To me, this guy sounded merely clueless. OK, deeply clueless. But he supports and listens to her and appreciates her, and he bent over backwards to fix the problem once she brought it to his attention. Does he feel, very strongly, that she's not hot enough? I don't get that impression. I think she demanded honesty, asked too many questions and now she doesn't know what to do with the information she squeezed out of him. Very typical clumsy young love maneuvers happening on both sides, but tough to tell if there's something stronger pulling them together in spite of all of this fumbling. I gave them both the benefit of the doubt on that front, but I totally agree that, generally speaking, feeling like you need to improve your looks for someone is bullshit.
I had this boyfriend who used to raise his eyebrows whenever I ate cheese. CHEESE. See also: my one true forever lover. DON'T MAKE YOURSELF THE SWORN ENEMY OF CHEESE, MOTHERFUCKER, BECAUSE YOU WILL LOSE THAT BATTLE EVERY TIME.
@davidwatts "Is it possible to love someone to whom you are not especially physically attracted?"
Yes, they're called friends. Good ones don't shit all over their friends' appearances constantly.
@Squirrel Bait I don't know. People have different needs. Some people need more space, some people need more contact. It's good to talk about what you need. The letter writer needs more contact--maybe this dude just needs more space. Maybe he just wants things to remain casual, maybe he just wants to move slowly into a serious relationship? There might not be a single thing "wrong" with him…except for the same thing that's "wrong" with letter writer, IE the inability to speak up about what he wants.
Just speaking from experience, as a guy who likes to take it slow. My BF likes to move fast. We talked about it early on and worked it out. 1.5 years later, smooth sailing, mostly. Talking is just good. As is not judging other people just because they've got different needs.
Wait, wait, wait. The LW says that she has been with this guy for three months. It is now mid-February. So even if we assume that this letter has been sitting in Polly's inbox for a few weeks, they had only been together maybe two months tops at Christmas. That seems way too soon to be reading a lot of things into the valediction on a dumb Christmas card.
That said, I think the LW needs to move on. Have the conversation if you want to (if nothing else, it might be good practice at expressing your needs), but I doubt this is the complex, emotionally available man you seek. In my personal experience, when it's right, it's easy. Easier than you even thought possible. There is no anxiety about wondering how to make the other person care. Because when two people are mutually crazy about each other, it would be tough to STOP them from being in regular contact with each other.
Also, I knew this relationship was doomed as soon as she started analyzing all the differences between this relationship and the current one, how the intellectual connection is different and the communication is different and blah blah blah. . .one thing I have realized is that if you are analyzing a relationship to death it means it's just not right. When you meet the right person, you won't have to spend endless hours figuring out whether this or that thing is OK because it'll just be. . .right. I completely forget about this rule every time I fall head over heels for some wrong-for-me moron, but it's become very easy for me to spot it in my friends.
@Sharilyn Neidhardt This is true, and as you mention, those normal, non-vampire are harder to find. They are especially harder to find, as Polly aptly points out, if you don't have a strong sense of who you are, what you're doing, what the value of that is, that you are the protagonist in your own life. These dudes who offer immediate, intense affirmation parading as love or even amorous feelings of any kind are a welcome distraction if you don't have all of those questions figured out or if you dislike who you are a little bit but too tired to do the work to change that.
Somewhat recently, actually, I met someone who instantly wanted to exchange a zillion texts a day and spend all his free time talking to me and told me how great I was and how intense the connection he'd felt when we met was. And he was smart and good looking, and we actually had a lot to say to each other, and I was mired in a several-months-long job hunt that left my self-esteem, my sense of purpose in life, and my sense that I was really writing my own story, totally ravaged. I had been in therapy before, and it had taken 2 years of solid work to build this sense of self (my issues before were pretty different), and then some weird stuff happened, and I fell into a vortex of questioning every positive conclusion I'd managed to come to about myself. Was I *really* that smart, or had I simply been fooling everyone and myself for a quarter century? Was I *actually* interesting, or were the people who loved me just humoring me and then secretly rolling their eyes when I left the room? Was my family *actually* supportive of my newfound career ambitions, or were they just smiling politely while desperately hoping I'd come around to something more 'respectable'--and, if the latter, were they right that my new aims and goals were stupid, even though I was passionate about them? Etc. I had a lot of work to do on myself, but I just hoped that I'd find work and it would magically fix everything.
And then I met this dude who was really gorgeous and interesting and chivalrous, and we spent hours one magical evening looking into each other's eyes and talking about I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT because I'd been drinking for hours, but man, that was INTENSE. And he seemed to think I was the bees knees, and since I wasn't entirely sure he was right, I got really invested in him because I felt that he probably saw something beautiful and worthy about me, and that if I stuck with him he could help me relocate what had been lost. So for several weeks we talked constantly (he did not live in my same city, but near enough so that visiting was easy), and then when I saw him again, the magic was gone. Because the person he'd felt so intensely about was entirely a projection: it wasn't me--even if I had been at my best, this ideal woman he'd imagined I was would STILL not have been me, because it turns out, blech, I have almost nothing in common with this man. And in addition to being my projection, the person I'd gotten so wrapped up in was sort of an affirmation of what I wanted to believe about myself but for which the realities of my life were no longer serving as evidence. This is actually humorous to me now because we were so completely incompatible in a way that would have been glaringly obvious if we had spent more than an evening talking in person.
So then he disappeared and I was confused and hurt, and since I was not thinking about myself as the person whose feelings and happiness and emotional safety should be my first priority at that time, I spent a while trying to get a hold of him and figure out what went wrong. He'd given me this artificial and temporary sense of stability and a feeling that, if he found me valuable, I must be, so then when that was gone, I felt worse than I had before I met him, because it seemed to confirm that, I'd been right before, I'm just not that great or valuable.
I don't think this dude was a vampire, but there were red flags. I do think he was lonely and hadn't had a relationship in a while. And it only hit me when, as we finally had a conversation (which, had I been more grounded and sure of myself I would not have needed so desperately to have with him before moving forward), he said that things had just stopped being "magical" and that he didn't feel a connection with me after all, that I realized, HM, maybe this man has some underdeveloped understandings about love and how you treat even someone you've decided you're no longer interested in (i.e., not by disappearing off the face of the planet and forgetting that that person is a person with feelings). So best of luck to him, but I've not spoken to him since and do not regret that for a second.
However, this experience was really a wakeup call in that it compelled me to address, somewhat painfully, how I got there. I started therapy again. I confronted the stuff in my life that was daunting to me that I had been procrastinating addressing, and that was making me feel horrible and dumb and worthless. And I took a good long break from dating, because who was I, even? Like, how would I present myself to the world, if I didn't even like myself that much? My friends didn't really seem to grasp this but I knew it was the right move. I 'relapsed' a couple of times, if you will, hooking up on a few occasions with a (different, local) dude who actually probably IS a vampire and makes me feel like shit and like I don't matter, and who still occasionally contacts me late at night (even though we haven't actually seen each other in several months) when presumably he feels lonely and is reaching out for anything, but preferably a warm body with nice boobs who put up with his shitty treatment. Eff that noise. A lady with a fragile, newfound sense of self doesn't need any of that shit in her life. She needs her friends, her cat, some lemon zinger, and some mind-expanding reading. I found exciting work, I moved, I leaned into my passion and applied to graduate school. But I'm still dating only lightly, because right now I'm busy doing me, and if I get invested in anyone I'll mess up the progress I've made.
TL;DR: Great advice Polly. Found myself in a comparable situation recently, sort of stumbled my way through the actions you recommend taking, and feel like I wish I'd had this column 9 months ago. Also even non-vampires can be vampiric. And some dudes are just vampires. And the ones who aren't are hard to spot if you're not emotionally healthy.
@Danzig! @MikeBarthel I think the most video games-y thing I can say about video games is that the smartest, most sensitive, intelligent, socially and culturally and aesthetically aware writing about them is done on a website called "Rock, Paper, Shotgun."
Any gamer reader this is going to have quibbles about what you left out so I'll just say this: I think games are at present the most diverse, vibrant, and healthy artistic medium going. There is simply great stuff available for every taste and at every brow-level, not just the conceptual indies and AAA blockbusters discussed here, but a vast range of everything in between (and off to the side, too). Like Paradox's strategy offerings. Or the incredibly detailed military/racing simulators and their fanatical fans. Or the explosion of roguelikes. But it has to be taken on its own terms. How do you describe the way narrative emerges from the ludic elements of something like DayZ, or FTL, or Crusader Kings II, using the language of any other medium? Most of the gaming critics at the intellectual level of "ARE GAMES ART?" already find the question tiresome.
And the amazing thing is that, even with games being cheaper than ever for the consumer, creating them is remunerative in a way that painting and poetry and even journalism haven't been in a long time. The makers of Hotline Miami probably earned more money last year than America's best-regarded up-and-coming poet. I'd also be willing to bet that Notch has made more money from Minecraft in 2013 than Robin Thicke did from Blurred Lines. That's a crass way to measure an artform, but without the money we wouldn't have nearly so much interesting stuff happening. I think fading cultural industries (e.g. literary publishing) could learn a lot, if they wanted to listen.
Finally, I should point out the fact that many games critics (notably Rock Paper Shotgun -- whose GOTY was Kentucky Route Zero) intentionally don't give numerical scores or thumbs up/thumbs down ratings even when they do reviews because of how badly Metacritic scores are abused by the industry -- I guess a lot of game execs went to Harvard because a 7/10 is considered an absolute failure. So runs of "perfect" reviews simply don't mean the same thing as they would in another medium.
@Danzig! Oh hey, wow, all good points. I think what I was trying to say is that focusing on either AAA or indie would be a fine approach, but they're very different approaches. I totally agree that big-budget games are like big-budget movies in many ways, and I think they can be justified as art in the same way film critics did in the 60s/70s (Cahiers, Kael, etc.) - through appeal to something like auteur theory and championing their populist appeal. (Is there a Kaelian games critic out there doing like libidinal critiques of Skyrim?) But as a music critic, I know that ultimately one view tends to win out: all rock music is now judged by the standards of punk, even though there are a lot of different versions of rock critics could champion. So will critics decide that AAA games aren't "really art" and focus on the indie stuff? Or will the big-budget standards win out, as they seem to have in film criticism? Or maybe they can coexist!
@tealily what will happen when you have to face a trauma together? when you have a baby who gets sick, a dog you have to put down, a hard job situation? That's why the reaction is important: it determines whether he can show up when both of you have to deal with something together as a team. Perhaps you don't see yourself getting married to this guy -- oh wait, I just saw you do. Maybe you have a familial or friend structure where you will have people to lean on no matter what when it comes to trauma, and maybe that's okay for you -- but personally I can't understand why you would be okay with it. What does he give you if not a shoulder to lean on, a partner in strife?
Beyond that, do you show up for him? Has he not been through trauma in the past few years? Something tells me either he hasn't, or he doesn't discuss it with you. If it's the former, you will grow out of him. If it's the latter, then maybe you should ask yourself why you are fine not guiding him through trauma. Also, maybe it's option #3, where you DO guide him through trauma -- are you okay with you being there for him and not vice versa?
OR OR you will go through trauma or grief together and will both show up and will be there for each other. But I don't know if I see that happening...