July 29, 2007

Cardinal sin #28: Pity-dating

"I know she's not the one," sighed my friend P into his pint of Red Hook IPA. He was having "relationship issues". I love talking about "relationship issues". Hence us, together, over Bang Bang shrimp and drinks, (two more things I love) dissecting his relationship with his girlfriend of a couple years.

He's never cheated (hell, he felt guilty about meeting me for some platonic female counseling), treats his girlfriends like gold, is smart and an idealist and is actually capable of expressing himself intelligently with some real emotional maturity while also maintaining a distincly masculine air. He's no weenie, but he's also no brute.

Christ, looking back at that paragraph, he's like the holy grail of men, isn't he? And, dear single ladies, he's attractive. AND bilingual.

But he's also a notorious pity-dater.

This girl, who he met and almost immediately started dating and later moved in with, was a "pretty", "nice" girl. The prettiness and niceness were, well, pretty and nice at first.

"There weren't 'sparks', per se," he said, "But she was sweet, and liked me, and it just felt right."

"Right?" I raised my eyebrow.

"Easy," he conceded. "Routine. Which seemed at the time like the way it was supposed to be, I guess."

They never fought. (Let it be known that I believe every great relationship survives because its members know how to do two things very intelligently: fight and apologize -- and mean them both). He never cheated. The sex was just okay. (I asked.) Their phone conversations were short.

"Okay, so let me extrapolate this and see if I'm getting your drift," I said, taking a deep breath. "You go to work in grey cubicles every morning, meet for cheese sandwich lunches during which you hardly speak except about the weather. You come home at night, eat vanilla ice cream after your chicken just before putting on your footie P.J.s and saying your prayers every night at 8:30 sharp on the way to your (separate) beds."

"Yes!" he said. "Exactly! This is a vanilla relationship. At first, I liked the vanilla. It was sweet and looked nice and felt good going down..." He paused for effect while enjoying my cringe.

"But now, all the things that attracted me in the first place turn out not to matter. Yeah, she's pretty. But Jesus Christ, she's boring. We're boring. We don't talk about anything. She doesn't care about anything. She's totally dependent on me, and she's clueless that I could ultimately take her or leave her. I don't know what to do. I mean, I feel bad. She's just so nice."

He spat out the "n" word like it was bitter.

There he sat in relationship limbo, dating a girl that was perfectly fine but nothing special, and it was driving him crazy. To make matters worse for him, he felt completely helpless to rectify the situation because she was literally killing him with kindess. And he didn't want to "hurt her feelings" by breaking it off.

This, of course, was ridiculous.

I, of course, pointed that out.

"Um, don't take this the wrong way, P," I said, "but do you really think anyone wants to be with somebody who is just dating them out of pity? I meam, life goes on after you. Give this girl a little credit... if you told her how you felt, I bet she'd be out of there in 10 seconds flat."

And then we played my favorite game ever: Worst to best.

This game is best played when trying to helpfully counsel your friends through a tough decision -- one they're afraid to make (or not make).

You ask them to start out by describing the worst possible outcome of a situation. In this case, if he did option 1 (break up with her), the worst possible outcome was that she'd cry, scream, slam doors and move out. And P would be single. And he'd be lonely and depressed for a few weeks. The breakup could get ugly, but even in the worst possible scenario, he'd be free of an unsatisfying relationship.

Once you've thoroughly described the worst possible outcome, you do the same with other outcomes that are a few degrees better than the last one, until you come to the best possible outcome. In this case, that would be him talking to her, her understanding and even agreeing, and them peacefully going their separate ways.

We then did this for option 2: Not breaking up with her. The worst possible outcome there was that he would spend a lifetime with her, growing to resent her, and he either ends up cheating or just hating her because she's keeping him from actually falling in love. The best possible outcome would be him getting to just be satisfied with "eh", "eh-ing" out into infinity.

"So?" I asked after P had gamely gone through these scenarios with me.

"I know what I have to do," he nodded.

That was three weeks ago. P ended it two and a half weeks ago. She didn't even cry. He was lonely for about a week (it's not that hard to break up with someone you didn't really love to begin with, you know? A few good nights out and a dirty movie or two and he was over it.)

Yesterday he called me and said he'd met someone at a wedding over the weekend and they'd spent three solid days together since.

I haven't ever heard him talk about someone the way he talked about this girl. I'd repeat it all, but the superlatives even make me want to gag a little. And let it be known that there wasn't a "pretty" or "nice" in there anywhere. Try "breathtaking", "fantastic", "whip-smart", "hilarious".

Long story short: there are sparks. For the first time ever for him. I suspect he's not going back to "eh".

Let that be a lesson to all of us who have ever pity-dated (God knows I have -- biggest purple Bronco-driving, tongue ring having, 7-foot, leg-shaving mistake ever).

Hold out for sparks. Life's too long for "eh", and too short to never know what it feels like to glow in the company of someone you think is far, far more than just okay.


A.J. said...

I came across your blog randomly a while ago, and must say it's now become one of my must-reads. You're a great writer; interesting stuff... Oh, and Mike Birbiglia rocks.

Trebuchet said...

Glad to hear it. Welcome to the depravity, dear. I just hope I can get back to posting more regularly (every other day vs. every when the fuck ever).

I don't suppose you'd pay me to, would you?

ben said...

(God knows I have -- biggest purple Bronco-driving, tongue ring having, 7-foot, leg-shaving mistake ever).

Now that sounds interesting. You should dedicate a whole blog to that misadventure.

Gina said...

Thank you so much for writing about this...I've been thinking about dating a guy friend in my life, because he's the nicest person, and truth be told...he can be a little on the vanilla side sometimes.

But he's so NICE!! So wrapped up in his niceness was I that I forgot to wonder if we're relationship compatible. On second glance, I'm really not sure that we are. I think I liked 'the idea of him' more than the real him. So I'm stepping back to just friends, in my own head.

Thank god I never said anything to the boy...

SPARKS!! That's what I'm lookin' for--and substance for when the sparks dim a little...(:

Trebuchet said...

Ben -- yes, it was certainly interesting. but i'm just not sure i'm ready to be THAT honest here yet... :) i'll take it under advisement and perhaps you'll see more of that character in the future.

Gina -- glad to have participated on some level in the resolution of that dilemma for you. it really is easy to think "he's such a great catch!" without finishing the sentence honestly ("...for someone else!"). and you're a great catch, yourself -- hold out!!

i don't know about you, but if i ever decide to settle down, really settle, i want to spend the rest of my life with someone because i simply don't want to (note: not "can't"! I can, i just don't want to) live without them, not because they're nice and really, really like me.

(okay, i'm stepping off the soapbox now, and away from the pom-poms. sorry.)


Gina said...

You're so right--being with who you CHOOSE not to live without is of paramount importance. There should be passion and gusto between two people!

From the movie "Some Kind of Wonderful": "I'd rather be alone for the right reasons than be with someone for the wrong ones."

Soapbox and pom-pom utilization completely OK. (:

a.j. said...

Hmmm... pay per blog, eh? What type of currency are we talking? Pre-Saddam Iraqi dinars, perhaps? Korean won? Kuwaiti bills (which, by the way, are OBSCENELY expensive versus a weak US dollar)? Euro dollars? I've got far too much of all the above, and not a decent money-exchange anywhere even remotely close.

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