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November 22, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need




Dear Breakup Girl,

I'm afraid of being alone. Hardly a unique problem I know, but in my case I feel like this fear is making me make very bad life decisions and is hurting someone else in the process. You see, I am 29 years old and have been living with my girlfriend for the past year. She is sweet and kind and pretty ... the only problem is that I'm not in love with her. You should know first off that I am no prize in the looks department, and I am not the type of guy who has lots of luck meeting women. I do, however (so they tell me), have a nice personality and a good sense of humor. This is why the girls I date are usually girls I get to know as friends first, either through work, the friend of a friend, etc. But since I am a little shy and, like I said, not exactly in the Ricky Martin looks category, it has been hard for me to meet women in the past.

Now I live with a woman who I KNOW is a great person, who loves me, and who wants to be with me. However, I just can't shake this scary feeling that I am not in love with her. In fact, I know I am not (although I feel a great deal of affection for her and love her as a friend). I feel as though I let things move very quickly in our relationship, in spite of my misgivings, because I had been alone for a long time and, to be honest, I was sick and tired of it. Now I feel like a jerk because instead of appreciating what I have, I am feeling guilty for living with someone I don't love. What makes me feel worse is that I KNOW I should just break it off and move out, but my fear of being alone rears its ugly head whenever I consider it. I am, honestly, not sure I can ever find anyone else who will love me with all my shortcomings. I feel that at my age the possibility of NEVER finding anyone whom I TRULY love (and who loves me back) is a real one. So, maybe I should just accept the fact that I am lucky enough to have a good woman who loves me. But I worry that if I marry this person, then I am closing myself off to the possibility of ever finding a true love, my soulmate. I know there are many people who are probably married simply because they got along, were sick of being alone, and were sick of the games and rejection that are part of the singles scene. Maybe this isn't such a bad reason to be with someone. (I can think of lots worse.) But I still have this feeling like I will eventually meet someone with whom I really am IN LOVE, passionately ... that connection that everyone hopes for. But maybe that will never happen, in which case I may end up alone and miserable, wishing I had held onto the woman I let go.

-- Mr. (Not Feeling Like a Very) Nice Guy

Dear Mr. (Not Feeling Like a Very) Nice Guy,

Oh, buddy. You know, there's actually a difference between being afraid of being alone and being afraid that you will wind up alone forever. Heck, it's pretty fun to be single, to do the museum at your own pace, to have no "I'll check with my husband/wife" Coordination Obligation, to turn off the bedside lamp when you're done reading, etc. It's just that, well, we'd sleep better if only there were just some sort of guarantee that a life partner was eventually going to turn up, by a certain date. So would Breakup Mom. So believe me, I understand this fear of yours, I really do.

And I also know that if we hold out for some wispy heady Hollywood "true love" "soulmate" "that connection that everyone hopes for" ideal to gallop up over the drawbridge, we might not hear the potential partners knocking on the side door. But since you, Nice Guy, are not all, "I cannot believe this babe puts ketchup on eggs and didn't 'get' 'Meatballs' -- I, therefore, am not in love," BG does not sense that you are actually living in The Other Fear. You know, the C-word (Canada, which is where people flee to when they feel tied down.)*

Rather, from what you tell me, you are not happy. Not enough, anyway. You are not in love. This one is not it. That is your data. Whether or not you can or will find someone else is unrelated. You -- especially "at your age" (29?!) -- are not in a position to play the "in case of no one else" odds.

So. If you do break up with your kind and sweet and pretty girlfriend, you will indeed feel oh so lonely -- miserable, even -- for a while. You will oh so wish things could have been otherwise. But that is different from wanting things back the way they used to be. Because listen closely: lonely is better than lying. I promise. One involves some emptiness inside, yes. But the other tears up what is already there. I mean, sure, I can think of reasons way worse than loneliness to be with people, such as having getting married by 6 PM on the night of your 30th birthday in order to get your inheritance. But Nice Guy, if you feel this uncomfortable and guilty now, consider how you'll feel if you're married to her. Can you imagine looking kind and sweet and pretty in the eye and saying those vows to your soulmate stand-in, the understudy to the true love who never showed up? I hope not.

I'm guessing that there's also something else you can't imagine right now. I'm guessing that you are so used to the way things are right now that you can't even imagine the flavor of kinda-lonely-but-at-least-not-in-limbo on your tongue. It's hard to be tempted if you can't even taste it, I know; but it's not bitter, I promise. Now, I got no guarantees, but I do have a pretty heroic hunch that you will go on to find someone with whom you've got a ton in common. Like the fear that you'd never find each other.

Breakup Girl

*For Canadians, it's Cleveland.



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