If it IS broke, don’t fix it

Pub date June 30, 2009


Dear Andrea:

I met this guy ("Dave") a couple of years ago through other friends and we became friends. I think he was attracted to me, but we were both involved in relationships. Then both of us broke up with those other people, but not because of each other. We started running into each other more and hanging out, and got to be very good friends. One night we were kind of drunk and we kissed, and then agreed that we didn’t like each other that way. And then we did it again! So after that, we had sex. It was good and I thought, OK, so Dave and I are going out. We said the "I love you’s, and then a few weeks later, he said there was something stopping him from doing it with me any more — but he didn’t know what, it just felt wrong. He still wants to hang out and maybe have oral sex or something sometimes, though, just not sex, or being in a relationship. Then he changed his mind and we had sex and then he changed his mind AGAIN. So what is going on with him? What kind of things could be stopping him from having a relationship with me?


Dear Flum:

If we’re going to talk about this at all, we have to get our terminology right, so let me get schoolmarmish on you for a sec and say that oral sex is sex, so what he doesn’t feel "right" about is intercourse. And then let me turn Andrea-ish again and just say: "Run! Run for your life!"

Oh, it’s not that he rings some "that man is criminally insane" bell with me. He doesn’t. He does sound broken, though, in a way that is common, moderately inexplicable, and tedious. And if you keep messing around with him and trying to fix him you will get, if not broken yourself, certainly hurt. Why not not do that, while you still have a choice?

Here’s where I admit that, while dating advice is ostensibly part of my job and it’s my responsibility to keep up, I never could bring myself to read either The Rules or He’s Just Not That Into You. You don’t have to, either, since you had the good sense to write to me instead of spending a lot of money on gimmicky books. Here’s the secret, the nugget, the important truth buried under all the trendy exhortations to wait so many days before returning a phone call, or never to make excuses for a Person of Interest’s caddish behavior: it does not matter why someone does not behave toward you the way you would like him to; it only matters that he doesn’t.

Way back when my friends were all in law school, they named the "reasonable man" who is posited in many contracts law hypotheticals "Dave." So Dave remains for me the perfect fill-in-the-blank name, for reasonable and unreasonable men alike, like so:

Unless your Dave finds intercourse physically uncomfortable and has failed to adequately explain this, leaving you to assume that he does not want to have intercourse with you, he has some sort of intimacy issues. The act of intercourse, generally considered pretty intimate, tweaks these. Perhaps he was poorly treated in a previous relationship and fears a repeat. Maybe he was poorly parented, and thus has never been able to develop the sense of trust necessary to let down his guard and be truly intimate with you. Perhaps he has "performed" (I hate this concept, term, and usage, but it’s kind of unavoidable) poorly in the past and been jeered at or dumped for it and fears a repeat. Perhaps he .. but, wait. What did I just say, above?

None of it matters. As soon as you start thinking of him as wounded and wondering what happened to the poor lamb and how it could be remedied, you have started making excuses for his wretched behavior toward you. Unless you are both under, say, 19 (that’s majority plus one grace year I extend grudgingly), he has no business starting things with you that he is too damaged to follow through on. As an adult, it’s his responsibility to know what he is capable of and what he needs to work on before he’s in any position to promise anything.

"He’s just not that into you" may be reductivist, somewhat insultingly simple-minded, and insufficiently inclusive (what about shy guys who are that into you but too paralyzed with fear to call yet?), but the core concept is very useful: if you need to wheedle, support, excuse, or manipulate a guy into giving you what you want, he doesn’t really want to give it. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what you do. And offering yourself to him on terms that you find essentially unsatisfactory will gradually grind away at your self-esteem and joie de vivre until you don’t have any. And you’ll need those later.



Don’t forget to read Andrea at Carnal Nation.com.