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January 25, 1999   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

Several weeks ago the guy I'd been dating for about a year suddenly dumped me. Now, I'm not completely heartbroken, but I am puzzled. From the limited amount of information he gave me, I seem to be hearing that he dumped me because I am more "together" than he is. Now, I have never been interested in how much money someone makes -- I have my own career and have managed to keep my life going between divorces. And while I was pretty destroyed by my second one, I managed to survive a major depression and move on. But this thing about being too together -- I mean, what do these guys want? I hear endless griping about women who only want to date guys who will spend megabucks on them. Wine them, dine them, etc. only to be dumped by them later when someone richer, taller, sexier, etc. comes along. So I try to contribute as much as I can when we are going out -- sometimes I pay both of our way, other times he pays. Or, we will split a check -- I try to get a feel for how much they want to spend and plan with that in mind. I'm a professional with a decent job. The guy I was dating is a blue collar guy and finally just dumped me because I "argued with him all the time." Huh? I don't ever recall having an argument with him at all. It is true, we had differing views on some things and he seemed just as convinced that his were right for him as much as I thought mine were right for me. But we never argued about these things, I never got past telling him that I had a different opinion about something. Then he would change the subject.

The feeling that I'm left with is that his basic insecurities wouldn't let him continue to date someone who had basically gotten her act together. I own my own house, car, and make about $40,000 / year. I got here by going to college and dedicating myself to my career in my 20's and 30's (I'm now 47). I never had any children. So that is also one less drain on my income. He, on the other hand, has a son with a woman who didn't actually get around to telling him about him until he was 2 years old and she wanted child support. He regularly blasts this woman for "trapping" him by having this illegitimate kid and then tracking him down and getting money from him. I have some sympathy for him in this -- once she decided she wanted his money he demanded a paternity test before agreeing to pay. Then when it proved that he was, in fact, the father, the court made him pay back child support. They also assessed him for her delinquent hospital bill, since she was on welfare during the time that the kid was born. He has never seen his son; all he ever sees is hospital bills because she uses the emergency room as the family physician. One time, when he was 2 1/2 he got a bill because his son had a broken leg. Broken leg? 2 1/2 years old? When I talked with him about it we both agreed that it sounded like child abuse. ANYWAY, I have listened to his long discourses on this whole situation and others the entire time we were dating. He, on the other hand, has little or no interest in my problems or my life.

So after much babbling, my question is this: Why do relationships have to be a contest? Why can't I date someone who maybe doesn't make as much money as I do? Why can't men just accept me (and my income) and have a good time? This isn't a competition -- I was really crazy about this guy the entire time we dated, but he just couldn't take it that I was better off economically. Otherwise we had a lot in common -- maybe not enough?

And another thing: I'm an interior designer. My house looks like, well, a magazine. Mind you -- I did almost all the work myself because I couldn't afford to hire tradesmen. I learned plumbing, electrical, painting, paper hanging -- you name it. Enough trips to the hardware store and I can eventually get a project finished. And since this is something I like doing and have training to do the results are wonderful. But these guys seem to be intimidated by my interior design! What am I supposed to do -- have a garage sale, "trade down" for new furniture, paint the walls white and bring my house to "early tract shack" in order to find true love? Puh-leze.

So what now? Do I need to try to date men who are more on an even keel with me financially? Ones who aren't afraid of women who paint their living room walls and ceilings chinese red? Seriously -- do I need some kind of quiz to give them? I have figured out that they shouldn't see my house until we've gone out a few times. I need to build up to that gradually. I don't really care what their place looks like -- I mean they're guys, for crying out loud. I do expect it to be reasonably clean just as I expect them to be employed. But I KNOW that if their living place looked like mine that they would either be gay or too rich for my tastes. I just really like men that are down to earth, secure with themselves and who have a pretty positive approach to life, the universe and everything. Know what I mean? Whaddya think? Is this hopeless?

-- Donna

Dear Donna,

With all due respect, you're not that rich. In no way do I mean to belittle your clear sturdiness and success, not to mention the material and spiritual satisfaction that they seem to bring you. But -- no matter where you cost-of-living is calculated -- in the big objective economic scheme of things, $40,000 is not that much. Or at least not so much as to be the stuff of intimidating first dates involving helicopters, private islands, too many forks, etc.

So I'm thinking that this "intimidation" thing may be all in your head -- or, more usefully put, all in your actions and attitudes, not to mention your curtains. First of all, Blue Collar never actually said the thing about your being "more together" than he, did he? And even though, well, it sounds like you are, I also think you are working it. You are a do-it-yourselfer, Donna, which I totally admire. The Martha/Bob Villa in me would love nothing more than to, you know, build a trellis and to spackle, like, everything. And I bet understanding the skills and wires and pipes and beams makes you a better designer.

But I wonder whether, in relationships or on dates, you also work around the Tradesman in question. Whether he feels like -- even when he pays all or half -- it's because you've already done the math, made the suggestion. Whether, at the end of the day, he feels like there's not much left for him to do around there. Someone might tell you that guys need to feel that they are taking some degree of care, of charge, of charge cards. Maybe. But everyone, male and female, needs to know and feel that they are needed, handy, difference-making. Not just on a tour of someone else's fabulous together showroom life. This may be what's missing for you and yours.

So no, you do not have to date men of equal salary/stature/whatever. But if you do not want to wander your big red rooms alone, then you also do not have to date hapless guys for whom you appear to be a stabilizing force, and then saying "there he goes again" if they wind up feeling smaller than your sofa. You also, bottom line, should not have to define your own security by ta-da-ing it to others. That above all, is something you do yourself.

Breakup Girl



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