Every now and again, I’ll be having a great conversation with a woman, and just when I think I’m really impressing her, she’ll give me an apologetic smile and say, “I have a boyfriend.”
It’s then that I’ll arch an eyebrow and ask, “Well, is he the man of your dreams? Or just a man keeping you from meeting the man of your dreams?” The man in question will then return from the bathroom, and I’ll excuse myself from the conversation before I get punched in the face.
Cheesy pickup line or profound existential inquiry? Cheesy pickup line, clearly. But perhaps the subject is worth broaching with a bit more seriousness: When does “having a boyfriend” become settling for less?
You see, an interesting dynamic can develop among commitment-loving and fairly marriage-minded people. These people typically don’t care for casual dating (although perhaps it’s time to rethink that notion), so they tend to get into serious relationships and hunker down for the long haul—often ignoring that things just aren’t working. Research suggests that people are more prone to settle in a relationship if they fear being single. While not a uniquely female phenomenon, as a single man I have a vested interest in encouraging women to not be so afraid.
Yes, I think more women should dump their boyfriends instead of staying in a bad relationship, a mediocre relationship that’s not going anywhere, or, perhaps worse yet, a mediocre relationship that is going somewhere.
I’ll admit I’m a bit biased, as I would prefer more of the beautiful marriage-minded women I meet to be more available than they are. But, having once been that stubbornly in-love person, I have a perspective that might be useful, too.
Once upon a time, I was engaged to be married. But, about five months from the big day, I found myself putting in a call to the church to let them know that we had postponed our wedding.
“Are you still together?” the church pastor asked.
“Yes, we are,” I replied proudly, though gravely.
“Why?” he asked, rather matter-of-factly.
I was a bit taken aback, expecting more encouragement than confrontation from the pastor. “We love each other and are committed to seeing this through,” I answered.
“Well, I’d hate to see you waste the best years of your life,” he responded.
This was not what I wanted to hear. But, as much as I resented him for his seemingly unsupportive comment, I couldn’t get his words out of my head. I loved her, I was committed to her, and it seemed rather selfish of me to worry about the years I was wasting standing resolutely by her side.
But he was right.
Despite our best efforts, my fiancée and I weren’t getting any closer to a new wedding date. I didn’t love her any less, and if anything, I loved her more through that process. But it wasn’t working, and we decided it was better if we moved on.
The breakup was heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and terribly depressing for the first few months. Then, a funny thing happened: I got over it. And, if her impending nuptials to some other dude are any indication, she seems to have gotten over it as well.
Thanks to narratives such as Romeo and Juliet, many of us are convinced that we could never find another love this good, even when the love we’re experiencing isn’t all that life-giving. I’m here to tell you that you can love again. And, oftentimes, you should.
Here are four (all too common) instances in which “having a boyfriend” might just be a placeholder for something better.
01. You’re living on a prayer. You’re dating a guy for what seems like forever, even though there are some serious things that need to change. You’re hoping that he’s going to change or that the problems will magically disappear, and you’re not sure which is more likely.
02. You’re hoping for “I Do.” You have your heart set on your boyfriend proposing marriage, even though he shows no signs that he’s ready to make that sort of commitment.
03. You’re gambling on a second chance. You broke up with your boyfriend, but now you’re back together. You really think things will be different this time, even though you have no real evidence that things will actually be different.
o4. You’re waiting for him to call the kill shot. It’s natural to want the other person to end things, especially if you are afraid of hurting him or hoping against hope that something might change. Take it from a guy who didn’t want to let go: Waiting for your boyfriend to make the call is a waste of time. In fact, surveys show that women are more likely to end a relationship than men. Too often, men rely on avoidance and emotional stonewalling to deal with a relationship problem rather than facing it head-on.
If any of these situations seems all too familiar, remember that breaking up doesn’t mean you’re bad at relationships—it might just mean that you haven’t found a good match yet.
Instead of wasting your time waiting for change or a proposal that’s a long time coming, set some reasonable expectations for your relationships and barometers for when you expect to see progress on those expectations. A good rule of thumb that I like to go by is a rule of three: Have an idea of what you want to know within three hours, three weeks, and three months. After each period of time (yes, even after the first three hours together), you’ll have an idea of what kind of progress you want to see in your relationship, and that will indicate if it’s worth continuing. I recommend sharing some of those expectations with the man you are dating so that he can gain insight into what you’re looking for. That way, if he’s up for it, he can be better prepared to meet those expectations.
The good news is that a breakup is not the end of the story. If you do need to end things with somebody, remember that it will only hurt for a little while. With time, you will be glad that you still have the best years of your life to find somebody to fall in love with—somebody who deserves your love and is prepared to return it back to you. You know: the man of your dreams.