Q&A: Why can’t I keep a girlfriend?

I have posted on here in the past about several different relationships. I asked for help getting over “Gold” and asked for help understanding what happened with “Fran”.

I have had another girlfriend since then, and that fell apart and was quite painful. I’ve had four relationships total, and it seems the last three ended horribly and had been excrusiatingly painful (the first one seemed to be loving and healthy). I thought I knew what I was doing, I thought I knew what it means to be in a healthy and loving relationship. Now I’m not sure that I know what I’m doing.

Here’s how I think a relationship should work:

Honesty and openness allows myself and my partner to build understanding and trust. This openness and honesty is tempered by kindness and respect, which gives us acceptance. We slowly spend more time together, and through that understanding, trust, and acceptance we slowly fall in for one another. Once we feel comfortable enough, we build a future together. I’ve never gotten this far before, but I think once we’d plan a future together, we’d grow closer together as a couple. The best idea I have of this is a metaphor of two trees planted next to one another, and over time they grow and their branches intertwine and although you can still see that there are two distinct trees, it’s difficult to see which tree is which in the places where they intertwine.

That is rather abstact, but it gives a good general idea. Is this too romantic? Is this foolish? It’s rare to find someone who I find intellectually attractive, and even rarer to find someone who I find both intellectually and emotionally attractive. Ideally, I tend to ask out those women who I find emotionally and intellectually attractive. With those constraints and my concept of a good relationship, am I just setting myself up for failure?

Also, I’m an atheist. This seems to narrow my choices even further, as I can’t imagine most Christians being happily married to someone they believe is going to hell. Also…a lot of atheist women are taken. Am I doing things wrong? Will my conceptions of love, relationships, and attractions inevidiably going to lead me to disappointment?

Am I someone who just needs to change, or should I just wait and see?

“William” (not his real name)

Dear “William,”

You certainly have a very romantic and beautiful conception of a relationship. I believe many of the female readers of this blog wish they would run into a man who thinks of relationships in this way.

The problem, as I see it, is not how you think of relationships but how you convey your ideals. It could be that you convey your thoughts too early in the relationship or that you act in ways consistent with your conception of relationships too early.

Any kind of future-directed thoughts and actions can scare people away in the early phases of relationships. You can’t fast forward relationships. All relationships need to go through a number of different stages. If you get too intimate or too giving or too strategic too early, people are going to run away.

Next time you find yourself in a relationship, slow down. Maybe your girl friend wants to see you every day. You may be tempted. But don’t do it. Seeing each other every day from day 1 is going to lead to disaster. Aim at once or twice a week, and don’t call, text or email significantly more than the person you are with. Take it slow.

I also sense that you might want to be more open to different kinds of people. I know many atheists who are married to theists. If they love each other and are compatible in other respects, it really shouldn’t be an obstacle. For many theists, being a theist is merely a matter of belief and not necessarily indicative of a certain lifestyle.

Perhaps you are too strict in other ways too. Sometimes attraction develops over time. The most important part of a relationship that is going to last is friendship. But friendship doesn’t just happen over night. It needs time to develop.


Dr. Brit, co-author of The Breakup Cleanse

If you had one chance to ask Dr. Brit or Catherine any question about love or relationships, what would your single most important question be? You can submit your question here.

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