I have a problem that basically boils down to “unfortunately this guy I’m seeing hasn’t found your books and columns yet,” but of course the situation is a little more nuanced than that.
I’m in my late 30’s and have been in several medium to long term relationships. I’ve mostly met men online for the past several years, because I like the convenience and lack of ambiguity that you get from a dating site. Finding dates is not a problem, but after spending a long time playing the field and getting to know what really works for me in a relationship, for the past couple of years I’ve been trying to focus on finding someone awesome to build a life with. I’ve got a great career and friends, own my home, have hobbies and interests– I’ve spent a lot of time reading advice from columnists like you, Captain Awkward, Dear Sugar, and Ask Polly, and all of that has helped me become the kind of person I’d like to date! I’m always a work in progress, but I like who I’ve become. I’ve struggled to find that kind of “whole package” in a guy, especially one who wants to commit.
Now I’ve met someone who has tons of potential. He’s got a cool career in a field adjacent to mine (so we already have a lot in common), he’s not 100% my type physically (I like tattoos and glasses, he’s more of a polo shirt and khakis fella) but I do find him attractive and we have good chemistry. He’s liberal and nerdy and doesn’t want kids, just like me. He’s tall and kind and great to cuddle, and he smells fantastic. But there’s just something missing and I don’t know how to really articulate it, let alone find it.
We’ve only been seeing each other for about a month but he’s definitely talking about a future and I can tell he’s very into me. One of the nice things that came from my years of dating around is that I’m pretty good at telling the difference between a guy who’s trying to be a player (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) and a guy who’s very sincere. This guy is sincere af and wants to settle down. And I don’t want to hurt him or waste his time by stringing him along if I’m not going to be able to go all in; I think he deserves better than that.
So what’s making me hesitate? There’s some kind of initiative or assertiveness or joie de vivre that’s missing, and I don’t know how to put my finger on it. Like, he feels like he’s overweight, but he doesn’t work out. He has a dog that’s completely untrained, to the point where she bit me the first time I met her and taking her out in public is iffy, but he hasn’t taken her to obedience classes or tried to train her. He seems content to do whatever I suggest, but he doesn’t take the initiative to come up with cool date ideas. He doesn’t show any particular enthusiasm for… like, anything, to be honest. He’s not NEGATIVE, and he clearly has likes and dislikes, but he just seems sort of placid and meh about things, even things he’s into. He’s smart and not humorless, but I wouldn’t call him witty or sharp, and nothing makes my heart sing like quick banter and bad puns. The sex is nice, but he doesn’t seem lusty, if that makes sense. There’s no edge to him, I guess. And I’m at the point where I know that an edge is definitely not enough to sustain a relationship, but the total lack of it will eventually drive me nuts.
I know, after all this time out there dating, that the guys who grab my heart are the ones who are confident and engaged with the world and enthusiastic, and I know I’m not unique in that. A lot of the self-improvement things you suggest for guys would be great in helping this dude become someone I’d want to be with for the long haul, but I know what a terrible idea it is to date someone with the intention of trying to change them. He has so much potential, though! I know I’ve said that twice now, but it’s true. And I know he would be really sad if I broke things off, but telling him how I feel seems cruel. Is there some kind of script you can suggest for helping him find that vitality that would make me want to become more invested? Should I just leave him alone so he can find a nice girl who will like him the way he is? It seems like such a waste to walk away from a guy I genuinely like who is so close to what I want and who’s so into me, but I know from experience that you can’t change someone. They have to want to change. And maybe he doesn’t! If he was a house, he’d be a fixer-upper and I’d be happy to put in the time. But houses don’t have feelings and people do.
I’m at a loss here. Any words of wisdom?
–This is a Relationship, Not HGTV