Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Many Red Flags Are Too Many?”

My boyfriend and I have been together for six months and while he has many good qualities I am afraid I have been noticing his bad ones lately: several of which have raised some red flags. And while individually each of these is not a deal-breaker, I am starting to wonder how many red flags are too many? On the minor side, he was fired from his job, our food tastes are different, his relationship with his parents is not good, he is overweight, and my best friend does not believe in our relationship. On a more serious note, we are very different people — he being more sensitive and open, and me being more private, independent and thick-skinned.

The relationship started and moved very quickly from the beginning and he is completely head over heels in love with me, and although I do love him, I’m afraid I don’t love him the same way. When things are good they are really good – he is incredibly kind, supportive, loving, sensitive to my needs and engaging to be around. Unfortunately, sometimes I just don’t want to be around him. Sometimes I am extremely bothered by his weight and appearance, and I am afraid that it has made me reluctant to introduce him to friends — I am afraid they will judge me or think I’m desperate. I think If he was better looking, I would be happier in the relationship. Is that incredibly shallow?

I have also been struggling with accepting how I actually feel in a relationship with how I think I am “supposed” to feel in a relationship. I am not the type of girl who enjoys copious amounts of PDA and needs to be in contact every day. I miss him when we are apart but not in excessive amounts; But by the same token, I also didn’t get homesick at camp or when I went away to college. So, I’m having a difficult time deciding if this is my personality or a sign that we should not be together. I recently told a friend without thinking “I would be okay with being married at this age but I haven’t found the right guy.” Is that another red flag? — Indecisive


It sounds like you’re confused about the meaning of “red flag.” A red flag is not simply an example of innocuous personal differences (i.e. “our food tastes are different”) or perceived aesthetic flaws (i.e. “he’s overweight”), but an alert that the person you’re with may not be the person you thought he was or may have underlying issues that make him a less than an ideal romantic partner (i.e. “He keeps his dead girlfriend’s panties in his dresser drawer” or “He calls me “Mommy” every time we get intimate”). What you’re describing are reasons — and not very good ones, if you ask me — that you aren’t as into your boyfriend as he’s into you. But the bottom line is you don’t need reasons to not be into someone. Sometimes the spark just isn’t there. The chemistry falls flat. And it’s really unfair to blame that lack of chemistry on some flaw you think your boyfriend has, especially when among these possible flaws you list are his sensitivity and openness. No, those aren’t red flags at all. For a lot of women, those would be welcome characteristics they’d be happy to find in someone, overweight or not.

It seems like what you’re really struggling with is trusting your own opinion, and that, more than you not being into a guy who seems really sweet, is what I find saddest about your situation. It doesn’t matter if you’re not typically an effusive or emotive person. When you really click with someone, you’re going to feel it. You’re going to be proud to introduce him to your friends, not ashamed. You’re not going to be second-guessing why you’re with him, but day-dreaming about your future together. And when you think of marriage one day, it will be with a picture of him by your side, not some mysterious “other” you have yet to meet.

Trust your instinct here, and if you’re not feeling it, MOA. It sounds like this guy has plenty of great qualities that will make a lucky lady very happy, but clearly that lady isn’t you, so let him go so he’s free to find someone who will love him the way you don’t. And trust that when the right guy comes along, the last thing you’ll worry about if how hot your friends think he is. At least, I sure hope that’s the case. If not, it sounds like you’ve got a red flag of your own you should probably work on a bit.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

38 comments… add one
  • avatar

    BeccaAnne April 21, 2011, 3:07 pm

    I’d hardly break up with someone for being a different person, I mean who wants to date a clone? But if you aren’t into it, you aren’t into it and move on until you find someone you care about even though you debate about where to go to dinner.

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    hana April 21, 2011, 3:08 pm

    I agree with Wendy, none of these are red flags. But it sounds like you don’t like being his girlfriend very much. If you don’t want to date him anymore that’s ok. Let him go.

    Just please don’t get married thinking it will make it better!

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    ReginaRey April 21, 2011, 3:12 pm

    I recently read a memoir where the author described how her former husband began to pick on little things – her hair, her appearance, small things that she did – and the realization she came to was enlightening: “The little things start to irk you when you don’t really love someone anymore, when you have nothing left that’s causing you to overlook them.” I think that may be where you are now – you’re falling out of love with your boyfriend, and you’re starting to become annoyed by all of the quirks that you may have once overlooked (his taste in food, his relationship with his parents, his weight). THAT is what we’d call a major red flag, and it’s a good sign you need to MOA.

    Secondly, I may take some heat for saying it, but I don’t think it’s wrong for you to be turned off by your boyfriend’s weight. If you simply aren’t attracted to him anymore, that’s a problem. Relationships are built upon compatibility – emotional, mental, physical. If you feel no sexual attraction to your boyfriend, then all you really end up being are two really great, platonic, friends.

    Does that mean I think that if your boyfriend magically loses weight, your issues will be solved? Absolutely not. You presented a whole long list of reasons that you’re just not that into your boyfriend anymore. And most importantly – he shouldn’t really have to change any of those things to make your relationship work. You’re trying to force it, and it’s not going to work. Like Wendy said, you both need to MOA and find partners that will accept and love you as is, and who YOU won’t have a laundry list of problems with.

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    • avatar

      cat-i-z April 21, 2011, 3:20 pm

      I just love your responses!

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        ReginaRey April 21, 2011, 3:24 pm

        Thank you! That makes me smile 🙂

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      LolaBeans April 21, 2011, 3:40 pm

      I always love your responses!!! omg!

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      • Dear Wendy

        Wendy April 21, 2011, 3:43 pm

        Maybe ReginaRey should be a guest columnist for DW some time. You have your own fan club around here, RR.

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        ReginaRey April 21, 2011, 3:48 pm

        Gasp! I’d be so thrilled and quite honored! I’ll forward Wendy my contact info, so that she can hit me up if she ever thinks of something for RR. I’m so flattered!

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        sarolabelle April 21, 2011, 3:53 pm

        I wrote my comment below before I saw this! YES!

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      • avatar

        ape escape April 21, 2011, 4:19 pm

        What if both Wendy and ReginaRey answered certain letters “together,” in sort of a chat or dialogue format, trading ideas and advice or building on what the other said (or even disagreeing, whatever.) I think a format like that would be interesting…

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      sarolabelle April 21, 2011, 3:47 pm

      I really think you need to branch off and have a Dear ReginaRay blog.

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        SpyGlassez April 21, 2011, 5:18 pm

        But only if she kept commenting here, because it’s best when these things occur in dialogue.

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      Anna April 21, 2011, 5:35 pm

      I actually think it is a bit shallow to hold your boyfriend’s weight against him. People with weight problems are very sensitive, and if I were you I wouldn’t bring that up specifically when talking to him. It would hurt him a lot.

      While of course I think you shouldn’t be with someone who you don’t find sexually attractive, I also think you should re-evaluate what you want in a guy. Just someone who has a nice body? Seems lacking to me.

      My boyfriend is overweight too but I think he’s sexy as hell. Maybe it’s just because I’m in love with him, but I really couldn’t care less about his weight because he’s the most awesome dude I’ve ever known.

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      • avatar

        Laurel April 21, 2011, 5:52 pm

        I think it really depends. If a person goes into a relationship with someone they’re not physically attracted to and then want to break up with that person because of their weight/shape (or want them to diet / bodybuild /whatever to attain the “ideal”) that’s shitty on the part of the dater. I think it is a different circumstance if one person in the relationship lets go of their health/fitness and looks drastically different from the person the dater was initially attracted to.

        Now for the record I know time gets everyone in the end and it is not reasonable to expect a post-menopausal woman or women who have gone through childbirth to have the same bodies they did before those naturally body-altering experiences, eg. I’m talking drastic changes like large weight gain/loss in a short period of time, going from being active to completely sedentary, etc. Then is is the partner’s responsibility to look out for their SO’s wellbeing, and also their own ability to be sexually attracted (which has both mental AND physical components.)

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    Meg April 21, 2011, 3:17 pm

    I’ve been in your place, staying in a relationship with someone I just wasn’t feeling it with because it was “safe” rather than making the braver (but ultimately fairer to both of us!) move of calling it off so we could both move on. No one likes to give up a person with a lot of good qualities and be alone, and no one likes causing pain to a person they care about, but it sounds like in this case it’s going to happen sooner or later. It’s not either of your fault, especially not his. Your gut is just telling you that you’re not right for each other, not that he’s a bad person or a bad partner in general. I’m sure he’d be a great partner for someone else, just as you would be for someone you actually click with.

    I know exactly what you mean about being apprehensive about introducing him to your friends/family and not picturing marriage with him- I’ve had both of those experiences in the past with a couple different exes. The problem was just that on some level, I knew he wasn’t The One- and if you’re looking for someone to be a long-term partner, then it’s in both of your best interest to cut your losses and move forward. Now that I’m finally with a guy that I really think is The One (and at the very least, is a very good fit for me at the moment), I’m super excited to introduce him to the other important people in my life, and to meet his family- and I can’t stop daydreaming about marrying him, hopefully sooner rather than later! I no longer have that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when the topic of long-term commitment comes up.

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    • avatar

      EB April 21, 2011, 7:39 pm

      I completely agree the LR shouldn’t stay in the relationship but I think her apprehensiveness about introducing him to friends or family is more a reflection on her than him or them as a couple.

      “I am afraid they will judge me or think I’m desperate”

      Anytime you equate your worth to who you date, where you work, or what you drive, etc. , you are basically handing over control of your self esteem and potential happiness to someone else ( whether that be public opinion, your significant other, your boss, or the economy).

      side note : I spent my teen years dating people who I thought other people thought I should date. Finally, I realized that I was TOTALLY overestimating my own importance in the lives of others. Once you get out of high school, people are generally way too preoccupied with work, family, and their own love lives to waste time analyzing yours.

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      • avatar

        Meg April 22, 2011, 8:17 am

        I think it can go either way. She could be embarrassed to make those introductions because she doesn’t think he’s “good enough,” but in my case it was more that I was afraid my friends and family would sense that my heart wasn’t in it- a fact that I wasn’t ready to accept myself. It felt like I was lying to everyone in my life by making those introductions and going through the motions while I tried to convince myself that I could make the relationship work. I’m not sure which is the case for the LW.

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    cat-i-z April 21, 2011, 3:18 pm

    Wendy is right… when you find “the one” you will know. This guy does not sound like the one for you, LW.

    So I would say buh-bye to this relationship. You’ll find one someday that you won’t be able to even consider letting go….

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    TECH April 21, 2011, 3:25 pm

    Great advice, Wendy! I agree, none of these are “red flags.” He just doesn’t seem like a compatible partner for you. It doesn’t mean he’s not a great guy — I’m sure he is. Just not the right guy for you. You said it yourself, “he is completely head over heels in love with me, and although I do love him, I’m afraid I don’t love him the same way.” Please, do not blame yourself if you find yourself turned off by his weight. You can’t change what you’re attracted to, and the worst thing you could do is force yourself to feel something you don’t.

    If you feel you must break up with him, please — try not to guilt yourself or feel bad about it! I was recently talking with a girlfriend who has been with her boyfriend for 2 1/2 years. For months and months, perhaps even over a year, she’s been contemplating breaking up with him, but she hasn’t because she’s afraid of breaking his heart. She’d feel bad, and she really cares about him, so she doesn’t want to see him hurt.

    Do what Wendy says. Free him to find someone who will love him in ways you can’t.

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      applescruff April 21, 2011, 4:36 pm

      I was that girl. After two years, I was desperately sad for about 3 days after I broke up with him (partially because I did it the day before my birthday, which was…inconvenient timing), but then felt an amazing sense of relief, for both of us. It left us both open to find someone who we LOVE, instead of just have some affection for.

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      TheGirl April 21, 2011, 4:45 pm

      I was that girl, too! I dated a guy in college for three years, then he graduated and I spend a semester in London. I agonized over the relationship the whole time I was there and then I suddenly had that moment of clarity – if I had to think about it THAT much, I obviously wasn’t in love with him enough to spend the rest of my life with him. We both moved on, and while I know I hurt him, it gave him the freedom to up and move to another country with a friend of his, where he met a woman to whom he has now been happily married for 5 years. I met my hubby and never had to agonize over whether I wanted to be with him.

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  • Public Pearl

    Public Pearl April 21, 2011, 3:30 pm

    “although I do love him, I’m afraid I don’t love him the same way.”

    I barely even read the rest after this. You’re not in love with him. End it so he can find someone who will love him the same way.

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  • avatar

    HmC April 21, 2011, 3:37 pm

    “But the bottom line is you don’t need reasons to not be into someone.”

    LW sounds very unsure about what exactly she is looking for in a partner, what traits are dealbreakers for her, and what love even means to her. LW, I’d recommend some time off dating. Learn about yourself a little, and that will help you become more confident in what you want from someone else.

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  • avatar

    Maive April 21, 2011, 3:50 pm

    Some Examples of Red Flags I have encountered…

    Freaking out because you forgot to text him when you get home.

    Following you home at night to see if you are meeting up with your ex…

    Accusing you of cheating all the time, when that is clearly not happening.

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    • avatar

      sarolabelle April 21, 2011, 4:13 pm

      Red flag for me once is that I had a panic attack everytime he contacted me. Most stressful 2 week fling ever!

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    mf April 21, 2011, 4:05 pm

    To the LW: You’re not crazy about this guy. MOA and find someone you’re absolutely wild about. Both you and your boyfriend deserve that kind of love and happiness.

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  • avatar

    ape escape April 21, 2011, 4:15 pm

    LW, you hereby have my / our permission to moa and break up with him.

    That is what you wanted, right?

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  • Heather

    Heather April 21, 2011, 4:27 pm

    If you ask me, she shouldn’t have even needed Wendy’s advice on this one.

    If she just wrote the letter with the intention of sending it, and then read it herself beforehand, I think she would have had her answer…

    MOA.

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  • avatar

    Bethany April 21, 2011, 4:29 pm

    I think everyone is spot on so far when they say you’re clearly not into him, and it’s time to MOA…

    I did want to point out something though, in relation to this statement: “I have also been struggling with accepting how I actually feel in a relationship with how I think I am “supposed” to feel in a relationship. I am not the type of girl who enjoys copious amounts of PDA and needs to be in contact every day”

    There is no way you are supposed to feel in a relationship. You feel the way you feel, and that’s it. Some people miss their bf/gf after being away from them for 10 minutes, for other people it takes 2-3 days. Some people like PDA, some people don’t. Some people who may have acted one way in a relationship might meet someone someday who changes the way they feel about those things, and that’s ok too.

    I used to say that my ideal marriage would be to own both sides of a twin house and live next door to my husband because I need/like a lot of time and space to myself. I’m sure many people would say that’s not what a relationship is supposed to be like, but those people aren’t in a relationship with me, so it doesn’t matter. So long as you are both happy with the kind of relationship you have, that’s all that should matter (though it sounds to me like you’re not happy with the relationship you have).

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    • MissRemy

      Ally April 21, 2011, 5:02 pm

      Hey if it works for Helena Bonham-Carter and Tim Burton then why not?

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    Sarah April 21, 2011, 4:30 pm

    I don’t think its unfair to be turned off by an SO being overweight per say, however, not introducing him to friends because you’re afraid his weight and appearance will make your friends think you’re desperate is a little on the hurtful side to me. MOA, for yourself and for him, nobody should have to be pitied by their SO.

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    baby.blanka April 21, 2011, 3:33 pm

    I know this is going to be a mean comment, and I really don’t intend it to be that way but hear me out.

    To the LW – your letter is almost more of a red flag than your concerns. I agree with Wendy that none of your issues are really red flags so much as things you probably knew about him before you started dating. On the other hand, your emotions are seemingly running away from you and it might not be a bad idea to sit and focus on what you really want. In the same paragraph you state how you don’t need constant contact but miss him immensely. Then maybe you do like more contact when you’re in a relationship but not being entirely honest with yourself about it? I don’t know. I think accepting more about yourself, and what you are looking for in a relationship may save you both a lot of unnecessary heartache either way.

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  • avatar

    AKchic April 21, 2011, 7:01 pm

    *laugh*

    Red flags? Honey… these are more like yellow, orange, blue and purple flags. You guys don’t have the same core values in regards to health. He is clingier and more “romantic”/sensitive than you are. You seem to be (to put a positive spin on it) pragmatic, level headed and on an even keel emotionally. Basically – you don’t need a relationship to define you and you aren’t desperate for a man to complete your life. Your description of him however suggests that you think that HE feels that he is desperate for a woman to complete his life and that a girlfriend defines his social status within the world.
    I’m not sure if this means that YOU have a general negative view of this guy, or if it’s the wrong impression I’m getting in the tone of the letter.

    You said things moved too fast. You have the option of slowing things down or even taking things a step or two back. You said that your friend “doesn’t believe in” the relationship. Do you make all of your decisions based on your friends’ opinions? If so – grow a pair. Time to rely on your own judgement, don’t you think? Who are you trying to please: yourself or your friend(s)? What is more important: your happiness or your friend’s opinion?

    WHY are you feeling embarassed about introducing your male friend to your friends/family? Is it his weight? Is it his looks? Poor manners? A surly attitude or general rude demeanor? Perhaps he is a racist or xenophobe and your family is mixed ethnicities from multiple countries? If it is for superficial reasons, then you need to let him go and find someone worthy of his affections. If it is because he is a mental midget then you need to ditch him for your own well-being (mental and possibly physical). If you aren’t sure, then you need to think about it. The person you are dating shouldn’t feel like an “embarassment” to you.

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    • avatar

      Giancarla April 22, 2011, 2:17 pm

      I completely agree with you. I think people on this board are too nice. When I read LW’s letter, I was more irritated with LW than sympathetic. Sure, her bf isn’t perfect but I got the feeling she was listing his lesser qualities as a way to justify her feeling that she’s not in a relationship she would like.

      One particular part that really bothered me was how other people’s opinion of her boyfriend would reflect on her. If you really loved someone, that wouldn’t matter one bit. I feel more bad for her bf for wasting his time (and love) with LW when she can’t “man-up” and tell him she’s not that into him. If just for the “love” you say you feel for your bf (though to a lesser degree than his for you), just let him go!

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        AKchic April 22, 2011, 3:25 pm

        Yes, the general amount of “pussy-footing” is irritating. I know, people want something a little more “PC”, but seriously, being PC is why we end up with these wishy-washy half-assed letters sometimes. “I don’t know what I want”, “I think I love the idea of being in love with him, but I’m not IN LOVE with him” and all that rot.
        I mean, I know damned well I am no romantic. *snort* It is a running joke that if someone tries to get me something “heart shaped” for Valentine’s Day that it had better still be beating and fresh. I am the “anti-girl”. I don’t eat chocolate (it makes me want to throw up), I don’t like jewelry much (I wear my earrings, my mothers ring and a moldavite necklace, that’s it), and I don’t see why it’s considered romantic to give a person a bunch of dead flowers. Give me a potted plant, but don’t hand me a bunch of dead flowers. I hate chick flicks. I don’t like hearts. I just see it as a waste of money to plan an extravagant night one day a year. *shrug* Of course, when I’m asked what I’d like gift-wise anyways, I’ve been known to ask for ammunition, gun powder (so I can make my own ammunition), a new snow shovel, ice melt, and one year – gardening supplies so I could rebuild one of my flower boxes in the yard.

        I really think that in some ways, our society has gotten too “nice”. Yes, politeness and civility go a long way and are necessary. In certain instances it is not warranted and plain speaking is an absolute necessity in order to not only get the point across, but to make it perfectly clear what we are saying, and just how we feel about the subject and the person we are talking to. In this case – the LW is trying to lay blame at her boyfriends’ feet for her lackluster feelings of him. It isn’t his fault that he doesn’t “do it” for her. It isn’t necessarily anybody’s fault, but she wants to be able to blame him so she doesn’t feel guilty about dumping him.

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    thefierycrash April 22, 2011, 12:40 am

    as someone who stayed in a relationship like this for 2 (too) long years, you should get out now. you will end up hurting him more in the long run if you stay with him and are constantly picking out his flaws, getting annoyed with him, etc. i was really awful to my ex at times even though he was seriously a wonderful guy because i wasn’t in love with him and he wasn’t at all the type of person i could be with. i was trying to force myself to be in love and be with him because it was safe and i wasn’t alone. it wasn’t worth it and he didn’t deserve to be treated like that.

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  • Jess

    Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com April 22, 2011, 10:47 am

    I think there are SO many women in this situation. And so many people beat themselves up for not feeling what they should feel. They blame it on other things or their own emotional inadequacies. When so often, it’s this intangible thing called chemistry. It’s pointless to sit around wondering why you feel (or don’t feel) the way you do. Love isn’t supposed to be commonplace. If it were, it wouldn’t be special. And so yes, we’re wise to look for points of compatibilities and desirable qualities in a partner. These are the things that put us on the right trail to find love. These are clues but not guarantees. You might find the perfect mate on paper but not FEEL very much when you are with him. Is it pheromones, biology, timing, method of seduction? Who knows?

    All I know is that you shouldn’t drop anchor until you’ve found that merger of compatibility, compassion, and chemistry. (the 3 Cs?? haha). It’s rare but SOOOO worth it.

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  • avatar

    convexexed April 23, 2011, 2:03 am

    I was with someone for 3 years who for half that time couldn’t articulate (to himself or to me) exactly in what way he loved me, if at all. He wavered between ‘I love you but I don’t always know if I’m IN love with you’ and ‘You are my greatest, greatest love!’ and ‘I just read The Stranger and, sure, you can love me if you want and I don’t mind but I personally don’t think anything matters at all’. It was heartbreaking–I believe he was like this LW. He had fallen out of love with me and was slowly, in his head, belaboring all the annoying, tedious things about me and pondering, slowly, how he ‘should’ feel about me. I could see from his face that he didn’t know what to do about me. I could almost hear his internal pros-and-cons monologue ringing in his head when he looked at me.

    Please, LW, trust the feelings you *do* have. If you feel ashamed, bothered or annoyed, less invested than he is, less in love than he is, you don’t feel the right things to justify keeping him as your boyfriend. Sure, maybe you’ll eventually get over these doubts, or become satisfied, but maybe you won’t, for months, and he’ll be there loving you head over heels and at the same time absolutely in his heart knowing your indecision. You may have a lot of unanswered questions about yourself and about love, but you can still do the right thing by this guy and MOA cleanly, promptly, kindly and with new confidence knowing you didn’t take the lazy way out (stringing him along while you think) that’s easy for you but devastating for him.

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