Dear Leather and Lace: I am a 50 yr old professional woman. I have lived with a man for approx. 9 years. We own a house together. He is company for me, and I love him like a brother but I have never felt romantic love for him. My immediate family has always lived about 2 hours away in a small town, so this man has really been my family. I don’t want to be (and am not) sexually intimate with the man I live with. My friends are great and I have other activities besides work that I enjoy, but I want love and romance, not just friendship and hobbies. Friendship is just not the same as having someone to really love. My profession (and a good job with good money) keeps me here, or I would move back home. I am not bad looking, but I am about 100 lbs overweight, so even if I was out on my own, the odds are not in my favor of finding romantic love. I have also tried to lose weight many times and have failed. Truthfully, food is the only thing I look forward to. To complicate the matter, I fell in love with someone online. We talked about meeting in person earlier on in the relationship, but I hesitated, first because of my weight, and later, because it seemed like he pulled back emotionally. We still tell each other how deeply we care for each other, but then I won’t hear from him for a couple of weeks. I don’t think he is married because I have his home phone and have talked to him on it in the middle of the night. When I ask him if he truly cares for me, he says he does, but he won’t discuss his feelings for me beyond that. All I want is the truth, so I finally insisted that we meet in person or end the relationship. He agreed to meet, but then never acted on it. I am hurt that I am in a relationship that doesn’t seem to have a future, but I don’t have anything else. I feel so unwanted and so stuck. I cry practically every day. I feel that with my in-person boyfriend and my online boyfriend, things are just so stalled. I just want to break free of this chained feeling I have for my online man, and the man I live with. What should I do?
Barbara in chains
Alison’s Take: It is time to break those chains, Barbara!
You tell us that you’re living with someone you say you don’t love and aren’t romantically attracted to, and you want more. But you didn’t mention whether the man you live with is happy with this arrangement, either. You did care for each other enough to buy property and live together, so there must have been some kind of connection. Only you know if there is something worth re-kindling, or perhaps, pursuing. But if you don’t act at all, don’t you think staying stuck in this relationship is cheating this man you are living with as well as yourself? How does he feel about living with someone who is unhappy and who isn’t romantically involved with him? Have you ever considered his feelings? Neither of you should feel obligated to live with someone you don’t really want to be with. If you aren’t happy with how, where and with whom you live, a good job a house aren’t ever going to make life better.
My relationship advice in this case is that inaction is also actually the strongest action. When it comes to your online friend, if you really wanted a romantic (and genuine) relationship with this man and neither of you have made it happen yet, it isn’t likely you’re going to force it now. But based on what you told us, your relationship is completely an online fantasy, and there isn’t much else to bind the two of you together. Couples do meet online, and when they take things off-line, can end up being real lovers outside of the virtual world. But the Internet is also a place for fantasy, experimentation, and deception. Cloaked in the relative anonymity of the net anyone can be who they desire to be. Until you meet in person, you can’t really know who you are dealing with. For all you know, your online love is a 90 year old man! Online, as in person, you can’t make a relationship what you want just by wishing for it.
That being said, this man fills some of your need for a romantic connection, but what is his motivation to continue this? Maybe he just wants a fun fantasy. Maybe he is ambivalent about women. Maybe he knows you want something real, and he doesn’t, because he doesn’t think he would be attracted to you. Maybe he’s in another relationship he doesn’t tell you about. The point is, actions speak louder than words. If either or both of you really wanted this to be a real relationship in every sense of the word, nothing would have stopped you from meeting in person. What do you really know about this man other than the fantasy you have formed in your head about him? I think if you met in person now, the fantasy would be shattered, and you would break that “chain” around your heart for him, for good. But an easier way is just to realize that this is not a healthy connection for you. Stop emailing him and calling him, Yes, it will feel like a big loss, but it’s like ripping off a band-aid. There will be an initial sting, but then it stops hurting and there is more healing. You will break free and can move on to other issues that may be blocking your happiness. As long as you you allow him to contact you, and disappoint you, he is one of your “chains.”
Which brings me to the issue of your weight. 100 pounds is a lot of extra weight. It’s really unhealthy and I’m guessing, adds to your depression. It is a chain, too. In a perfect world, how you look wouldn’t matter, but in the real world, appearances do matter. Being this overweight is a self-imposed prison that is a big part of what is keeping you stuck without the love you want and the live you want to lead. It seems as though you are using food to fill in the missing and unsatisfying pieces in your life. If you are feeling unloved and lonely, Overeaters Anonymous and even programs like Weight Watchers offer the kind of support and camaraderie that can sometimes help people feel less alone and offer support and motivation to change in every way. If you haven’t tried one of these support mechanisms yet, now is the time. This may be the first thing you might consider.
There is a lot more to life, and you deserve to have it all, but even losing the extra weight, and moving back to your home town, won’t make you happy or give you a sense of well-being if the other parts of your life aren’t working well. This is the time to figure out what you really want and really need, and start moving toward the changes you know you need to make. I am not suggesting that this will be quick or easy, but the journey starts now. Maybe moving back home and relying on your family for a while, doing with less, financially, would be ample compensation for getting back the lust for life and love that apparently been dead inside you for years. If being safe and comfortable are more important and/or if you think you can make your existing home life satisfying enough, then you will make your peace with it and stop trying to satisfy the emptiness with food and unsatisfying, fantasy, relationships.
Tony’s Take: You have two separate but related problems, a weight problem, and a relationship problem, so I will address them separately.
One’s weight is often an expression of what we think of ourselves. We eat for comfort and then justify being un-loveable because we are overweight. At 100 lbs overweight you are right at the limit of what a normal diet can be successful in helping you and at this point if you are serious about losing weight you may have to consider surgery. Under all circumstances you must see a doctor before you start dieting in order to check for medical conditions that will affect your diet , and then see you doctor again every two or three months as s/he suggests (see my thoughts on dieting under the “Our Thoughts On —” tab).
As for your relationships, the world is a scary place and we need someone to hold who wants to hold us in return. We are all correctly seeking someone who we can be passionate about and who is passionate about us in return. But good relationships are not built on sex (half the long term relationships do not involve sex), they are built on companionship. Do you enjoy being around this person, do you respect this person, do you enjoy talking to this person and doing things with this person? In short do they bore you or not? Boredom is the killer of relationships.
In your case you have found someone who is at least a friend and possibly more than that to you. Someone who has accepted you at your self-defined worst and is still with you. You currently have more than many women have or would be happy with, yet you are not. Any relationship is what you make of it and how much effort you put into it. Your home life sucks because you have not taken what is a de facto marriage and worked on it as a true relationship. Instead, you have treated him like he is a roommate and nothing more. Have you tried to make him feel appreciated? Have you arranged times out together which are fun? Have you dressed just to be attractive to him? Made him feel loved and cared for? If you did these things he would respond and you might find there is an awful lot to love and like about him.
Romantic love is like a drug, it is a high and it is a rush, but like any drug it burns you out. You may love someone forever but the ultra-passionate phase does not last for more than 18 months (this, from the women I have talked to about it). After the high, like sex, you are left in a warm comfortable place, sure in the relationship and the person but no longer consumed by the relationship. After a time you will again discover the passionate phase of the relationship, but the time is fleeting and the intervals may be long. You, Barbara are looking for that “high,” but are unwilling to be the person it can happen with.
Let’s look at your internet relationship. An online relationship is double blind, he does not know who you really are or what you really look like so you can be the person you want to be. Likewise you know nothing about him or what he looks like and he is free to be anyone he wants to be. He was initially attracted by your charm and wit, but people who are extending themselves emotionally are very sensitive to behavior which is less than accepting of them. You forced him to conclude that you were not really interested, romantically, but rather you wanted emotional support and friendship. Since a real relationship was his objective and since any new relationship has to have a certain velocity to keep it exciting, the relationship died. There is an old expression “if you haven’t been intimate by the tenth date you never will be” which lends enlightenment here. To be brutally honest, he now considers you just a friend and the times he disappears are when he is courting a new woman. When that relationship fails he again has time for you.
But what is more interesting is what you did not say. When we are interested in someone new we try to look our best and be our best (which in your case would have been to start on a diet and stick to it). You might flirt outrageously with him, enticing and holding him for the year it would take you to get to a manageable weight (or more, to reach your goal weight). You have instead used your weight as a shield, making it the reason you are un-loveable and keeping people away.
The issues with making your internet lover work are legion. You need to be someone who he can be attracted to in real life, which means taking care of yourself, losing weight, dressing right and then seducing him with a series of small pictures, starting with your foot in sexy high heels, then your hand in an elegant glove, one a week till you are ready to reveal your body and then your face. Sadly you are your own worst enemy here. Many people are “serially monogamous”, they will stick to their current relationship, no matter how bad, because they feel accepted and will not switch to a new relationship until they feel an equal level of acceptance, which is hard to accomplish while still in a relationship. This does sound like your situation, to me.
Tony’s Response to Alison: I agree with Alison, that 100 pounds is hard to ignore: You are who you look to be, and it doesn’t matter what is inside as far as strangers, are concerned. They judge you by what personal care you take of yourself, how you wear your hair and makeup, what clothes you wear, how you talk, how you hold yourself, how you interact with others (Do you smile? Do you express interest in other people?). At 100 pounds overweight without saying one word Barbara is making the statement: “I don’t care about myself and I don’t care enough about you to look good for you.” It’s a double whammy. I am not talking about beauty or plainness — you can be plain looking but use what you have to be very attractive.
I also agree with your observation that online relationships are fantasy: I did not bring this up enough in my reply. Online, we use words to create an image, but it is the other person’s interpretation of those words and their investing of their own hopes and dreams into that image, which creates the reality of you in their mind. We can all see this effect when we first read someone’s online profile, we lock into words, expressions, activity preferences, physical attributes and interests to create a fantasy about how great this person would be to know and date. As we connect, the image is modified, but is always at the core of our thinking. This is why many internet relationships do not survive the first real life meeting.
Finally I agree with everything you said, especially “Actions speak louder than words”, or to quote the New York Lottery “You have to be in it to win it.” If you change nothing in your life, wishing is not going to change it. You actively have to work at life and relationships. If you ignore them they will ignore you.
Alison’s Response to Tony: Tony, I think you came up some excellent thoughts, and ideas to help Barbara break free of her chains, and find the happiness she wants. But I’m not sure I agree with you that her live-in boyfriend/friend is someone that she should spend the rest of her life with, if she has no romantic attraction (we don’t know if she ever did). Most women really do need romance in their lives, and if she’s not going to get it from the man she lives with and indulges her fantasy life online online, she will continue to crave what she doesn’t have. I do think, however, they Barbara needs to have a serious talk with the man she lives with to re-define their goals separately and together. That way, hopefully, they can nurture one another in at least some (if not all) of the ways that make life bearable.
I also agree with your thoughts on Barbara’s online relationship in terms of fantasy vs. reality. We don’t know (and apparently, neither does she) the real reasons why this man is yanking her romantic chain, connecting with her and then blowing her off. What I am fairly certain of, however, is that every time he does it, she feels bewildered and unhappy, validating her own insecurities that she isn’t worthy of real love. Men are hunters. If this man was really interested in making her online relationship a real one, he would be relentless in pursuit. As we agreed, actions speak louder than words.
I liked your idea of a seduction plan. I’d never thought of that as way to handle what might be viewed by some as a disability or a negative. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for Barbara to try it online, while she works on herself in real life. In fact, doing so would save her from having to go out and face the “meet market” right now when doesn’t feel or present herself as a happy person. However, I still think her online relationship might be better served by ending it. It’s not going anywhere. The seduction plan you suggest is better used on a new man who doesn’t already have, as you suggested, a fixed notion of who she is. But more importantly, working on personal satisfaction by engaging with people in the real world, and spending less time fantasizing on the computer, will help change her life for the better, forever.