Editor’s note: In case you missed them, catch up on Nikki’s previous Dating Diaries posts here.
One of the scariest things my maybe-ex-maybe-current boyfriend ever told me was that even though he had been in love before, he always knew that he wasn’t as happy as he should be, or feel things as much as he should. He could see the good things in the women he was with, and enjoy the relationships he was in, but he just felt a little removed from the emotions he thought should be there — and it wasn’t because of the women, it was because of him.
I don’t usually worry if a person feels uncomfortable using the word “love” — culturally, it carries a lot of weight. But it worries me a man my age might think love is a thing he can’t attain. And to me, “should” is a word that shouldn’t apply to feelings because no one can dictate or control that, not even you.
Right now, I’m in a purgatory with my ex. We’ve been seeing each other a few times a week. And I keep thinking that it has to stop or we have to start dating for real, with his commitment offered and apparent. But the days kind of pass by as we continue to enjoy each other’s company and I only worry about getting my heart broken when he’s not around (which is most of the time).
Related: 5 Bad Reasons To Move In Together
The last time I saw him, we both used the word love for the first time ever. It felt like a thunderbolt hit me when he said it. But we’re still not really dating? He tells me he’s scared because he wants to move away to a foreign country this summer and he doesn’t want to go through the pain of leaving a relationship behind. But we’re still seeing each other and ostensibly growing closer every time, whether he calls me his girlfriend or not. I want him to call me his girlfriend because it means that I can count on him to be there…until I can’t. The label doesn’t prevent him or anyone, really, from walking out on me any day, but it just feels safer.
I don’t know how he could be afraid of both not being able to love me enough and loving me to the point of intolerable pain, but he isn’t the only late-20s man I know that has expressed these kinds of fears. One of my past boyfriends told me that he liked me, but what he felt for me didn’t equal love, love being what he read about in poems (he was an English major). I can’t believe I actually did this, but like some kind of Love 101 professor, I tried to convince him that love isn’t like love in books or movies. It isn’t grand or all-consuming and what he felt for me was probably good enough. It wasn’t, two years later when we broke up, and I don’t know if he ever believed me.
One of my best guy friends knocked on my door a few months ago when he was really upset. It was the first time I had ever seen him not perfectly composed, and the first time he ever talked to me about his dating life in any specific way. His girlfriend had just broken up with him after dating for over three years. But not one day in those three years did he call her his girlfriend. He was 100% faithful to her, and spent the night and took her to brunch and bought her presents, but she was the only one to admit to being more than friends. That day, he told me that he felt like an “unwilling participant” in that relationship and that he didn’t feel any differently about her than he did about me, a close, platonic friend. But that can’t be true, can it? He certainly treated her differently than he treats me. Worse, he told me that he is afraid he doesn’t know how to feel at all.
Obviously these men can feel something. My friend has been there for me during tough times, been sensitive and caring. My ex did tell me he loved me and my ex before that dated me for several years. But those emotions and our level of connection wasn’t quite what they expected somehow. I understand (in a crying, pathetic way) if a man I’m dating doesn’t love me because I’m just not the one for him. But it scares me that I’m facing a generation of men who just feel it is beyond them.
What’s hardest about it is that it’s not something I can fix. If my ex-boyfriend experiences some kind of hollowness, or my friend doesn’t know how to feel, certainly no girl can fill that void or teach him how to love. You just have to let them go after a while, even if they’re cute, funny, smart and kind, and it kind of feels like letting them fall.
Maybe it’s just these certain men that I somehow find myself around, but I can see it being more far-reaching. Guys are raised to not share their feelings and girls are taught that marriage is the ultimate. There was bound to be a huge gap in how we meet in the middle. Is this normal? Is this even just limited to men? Is this how it’s going to be going forward?