Relationship post today. A reader writes:
I thought I’d send you a message regarding some issues that have been concerning me. I came from a typical PUA background, had some great success, and eventually started dating a girl who I really liked. Now, three years later, we are still together.
I’m almost 25, and I’m starting to think about some aspects of the future; marriage, children, having a partner for life. My girlfriend is very attractive, quite ambitious, has good values, and likes me a lot. We have great chemistry.
And yet, I can’t help but feel like there is something not quite right. In many ways, she is only 85% the girl of my dreams, and there is a part of me (egoic? realistic?) that believes I could probably find someone “better,” however marginal that may be. There is something in our relationship that is leaving me somewhat unsatisfied.
Am I being ridiculous?
Is this just typical 3-year-itch kind of stuff? Or, is it a genuine problem that may indicate that we really aren’t meant to be together? Maybe I’m only 85% the man of her dreams, too, and we should be both looking for other people (the 90%, 95%, 100% etc).
Additionally, she is now a full-time career woman, and I’m just about to go back to university to study medicine, so it does appear that our helms have been negotiated into different directions.
Any insight would be great; it’s kind of doing my head in.
There are two separate issues going on here at once, and both are fairly common relationship issues that most men face at some point.
The first issue is the cost/benefit conundrum we all face. We have a limited amount of time to find a suitable mate, there are an almost infinite amount of options out there, so how do we ever know if we did the best we possibly could? How do we know we’re not settling? The second issue is being unaware of which of his emotional needs are not being met by the current relationship. It’s more important to understand WHY you’re not completely satisfied in a relationship before you go around making major life decisions.
But let’s start with the first one: this idea that there’s a potentially “perfect girl” out there waiting for all of us. This is a common romantic fantasy that’s as old as love stories themselves. But I’ve actually found that men who have a history within the pick up artist movement struggle with this even more than average. In the PUA movement, it’s hammered into our brains that our emotional and romantic lives are quantifiable and skill-based goals that can be measured and achieved. There are “better” and “better” women out there, and striving to attain the closest version of your ideal woman is very much the yardstick of success and improvement.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t some truth to the idea that some women are “better” romantic fits for us than others, and that some women are closer to our ideal than others. But the problem is that there’s no endpoint. There is no 100% perfect girl out there for you or for any of us, and there never will be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the unreasonable amount of women I’ve been involved with, it’s that you’re never going to find “the complete package.” It doesn’t exist. The most beautiful girls have annoying ticks, the smartest girls have emotional problems, the sweetest and most caring women have bad personal habits. People are flawed. Accept it. What’s going to determine the success of a relationship is not how good the 85% perfection is, or even how much perfection there is, but it’s in how you deal with the 15% imperfection together.
So get the idea out of your head that there’s a 100% perfect match for you waiting out there for you to find her. The 100% perfect match is not something that you find and conquer, it’s something that you build and nurture with a together through years of introspection, communication and hard work.
The immediate solution to the first issue here is to stop framing the problem in terms of finding a “more perfect” match for you, and begin to see it in terms of how much perfection are you two capable of building together. You may have topped out here. You may not. But if you continue to see your love life as a personal achievement rather than a team-sport, then I hate to say it, but this gnawing feeling that you’re somehow giving up a perfect something that you don’t even know exists or not, is going to follow you from relationship to relationship, from woman to woman, and silently torture you for years.
The second issue is to understand why you aren’t feeling fulfilled in the relationship. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that if you were aware of which of your needs weren’t being met, then you would have mentioned it in the email. Not knowing exactly why we’re unsatisfied in a relationship is not uncommon. So the solution to the second issue is to find out what’s lacking from your current relationship. We do this by asking the right questions.
It could be that you’re getting a little restless after three years together (although I wouldn’t claim this is necessarily a common phenomenon). It could be that you have a bit of separation anxiety going on knowing that you both are pursuing diverging life paths soon. If you’re an avoidant attachment type then it would not be uncommon for you to rationalize your separation anxiety with thoughts of possibly wanting to get away.
Or it could be a million other things.
But I’m going to go ahead and assume that up until recently you were, for the most part, getting your needs satisfied in the relationship — again, since you failed to pinpoint any specific issue that has been eating away at you guys or that’s been a growing cause for concern over the years. If there IS a background issue that’s been going on, and you failed to mention it, then disregard a lot of what I’m about to say and focus on that. But assuming all other variables held equal, the major change happening in the relationship is the shift in life plans and life goals happening for you two right now.
In my relationship pyramid, the final and ultimate level of a relationship with a woman is to attain a certain lifestyle compatibility. Sexual compatibility can keep a couple going for weeks or months. Personal compatibility can keep a couple going for maybe 6-12 months. A deep emotional connection can keep a couple together for a few years. But if a couple is going to hit that serious, long-term commitment zone, then they need to be able to see each other as integrated into their individual life purposes.
As a thought experiment, ask yourself, “If my girlfriend had life goals that were 100% compatible with mine, would I still feel this way about our relationship?” My guess is no, you wouldn’t. If she were magically pursuing a career that lined up magically with your career schedule- and location-wise, I imagine you’d be singing a different tune. You didn’t come to me with, “She nags me and we fight and it sucks, but I can’t leave here.” You didn’t come to me with, “She gets drunk too much and cheats on me.” You didn’t come to me with, “We really don’t hold the same values and our worldviews are really starting to come into conflict.” No, you came to me with, “She’s basically perfect, except I’m not completely convinced she’s right for me, what gives?”
On the other hand, if the answer to the above question is “Yes, I’d still feel like she was only 85% of what I want in a woman,” then there is an underlying emotional incompatibility and you two need to either address it or move on eventually.
But if I were a betting man, I’d bet my money that this schism in life goals is causing some separation anxiety, and as an avoidant, you’re processing it through the prism of your personal independence. I could be wrong, but that’s the feeling I get from the limited information you gave me.
How to move forward? The same way I tell 90% of my clients with relationship questions to move forward: “You need to be having this conversation with her, not just with me.” It sounds to me like you guys need to sit down and have a real heart-to-heart about the upcoming changes in your lives, how they affect each other, how you guys see each other fitting into each other’s life paths, and finally, if you’re willing to sacrifice to keep each other included on those diverging paths. As you said in the email, for all you know she could be feeling the exact same thing about you. You have no idea. So find out.