Here’s a recent letter from a reader:
Hi Dr. Ali,
I enjoy every article you wrote and read them all. Most of all I read your wonderful book, The Tao of Dating. I wanted to ask for your opinion on my current situation. I am currently dating a man (has 3 kids by same woman who he was not married to and long distance, I know how you feel about long distance.)
He treats me like a queen, he is smart, educated and charming. But the man has emotional baggage! He has been hurt in the past and is afraid to love! Multiple times he had asked me to move in and I am considering it. My question to you is: Is there anything I can do or be that will help him learn to love again? I look forward to your response! Tara
Thanks for the kind words and the letter!
Wow. Sounds like a lot of things happening concurrently here. Long distance, 3 kids, emotional baggage. Well, let me ask you this, Tara:
Do you deserve a guy who treats you really well AND lives nearby, has no kids so he can give his attention to you and contemplate a future family with you? If not, then you should definitely move in with this guy — or any other guy who asks.
What I believe is that if you’re a smart, attractive, financially indepedendent woman, it’s like you’ve got money in your pocket and you’re looking for a restaurant. Do you go to McDonald’s or Jack in the Box just because they’re open and welcoming? Or do you hold out a little longer, maybe drive a few blocks more, where you can find true nourishment? And remember — once you’ve had the fast food lunch, there’s no room for the good stuff.
An exercise that would be instructive in this situation is to put a number on how likely it is that this is going to work. Relationships that start out really well (e.g. marriage) have a 50%+ failure rate in this country. So to start, you’re looking at a coin flip at the very best. Let’s say the strain of having 3 kids makes it another 10% less likely for it to work. Now you’ve got a 40% success rate. Living together also reduces the probability of it working out, let’s say another 10%, and the emotional baggage another 10%.
We are now down to a probability of this working out being about 20%. More instructively, the probability of it not working out is about 80%. It’s like asking if you’d stake your happiness and well-being on one roll of a die coming up the number 6. Is that a bet you would let your best friend take? Then you shouldn’t take it yourself, either.
There’s one more thing: “Is there anything I can do or be that will help him learn to love again?” This is a big no-no. The ability to love, like the ability to breathe, eat, and wipe his own butt, is one that you should require in your partner as a prerequisite. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of partnership — to love one another? This ‘helping him learn to love again’ business is a violation of one of my dating commandments: Thou shalt not save. You don’t run a rescue shelter, hon. This is your life and happiness we’re talking about, so please be loving to yourself first and quit trying to save others.
Let me give you another metaphor: love is like food. The best you can do is to cook up an amazing meal, set the table and invite him to it. If he chooses to join you — great! If not, it is not your job to chew the food for him and spoon feed it. If he’s not in a position to appreciate your offering, chances are there’s some other guy who does.
So recognize that moving in with this guy — which sounds like you have to move to a different city — precludes your ability to welcome some other guy into your life who’s a much better match for you. Although I haven’t met the guy you just described, it sounds like a big gamble. And if I were you, I wouldn’t gamble with my happiness. We are here to serve the world, and the world needs you to be the happiest, healthiest version of you. Always keep that in mind.
Dr Ali B