Should I Stay With My Wimpy Boyfriend?

I am dating a university professor who is working to make tenure. All his life he has been focused on studies, work and research to the detriment of developing other parts of his life. He has a fear of water, doesn’t swim or play sports and gets stressed out driving. He used to have a license but hasn’t driven in years and I had to wait two years to go on our first holiday that involved driving because he had been postponing refresher classes (due to work). He has recently moved from the UK to the US for work and I have been making plans to visit. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I suggested going on a solo trip during the week while he worked and he was very hesitant to drive up and meet me for the weekend because he was worried about driving on the right alone. All of a sudden, the strong attraction I had for him came crashing down – having a 33-year old afraid of driving alone, or getting easily stressed out just made me lose respect for him.

I’ve had a guy friend refer to him as a wimp and me as the male in the relationship. I have been very patient about his risk aversion and subordinating time to learn activities that will enrich our lives. We are at the cusp of marriage but I just fear I will lose respect for him in our marriage, and secretly resent his wimpiness. Other than this and his workaholic nature, he is extremely kind, responsible and a good person at heart. I am 32 and ready to settle down and build a family. I am kinda at a loss.

Thank you.
Olivia

Thank you for asking this question, Olivia. It’s always useful to get a question that allows me to make a greater point about relationships.

You can’t compromise on kindness, consistency, compromise, communication and values.

One of the things I’ve realized after seven years of blogging is that it’s really hard to take the time to be fully understood. The hubbub about why (some) women should not sleep with a man without commitment is only the latest example. In other words, everything I write makes perfect, unassailable sense in my head – and it’s not until I see my words twisted in the comments that I realize I needed to explain myself better the first time.

The reason that I’m giving you this long lead-in is because I’ve been a bit pigeonholed by cultivating an effective (if unpopular) worldview. Namely, that people tend to compromise on the wrong things. Men tend to chase pretty women, and then are shocked when those women are sometimes shallow, selfish, critical or uninterested. Women tend to chase tall, smart, rich, and charismatic, and then are shocked to discover the same. My response to this has always been that you can compromise on all of those qualities to some degree, but you can’t compromise on kindness, consistency, compromise, communication and values.

The blowback to this somewhat obvious and helpful statement is that I’m telling people that they must “settle.” That they CAN’T date someone they’re attracted to. That I’m relegating you to a life of boredom and suffering. This is, of course, not true, but that doesn’t stop your feelings. If YOU’VE ever settled on a man who is boring, stupid, poor, and unattractive, of course your advice would be not to do that again.

Except I’ve never asked you to settle on a man that you can’t accept. I’ve asked you to compromise on a man you CAN accept. This is what EVERY happily married person understands, and what my most virulent dissenters don’t. If you can’t accept him, don’t marry him. And if you discover that you can NEVER find a man who lives up to your lofty standards, then maybe, just maybe, your standards are impossibly high. Any disagreement here? No? Great. Let’s move on.

If you discover that you can NEVER find a man who lives up to your lofty standards, then maybe, just maybe, your standards are impossibly high.

I don’t think your standards are impossibly high at all, Olivia. Because it’s not just that your boyfriend is a little soft – hell, I’M a little soft in the way that many well-read Jewish guys are. The problem is that he’s extremely soft, like a fearful 5-year-old whose mom just wants him to go outside and run around. I’m all for reading a good book – and would rather do it than hike Mt. Kilimanjaro – but to be afraid of water, driving, and sports? That’s not only somewhat unusual, but rather paralyzing. Not only can you not mask your loss of respect for him, but you can’t even do anything with him (like drive) because of how his fears run his life.

This is why I think you’re well within your rights to cut your losses and get back out there. It’s not like you’re dumping him because he can’t surf or because he can’t put up drywall. You’re dumping him because his fears are actually impacting your life in a negative way. And anyone – man or woman – who has a partner who is on the extremes of anything (too many dogs, too much travel, too little money, etc.) has the right to find a partner who is somewhere in the bell curve of normal. It may be sad to see him go, but I’m confident it won’t take long to find a man whom you actually respect.