pernicious one.
Because this much I can tell you: none of those shards of paper or metal will protect you against the deterioration of a relationship in which you aren’t showing up as your best, most generous, supporting, loving self.
This is the age-old conflict between the map and the territory, and how as symbol-binding creatures, we often give preference to the map over the territory, the menu over the food. And then, having chosen the menu over the food, wonder why we’re still hungry.
It sounds to me, Maria, that you already have the substance of a good relationship: mutual support, shared interest, quality time, and real love. You’ve got the food. However, your insistence on the menu — the marriage certificate — seems to be compromising the relationship.
So you have two choices here. You can continue to put your foot down and say, “This is what I signed up for, and by golly, this is what I’ll get. True, I’ll be lonely, but I’ll be right and lonely.” The world would have a little less love in it and be slightly impoverished for the decision.
Or, you can set him free. You can go back to appreciating him, enjoying his company, and making him feel like a zillion bucks. You can say stuff like, “You add so much to my life, and I think I may have been a little misguided in my insistent demands for marriage. It’s true that it’s important to me, but it’s not more important than the relationship we have. And if you arrive at that decision some day, I would welcome it, but I’d prefer that you do it out of your own free will and to find your own reasons to propose if that’s what you want to do.”
If you do that, you improve the chances that someday, he’ll come around to the decision himself. And if not, you still have the food — the actual relationship — which tastes so much better than the menu, y’know?
So, to summarize: Devoted is irresistible; demanding is not. When you question your partner’s trust, you’re effectively invalidating his masculine essence, which puts you in a no-win situation. And be careful that you’re not trading real, nourishing tasty food for a tasteless menu made of fake leather.
Online class vs therapy?
Dear Dr Ali – I’ve been using love as a drug for some years now, going after guys who were clearly no good for me because I needed the love and validation. I am now considering either going for therapy or signing up for one of your online classes. I’ve almost signed up for your class 100 times. Do you think your program would help me? — Helen
Excellent question, Helen! I believe you’re referring to Project Irresistible. And if you’re asking me, if i didn’t think it was helpful, I wouldn’t have created it :)
That said, the class is useful for a few reasons:
1) It guides you through the exercises in The Tao of Dating. Have you done all of them? Don’t know anyone who has. People often say they read the book in one sitting, but this is a cookbook, for chrissakes. If you want to learn how to cook, you must practice making the recipes. Speed reading ain’t gonna do it. The course puts you through the steps.
2) It’s self-paced (recommended: 6 weeks), so you have time for the learnings to integrate. I mean, we’re looking to effect fundamental shifts in habits of thought and mind, and that takes time.
3) As you go through the course, stuff is going to come up. “Hey, why is this exercise so challenging?” “Why am i not comfortable doing this?” “Why does this feel so much better than what i was doing before?” That’s when you stop, pay attention, and go deeper.
4) The whole thing costs less than a single session of therapy — especially with a $100 off coupon. Use discount code “SPRINGY” to bring the price of Project Irresistible from an already reasonable $247 down to a no-brainer $147 for the first 20 to sign up. After you’ve registered, give me about 24hrs to process your registration and you’re good to go.
By popular request, I’ll be doing three therapy sessions per week via Skype on Thursdays. Time slots are 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm Pacific Time. Write to me directly and put “I want a session!” in the subject line, and include your PayPal address. $175 for a 60min session.
Incidentally, ladies, this is how I make a living — through books, courses and workshops. So when you sign up for these things, get my book, or audiobook, or tell your friends about them, it helps me pay my exorbitant San Francisco rent and to pay Uncle Sam’s impressive tax bill so I can keep writing for you and create solutions for a happier, more fun and fulfilled life. Thanks for your ongoing support!
Fri, May 6, online – “The New Way to Date” teleseminar series put on by my friend and colleague Alicia Ashley. Free to sign up and listen.
Mon May 9, San Francisco, 6.30-8.30pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself: Advanced Techniques for Overcoming Heartbreak, Phobias and Trauma.” I’m excited to bring some new techniques from recent trainings I’ve attended. This is powerful (and fun!) stuff. Location: Downtown San Francisco. $40-$50. Sign up here.
Thu May 13, Los Angeles, 7pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself.” Location to be announced — if you know of a good spot, or if you are able to host 15-20 people in your office or living room, esp on the Westside, that would be super useful.
Sat May 14, Los Angeles, 11am-5pm – I’ll be speaking at TEDx Echo Park: Paradigm Shift. My talk’s called “Happiness Engineering: A New Paradigm for Success.” TEDx events are usually fun, and I know a couple of the other speakers to be pretty cool. I’m scheduled to be the first talk. Tickets are $45 and available here. I’m not necessarily endorsing this event since I’m not putting it on. But do feel free to swing by if you’re local and the topic interests you.