Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’m a long time reader and I’ve never needed personalized advice before (happy enough to read your advice to others), but here we are.
I have been dating Alpha for three years and a half now. We started having the best sex of our lives and then discovered we were meant for each other. He is intellectually stimulating in a way my former partners weren’t, he is caring (puts up pretty well with my ups and downs), he makes me laugh and he loves me unconditionally. These things have been there from the start and still are.
However, he’s also got pretty big family issues, he was depressed and addicted to drugs in the past and he probably has some kind of mental health problem – a mood disorder, I’d say. He refuses to seek help because of bad past experiences with psychiatrists and psychologists.
I’m 28 and he’s 26. I’ve got a degree, a nice job, plans for the future, lots of hobbies and tons of friends. He finished high school, dropped out of college, has no work experience, has isolated himself from his friends and, since we’re together, spends his time smoking joints, playing video games/instruments, reading and working on a crazy startup project (already for 2 years) which doesn’t look profitable at all.
I’m the caretaker type and I’ve reeeally tried. I’ve paid for a psychologist, but he stopped going. I’ve offered him love and all the space he needs (he’s a bit antisocial). About a year ago, I started feeling deeply unhappy: we spent almost no time together, no time with my friends ever and he talked all the time about moving together but didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with job/studies. I tried to talk to him many times, even sent him a letter. Nothing worked.
I recently moved out of my parents’ place, sick of waiting for him to get a job.
And then it happened. I went to a music festival and reconnected with a great friend, Bravo. I kind of liked him at university, but he was so difficult, and still is. Amazing, creative, fun to party with, a music connoisseur… but at 31 he’s still trying to finish his degree, has almost no work experience and is a bit of a mess. See a pattern there?
We started talking a lot, dancing and ended up making out while drunk. I felt so guilty. And Bravo doesn’t even remember!
The thing is Bravo and I have been having this weird story for 10 years. All we have had are drunken hookups because he was always so weird and I’ve always thought he found me hot, but he wasn’t interested. Sex has never been great cause he was always so drunk, too. I recently asked Bravo if he was interested in me at university and he was, but I wasn’t brave enough to ask if it was love or lust.
I was the first person with whom he cheated on his only girlfriend. I once kissed him while in a relationship crisis and broke up with the guy the next day. And now this: I’m in a crisis, and here he comes again.
After making out with Bravo and with another random guy, I told Alpha I needed a break. He didn’t think it was a good idea, suddenly realized how unfair he had been to me and surprise! the miracle happened. He got a job, he moved in with me and he started hanging out with my friends. He more or less forgave my infidelity, although he doesn’t know who it was with.
Fast forward two months and Alpha been having problems with getting paid. The little he’s got goes to the startup. I pay for everything. And he refuses to look for another job till they pay him, giving himself excuses. He tries to be tidy and clean around our home, but it’s not his nature. He tries to hang out with my friends, but I can tell he doesn’t enjoy it.
And last weekend I went partying. Bravo was there. My best friend and him are starting something long distance, and I’m happy for them – they’re a bit of a mess, but it might work. They’re two of my favourite people.
While drinking some shots, Bravo told me he’s starting to really like my best friend, and he doesn’t want to, he’s scared, since he always f*cks up these things. I told him he should really try this time, and also that I wish my boyfriend was partying with us, that things were better and that I loved him very much. We were happy for each other.
One hour later we were unspeakably drunk, kissing each other like teenagers and having to restrain ourselves not to go home together. We were even caressing and all fluffy.
And now I can’t stop thinking about Bravo, about our conversations and about having sex with him. He hasn’t texted me, but has replied to a text I couldn’t help sending. I don’t think Bravo feels the same way, he likes my best friend and it’s so difficult for him to like a girl.
So here I am. Alpha loves me deeply and has started to change (the job!!!), but it seems it’s not enough, and that he’s just doing it for me, not because he really wants to. I don’t want to leave him just when he’s trying so hard and make him move back with his family. I also don’t want to be unfaithful and I’m getting close to that every day.
And Bravo is starting something with my best friend. I don’t think I can compete with her, she’s great at charming guys. And I also don’t want to, since Bravo is basically like Alpha, the same red flags. Just a bit more of a party animal and more social, that’s it. And with a story of infidelity and fear of commitment, which makes him way worse than Alpha. Even if my body and feelings tell me so, I don’t want a relationship with him.
But what’s wrong with us? Why can’t we seem to move on after 10 years and still come back to each other even when it’s the worst idea ever?
What can I do, Doctor? I’m a bit desperate.
Attracted to Peter Pans
As similar as Alpha and Bravo are, you’ve got two different issues going on. But let’s start with Alpha.
Alpha is the classic definition of “wasted potential”. It’s not that he’s stupid, shiftless or otherwise a bad guy… it’s just that, at the end of the day, he has no ambition or motivation. He’s in a rut… and he likes his rut. It’s comfortable there. It doesn’t make any real demands of him. And that’s where he’s going to stay, an object at rest until acted upon by an outside force. It’s significant that he only started to change after you said you needed a break: up until now, his coasting along had no consequences. Suddenly, he’s faced with an existential threat to his relationship with you and he realizes that if he wants to date you, then things need to change!
And so they do. For a little while. The problem is that Alpha likes his ruts and he’s starting to settle into a new one. He may not be stoner slacker he used to be, but he’s gone back into autopilot again. He’s done enough to assure himself that the threat to his relationship has been removed and now he’s ready to get back to coasting. And that’s where he’s going to stay until there’s yet another threat to motivate him again.
But really, why shouldn’t he? As it is, there are no downsides to his behavior. He’s got you paying all of the bills and taking care of him like he’s a child. He’s got his minimal-effort life, just the way he likes it.
The problem is that he’s not a child, you’re not his mom and, frankly, you’ve got your own life to lead. It’s not your job to keep cracking the whip on him every time he’s about to settle into a new comfy rut. That way lies the path to resentment and bitterness on both sides: for you because you keep having to manage his life for him, and for him because suddenly you’re the taskmistress and harridan that keeps him from enjoying a fine indica and some Red Dead Redemption 2 marathons.
Then there’s Bravo. Bravo is like that song that gets stuck in your head. You may not think about it for years, but suddenly there it is again, that little refrain you keep hearing on repeat. The reason why those refrains get stuck in our head is because they’re incomplete; you didn’t get the closure of hearing the entire song so now you’ve just got the hook running in a constant loop. Like an earworm, Bravo is unfinished business. Yeah, you’ve had your drunken makeouts, but the emphasis has been on “drunk”. You two are clearly attracted to one another, but neither of you is willing to act on that attraction without the benefits of a little social lubrication. Maybe it’s because you recognize that Bravo is ultimately a bad scene and that there can’t be anything but a fling. Maybe it’s because neither of you is willing to take ownership of your attraction and need the convenient excuse of “what’s in that drink?” But whatever the reason is, Bravo is, in his own way, like Alpha: wasted potential. A potential good time, granted. But still only potential.
So what now?
Well, if I’m perfectly honest, my advice would be to ditch both of them. You’re presenting this as a choice between Alpha and Bravo and frankly, that’s a false dichotomy.
Alpha’s potential is vast, but he doesn’t need a girlfriend so much as a manager; he needs someone to put boot to a$$ and make him remember that he’s a grown-a$$ adult who has responsibilities. At the end of the day, the only thing that seems to motivate him is to hold the relationship hostage, and that’s not good for anyone. As awesome as Alpha may be otherwise, he’s going to be a millstone around your neck. Having to be responsible for him is going to make it that much harder to live your own life. Life is hard enough when you’re trying to live it on your own. Having to live it for two – especially for someone who doesn’t want to be an active participant – is just too much to ask. Even parents understand that at the end of the day, your job is to stop being a parent. Alpha needs to fly on his own, not drag you down with him.
Bravo, on the other hand, is mostly appealing by contrast. Yeah, you two may have sizzling chemistry together, but right now his biggest draw is that he’s the opposite of Alpha. He’s dynamic where Alpha is passive, but that’s honestly about where it ends. And considering how many times that Bravo has cheated, or come close to cheating on his partners… well, I hope I shouldn’t have to point out that this its own box of red flags. Sure, they’ve all been with you… but that’s still a bad sign. He blows up every relationship he’s been in, and if he were to actually start one with you, then odds are that this pattern will continue to repeat itself.
Your best option is to leave both of them behind you and find yourself a guy who’s worth dating. Someone who’s emotionally healthy, has some actual ambition and drive and has his sh*t together. Someone who isn’t like either of these guys in your life.
Really, if I were to be blunt, I’d say that you should dump Alpha, finally bang Bravo sober and then move the h*ll on. You deserve better than both of these guys, ATPP; you should find yourself a man instead of a couple of boys.
Previously published here and reprinted with permission from the author.
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