I'm a pre-law student looking for a healthy, supportive relationship, not necessarily an engagement ring. My problem is that I have a hard time trusting the men I date. I've been burned many times; none of my relationships has lasted more than three months. I'm terrified that my current boyfriend will abandon me now that we've slept together, and my constant worrying drains the enjoyment out of dating. How can I put fear aside and let the real me shine through?--Future Tense
"Hey, baby ... how 'bout you come home with me and we have a healthy, supportive relationship -- all night long?"
Strange, huh? ... the dearth of guys slithering over in bars to whisper that in women's ears. It isn't that most guys are looking for a relationship that's toxic and ego-trashing. They'd just rather cling to the fantasy that they'll be spending a lot of time engaged in the kind of sexual activity that should, by law, require both participants to helmet up -- not participating in the relationship equivalent of corrective shoes.
Now, maybe you aren't running around spouting personal growth psychobabble -- at least, not until the second date. And you might claim you aren't "necessarily" trolling for a ring, but your letter (and probably your every pore) is screaming: "SOMEBODY MARRY ME RIGHT NOW, OR I SWEAR I'LL CURL UP AND DIE ON THE SPOT!" Come on, tell the truth: You mentally undress every guy you meet -- not because you're hot to see them naked, but so you can mentally redress them in a rented tux to preview how they'd look as the groom. So, while what you call "the real me" might not be "shining through" -- it probably is leaking out.
Unfortunately, "desperately needy" is not synonymous with "explosive firecracker of fun." To a guy, it foreshadows a lifetime of "our relationship" conversations with somebody whose hobby is writing letters to and from her inner child: "I hate him!" "Me, too!" "Let's turn him into emotional roadkill." "Yeah, let's!" In short: El disappearo -- fast.
That death-grip you call love comes from looking for self-validation in all the wrong places. Hint: It isn't a carryout item. Drop your feverish search for it in others' hearts, minds, and boxer shorts, and turn to more sensible sources, such as The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden. In time, you might understand how goofy it is to refuse to trust all men because you couldn't trust one or two, or even 25. And what kind of "trust" are you talking about anyway? Trusting that a guy will Krazy Glue himself to your side 'til decomposition do you part? Sure, it's important to find somebody who won't swipe spare change from your night stand. But when a guy stops showing interest in you, it isn't a sign that he's a terrible person; it's a sign that he's no longer interested.
Only if you stop trying to get a guy to sign on the line for happily ever after will you have a shot at happily ever now -- and maybe even happily ever some more. Then again, what's wrong with happily ever now? What if you just have three great months with somebody? Why is that a tragic failure? Actually, it would be wise to think of it as relationship-as-usual, considering your current dating pool of early-20-something guys. Your first clue that a guy is unlikely to put down picket fence stakes and go the whole husband with you? Maybe the fact that he drives a skateboard with the bumper sticker "my other car is a skateboard."
Little Photoshop of Horrors
I've been talking to a woman via e-mail and phone for several months. We live hundreds of miles apart, but I've suggested we meet for a date in her area. She enthusiastically agreed. My usual modus operandi is to buy a woman a cup of coffee so we can casually get to know each other. Does a long-distance lead-in require something more elaborate? --Coffee Lover
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but an escape route until you find out whose picture it actually is? Priceless. Before you go, joke with this woman that every seat on your date should be considered an exit-row seat, with either person being free to yank off the emergency door and jump at any time. While your usual m.o. might be a great way to get to know a girl you just met at Groceryland, you may want to make sure you have easy access to beer goggles in case your online love isn't all she was JPEG'ed up to be. Plan to meet over a glass of something alcoholic in the late afternoon or early evening, and you and she can always opt to go on to dinner -- perhaps with other, more attractive people you bumped into while sprinting away from the bar.