When Men Waste Women’s Time

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’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.

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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About Mark Radcliffe

Mark Radcliffe is a writer living in New York City. He has a weakness for bourbon, jazz and girls who can drive stick. You can read more of his essays here: www.theradcliffescrolls.tumblr.com and http://markradcliffe.com.

Comments

  1. wellokaythen says:

    “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.”

    So close to the truth here. Just take out the “perhaps” and the argument would be spot-on.

  2. This is hogwash and Mr. Radcliffe must know that to be the case.

    It wouldn’t be hogwash if it approached the issue from a non-gendered perspective. Instead we get more piling on of the tired, rehashed idea that “men are intentionally bad and women are always the victims”.

    The “story” of this is like my last relationship. Seven years from the age of 19 onward. We didn’t stay together against the odds, we stayed together because we loved each other and the disconnects weren’t apparent in black-and-white enough to justify the separation before it actually happened. This sort of hogwash makes the way-too-common failure these days of assuming that because hindsight is 20/20 we should have known better. But wait! it’s also the man’s fault!

    Let’s stop wishing for a perfect world and start, at least, actually living in the one we exist within.

    • ” Instead we get more piling on of the tired, rehashed idea that “men are intentionally bad and women are always the victims”.

      True.

      Whatever the topic, that almost always ends up being the bottom line.

      • “” Instead we get more piling on of the tired, rehashed idea that “men are intentionally bad and women are always the victims”.

        True.

        Whatever the topic, that almost always ends up being the bottom line.”
        The cynic in me would say it’s because I feel that is what brings a lot of women to websites about men, that guilt, that apologetic tone, pandering to their belief of eternal victimhood. Granted that’s only some women, I do see quite a lot of women happy to read good stories who will comment and say thank-you, who love their men dearly. But maybe stories about bad stuff gain more traction.

        It’s sad though when the story with the most views on a site for men, is about how men treat women badly. That does cause me to believe there are more women that want to see content on a site for men, about how men fuckup and how men should be better men, how they need to stop being assholes. Or maybe it just means we have more females reading this site than men by a huge amount?

        Either way it’s depressing me, I don’t really feel men are being celebrated or praised when topics of how men are bad and women are the victim are the most popular. Even the topics on abuse, the ones of how women suffer seem to gain more views than the ones where men are the victims from what I can see. It really does feel like more readers on this site care more about women’s issues vs men’s….Maybe it’s just the feminist or female-laden blogs pickup on a story, linkback to here and those readers are the ones pushing the page views up on female-orientated articles?

        Do any of the site admins know what the gender breakdown is for readers here? I could be completely wrong but I think the most popular articles are ones portraying women in a victim role, and men in a perpetrator role. Or does it just cycle depending on what articles are up and throughout the year? Sometimes more male orientated content is popular, sometimes more female orientated content is popular?

        One thing I’ve never seen is an article “6 things women can do to stop violence against men” or many articles that suggest women are perpetrators of violence toward the men, has the GMP run any like that here? Hopefully without the meme of “butwomengetitworse”?

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Just to be clear – the articles that get the most pageviews are not negative about men and I’m not sure where you’re getting that from, Archy. The posts that get the most PVs are actually the ones about parenting, a few about sex and a couple others. The ones that get the most comments are often the most controversial posts, lately ones like this one or the Dr Nerdlove ones, and while they do very well, they aren’t necessarily the ones with the most pageviews.

          The controversial ones do get lots of comments, but we think that’s great because it generates discussion. It would be ideal if both sides would be willing to see each other and themselves, and try to learn and grow.

          • I remember Tom writing a post about it but maybe I misread it, the top pageview article was the mansplaining one wasn’t it? I see the weekly stats, is there a yearly one as well? I’m curious to see what the breakdown is like.

            I could be noticing the most controversial ones more due to comments, they fill my email up and probably stick in my mind more I guess especially as spend a lot of time in the comment sections. That probably explains the feeling I got, so ignore what I said, I spoke too soon :S. Maybe it’s partly a feeling some of us get in society where we feel men cop mostly negativity, even the last few articles I’ve read have been things like how to NOT be a creep, speaking out against men abusing women, why men catcall, etc. Are these the minority type of article?

  3. This one hits a sour note, Mark. It can’t be that hard to imagine that women aren’t just mindless tower-dwellers, each trapped in a half-life purgatory, unable to live her life as she chooses until her prince comes along with a white rose or a diamond ring or perfect kiss to rescue her so she can let down her hair or open her eyes or take off her blindfold or whatever, so she can finally “start her life.” Please.

    If a person, male or female, isn’t getting what they want from their partner, they’re wasting their OWN time sticking around. And believe me, there are plenty of women who think things are just fine as they are and don’t waste their own time with silly time frames and expiration dates and ultimatums.
    “We’ve been dating two years….time to decide whether it’s eternity or nothing” wouldn’t work for me – the answer would be “nothing;” I’m not a fan of ultimatums – why should it work for dudes? Or anyone, really?

    • “If a person, male or female, isn’t getting what they want from their partner, they’re wasting their OWN time sticking around.”

      EX-ACT-LY.

    • Mark Radcliffe says:

      I think we’re actually in agreement here, Jill. I state pretty clearly where I think the ultimately onus lies:

      “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.”

      The differentiating point is when men CONCEAL their misgivings, their false heart, and indicate everything is fine, when often, deep inside, it’s not. This is a pattern I’ve seen countless times with my male counterparts. It’s harder to know when a woman should opt out when she’s being fed an illusion.

      And yes, it’s a two-way street; I believe both genders have a moral obligation to respect each other’s time, and their heart. But from what I’ve witnessed in life, it’s usually the men who are running afoul of this ethic.

      • J.G. te Molder says:

        Yes, yes, men are evil, men conceal everything, men are vile, men abuse, we’ve heard that bull over and over again.

        And all of it is bullshit.

        • Mark Radcliffe says:

          You’re right. Everything you just said is complete bullshit.

          Let’s not put 2 & 2 together and get 35.

          My point is: SOME men are being dishonest with their partners (and themselves) about their true feeling and intentions. And that should stop. For the benefit of them both. That’s all.

          Believe me, I think a lot of men are f*cking fantastic. And I think a lot of women have some serious work to do on themselves. But that’s for another essay…

  4. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    The model underlying this article is very, very 1950s. As are many of the other stances that underly GMP articles. In the 1960s and 1970s, we beleived that we had opened up acceptances of different ways to look at marriage (even when it was quite monogamous.) Also, there is enough population in this world. We have 7 or 8 Billion, when the Earth can only supprort 2 Billion, given a Western European lifestyle for all. So, if it’s only about kids.

    One of my issues right now is that we seem to want gender equality (laudable,) but, at the same time (and impossibly,) want to return to Victorian protections for women, and the Victorian upper middle class family. (Most people didn’t enjoy this, actually.) These ideas are in contradiction to each other.

  5. I have to disagree with previous commenters. Yeah, sure it is the woman’s responsibility to leave if she cannot get what she wants. The point is, though, she can’t do this if you’re misrepresenting yourself or if you have not spoken up even though you know deep down you can’t give her what she needs. I think a lot of us simply stay in a relationship because it is good at the time, without considering how time is not on a woman’s side. If a woman has told you that she wants kids, and you continue to date her for years, then she will take this to mean you want them too. And why would she not? She told you what her expectations were for the relationship, so if you stay in said relationship, it seems to suggest you agree. So no, it is not her responsibility to beat the truth out of you, or to try to guess at your desires when they are totally contrary to your actions. As soon as you know that she wants something different, it’s your responsibility to make her aware of your feelings. Fortuantely I want kids, so i’m good!!!

    • ” If a woman has told you that she wants kids, and you continue to date her for years, then she will take this to mean you want them too. And why would she not? She told you what her expectations were for the relationship, so if you stay in said relationship, it seems to suggest you agree.”

      This is where being an adult comes in. You set clear expectations, with timelines and gates associated with them, to include engagement with a wedding date set. An engagement without a set date is just more dating.

    • John Anderson says:

      “The point is, though, she can’t do this if you’re misrepresenting yourself or if you have not spoken up even though you know deep down you can’t give her what she needs.”

      Everyone should be honest in a relationship. What I think people are disagreeing with is the OP’s assertion that men have the responsibility to break up, when most people believe that his responsibility is only limited to being honest. If a man is honest about not wanting marriage or kids or even not wanting it with this particular person and she stays, why is it incumbent on the man to break up a relationship that’s working for him? Another related issue is the OP’s position that a man is required to work on a woman’s timeline. It’s generally not a good idea to be forced or obligated into a marriage.

    • Mark Radcliffe says:

      Thx, Georgie. Yes, that’s one of my points; the problem is that it’s harder for women to know when to leave if she’s being fed false testimony from her partner. If he’s saying “everything’s fine,” when deep inside it isn’t, she doesn’t have the proper data to motivate a decision to leave. And sorry to those who will claim this is a stereotype, but in my experience it’s usually the men who are less forthcoming about their misgivings in a relationship. And I’ve got about 400 female friends who would be happy to support that with evidence.

      • J.G. te Molder says:

        Wait… 400 female friends…!?

        Checks profile: singer/songwriter knows 400 female “friends” who ALL have problems with men that left or they broke up with even after the men saying that all was fine…

        Riiight…

        Maybe it’s just me, but why do I have the feeling that until those 400 females met you, everything was actually fine as far as their men was concerned? And then mr. singer/songwriter comes along, who spends his time berating men and telling women how awful men.

      • If they make their expectations known and, regardless of what he says, if his actions aren’t satisfactory based on her requirements and his agreement, she is free to move on. If she stays in the relationship despite his actions not meeting her requirements, she has no one to blame but herself.

        This coming from someone who has far more than 400 female friends just within a 4 or 5 mile radius.

  6. J.G. te Molder says:

    Oh, great…

    Now not doing anything is abuse to. I’m wondering how long it is before it gets enshrined into law.

    Stay away from women, men…

    I wonder how long it is before staying away from women will be called abused, and there’s a law against men staying away from women.

  7. Men don’t waste women’s time—women waste their own time. If a guy isn’t committing the way she would like, she’s free to leave him and find another man.

    NEWSFLASH: women have agency. So stop infantilizing them.

  8. You know why this article is addressed to men, and not the women who allow men to waste their time? I had a boyfriend with whom I brought up our issues of compatibility MANY times. I asked him over and over if he thought I was right for him. I certainly thought (at that time) that he was right for me. He’d always reassure me that he loved me, even BEGGED me to stay when I tried to break it off TWICE (yes, it’s my fault for not realizing the truth and sticking to my guns). The truth is, though he’d convinced me that he truly loved me, HE DIDN’T. He ended up leaving me due to those “compatibility” issues that I’d recognized long before after 3 years!! :-\ So yes, that’s an asshole move! He aimed to keep me there, as some sort of backup, until he found what he wanted in his heart the entire time. That is completely unfair, and I will never do that to anyone. I don’t know how I’ll be sure the next guy will be totally honest…

    • christie says:

      I’m in a similar situation, been with my boyfriend for 3 years now, we’ve discussed getting married since early on. I’m finally figuring out through his actions not matching his words and his inconsistency that he’s never actually going to marry me. All I’ve ever asked for is his honesty and I now believe he is lying to keep me there because while he won’t marry me, he also won’t let me go. It’s a horrible situation to be in. I’ve finally decided I have to end the limbo for myself by leaving before I lose my mind. If he had just been honest with me about his intentions he could have saved years of my life. Everything Mark said in this article is spot-on with my experience. They lie and lead you on because they don’t want to lose you all the while knowing they’ll never be able to give you what you want.

  9. christie says:

    Everything Mark said in this article is spot-on my experience in my 3 year relationship. We’ve talked about marriage since fairly early on, I gave him my personal timeline for marriage/kids and he told me if I stayed with him, I’d meet it. It’s now 3 years in and there’s been no proposal, no firm timeline set. He’s telling me we are going to get engaged soon but still hasn’t bought the ring I picked out months ago. I’m starting to figure out through his actions not matching his words and his inconsistency that he’s never actually going to marry me despite his claims otherwise. All I’ve ever asked for is his honesty and I now believe he is lying to keep me there because while he won’t marry me, he also won’t let me go. It’s a horrible situation to be in. I’ve finally decided I have to end the limbo for myself by leaving before I lose my mind. If he had just been honest with me about his intentions he could have saved years of my life. Some men are like this, they lie and lead you on because they don’t want to lose you all the while knowing they’ll never be able to give you what you want. That’s why they’re called time bandits, they steal your time for their own personal benefit and don’t care because your fertility limits don’t directly impact them.

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