Men who sit too long on the emotional fence in a relationship, rob their partners of life’s most precious resource: time.
There are lots of ways men mistreat women, as is frequently discussed in various sites like The Good Men Project. The more obvious kinds—like psychological or physical abuse, or the emotional manipulation discussed in Yashar Ali’s insightful Why Women Aren’t Crazy—get a fair bit of attention, and deservedly so. But there’s another kind I see all the time in relationships everywhere that goes less recognized: men who sit too long on the emotional fence in a relationship, wasting precious years of their partner’s time before ultimately heading for the door.
I call them the Time Bandits.
They rob their partners of life’s most precious resource.
And I’m here to call my fellow men out on it.
To be fair, I admit, I’ve been this guy myself at times, to some degree. While I’ve never wasted “years” of a woman’s life, I have stayed in things longer than I should have, and I’m trying to never be that guy again.
While it’s unethical for either partner (regardless of gender) in any relationship to waste the other’s time by not being fully committed, or honest about their intentions, it seems a particularly worse crime when perpetrated against women (if she wants to have kids and be married some day), since time is a resource they simply have less of than men. A 35 year-old man can afford to dally another 5-10-15 years before having his first child. Not so for a 35 year-old woman. I live in New York City. I see too many women who’ve lost crucial child-bearing years to a guy who spent years in emotional limbo and then hit the road.
For the record, I am not judging any relationship that simply doesn’t work out and a man ends it late in the game because they grew apart. I’m calling to task the men who have been on the fence since very early in the relationship, and yet stay in that same position for years on end, and then finally call it off later for the same misgivings they had years earlier.
And the reason a guy usually stays? Simple: lack of courage.
Because breaking up is brutal, for both parties. It’s a lot easier to postpone it and avoid the hardship it inevitably brings. I’ve spent plenty of time coming up with my own reasons of “why it’s not a good time to break up right now.” But it rarely is. You just have to do it anyway.
I know of countless men—some of whom I count among my good friends—who have expressed a serious concern about compatibility early in their relationships, and yet not acted on it for years. To me there’s a statute of limitations to which you can cite a particular issue as the reason for exit, and the clock starts ticking the first time you mentally decide, “Hmm, this is a pretty big problem for me.”
Once you have that concern, I think, as a man, you have a specific moral obligation to be forthcoming about it and do one of two things: 1) raise your concerns with your partner and attempt to reconcile them, or 2) recognize that, if you think this incompatibility is not “fix-able,” that this is a deal-breaker for you, you have to get the check and head for the door. If she’s looking for “the one” and thinks you’re it, it’s a crime of the heart to stay with her if you know you’re inevitably going to leave. And it robs her of time to find another man better suited to her.
Yes, I recognize, it’s not easy to arrive at the “exit” decision. It’s a rather grave one, and one we don’t want to make lightly. Leaving someone is rarely a move you can take back. But I think part of being a “good man” (actually, just being an adult) is to act in union with your inner beliefs. If you truly don’t think you’re aligned with your partner, you have an obligation to act on that feeling. At least have the chat, or say you need to time to think about it. I dated a woman once where I was pretty sure at the one year mark that we weren’t going to go the distance. But it took me another 3 months to finally break it off. Why was that? Because I genuinely cared for her and didn’t want to break her heart. And I also couldn’t bear how disappointed she was going to be with me. I knew I was going to be the “asshole” and put it off as long as possible.
But let’s say you begin dating a woman when you’re both 30. And you have an issue, with, say, your different approaches to money (or sex, or religion, or raising kids, or alcohol, or resolving an argument), and you’ve either a) discussed the issue but can’t come to an agreement on it, or b) have chosen not to ever raise it at all, then you can’t spend 3-8 more years in that relationship failing to act on an issue that still bothers you every day. That makes you an asshole. You may not be deliberately trying to hurt her, or rob years from her life, but that’s what you’re doing. It’s like knowing you like brunettes, but start dating a blonde, and then nine years into it, after she’s raised the marriage question a million times, you break up with her saying, “Sorry, I just don’t like your hair.” That’s not her fault, it’s yours. But she pays the price.
Now take the guy who keeps on going from there, just out of inertia. And then marries her. And has the kid with her. And gets by on adrenaline for a little while. But eventually, the truth will out, and he’ll want the divorce, and that awkward breakup he could have instead faced years earlier will seem like a cakewalk. Because now there are a lot more complications (and victims) involved. So I say do both of yourselves the favor of trying to face the inevitable truth sooner than later. If you know in your heart of hearts that you’re not truly in love with her, do not take years of her life that she’ll never get back. And allow yourself, too, the chance to find a better fit.
Now, I realize, of course, that women perhaps bear the ultimate responsibility of staying with a guy who has one foot out the door, abusing their time. They can opt out, too, if they want, if they feel their lover/ boyfriend/ soulmate is taking too long to decide she’s the one. And I encourage them to do so. In my experience, men rarely believe women are serious about something until they threaten to walk. (Unfortunately.) Your willingness to walk might be the only thing that makes him realize what he’s about to lose. But I am sympathetic to the fact that a woman has more incentive to make those 3, 4, 5 years invested actually convert. Because starting over with someone new takes time, too. So she’s more likely to give him a third or fourth chance.
Which is why it’s incumbent upon us men to not exploit that leniency.
By staying on the fence, guys, we not only further rob our partners of their chance at happiness, but we muddy our own sense of identity, too. We’re living a double-life, where we’re compromising on crucial beliefs. And that act of flouting our own instincts will make us less able to follow them down the road when the real Mrs. Right comes along.
So man up, my fellow men, and get the hell out of the relationships you truly don’t believe you can finish. You’re not doing your partner any favors, and you’re probably interfering with your own future chances at romance, too. Take an honest inventory of what is most important to you in a partner, and if you’re not on the same page, give her as much time as possible to find someone who values what she’s bringing to the table more than you do.
Yes, even if she hates you for it. (For some some tips on getting through that, try here.)
As men, we’re born with the perhaps-undeserved biological advantage of a looser time frame to accomplish our family-raising goals in life.
Let’s not abuse it.
Time is precious. So when it comes to relationships, gentlemen: no stealing allowed.
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