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Dating Advice #109 - The Missing Spark

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Hollywood tells us that a relationship needs romance, fireworks and sizzle. But is that reality?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm in a difficult quandary. I've been dating a wonderful man for two months. The problem is, we have now stopped dating. Why? Because he doesn't have that feeling of butterflies, of romance, of excitement.

I must admit that while I don't feel those things either, we have so much in common (life goals and values), and have fun together, both respect each other a great deal, and feel physical attraction to each other.

So my question is: Is that "spark" able to be created? Or is it just there, or not there?

I feel like I'm losing someone really special because of this abstract thing. Any advice would be appreciated.


Dear Ellen,

Images of romance fostered by novels, movies and TV have created a generation of men and women who have very unrealistic expectations about their relationships. The truth is that the "spark" that this man was looking for is an overrated myth. It isn't necessary for a courtship, nor for the majority of happy, loving, enduring marriages, it wasn't ever present.

Yes, there are some people who feel an intense, almost instant attraction... "fireworks," "electricity," a "spark." They feel drawn to each other even though they know nothing about each other's values, personal qualities, expectations, or if their personalities are compatible. It could be that they have a strong "chemical" reaction, or a personal "magnetism" that makes them feel as if they've known each other all their lives.

Is this instant attraction a barometer by which we could measure the likelihood that two people have met their future life partners? Of course not! The vast majority of people who feel a strong connection from the outset end up breaking up a few months later. That's because the "electricity" wears off, and when it does, many of these people realize that they don't have very much in common, nor do they share values or life goals. Frequently they were so blinded by infatuation that they didn't see that the other person had serious flaws, or that they never developed more than a superficial connection.

Sometimes, two people who feel an instant attraction stay together for the long haul. That's because they were fortunate enough to have compatible values, goals and personalities, and because these qualities enabled them to build depth to their relationship. When the infatuation faded, they may not have even noticed because they had gradually built a close, trusting, emotionally intimate friendship that became the cornerstone of their marriage.

As we mentioned earlier, the majority of couples who achieve this level of emotional intimacy completely skip the "sparks." These relationships develop gradually. Sometimes, they are interested in each other from the time they first meet, and other times, it takes a few dates before they realize there may be possibilities between them. Some people don't even feel physical attraction until their second, third or fourth date, when they recognize that their dating partner's looks are "growing" on them. Over a month or two or three, these fortunate men and women realize that they care very much for each other, accept each other's strengths and weaknesses, and share the gifts of emotional connection, mutual respect and admiration, and physical attraction.

Some people may call this sensation "falling in love," but we don't like to use this term. That's because genuine love between a man and a woman develops during marriage, as they go through life's ups and downs together. A couple that shares these qualities, as well as compatible goals and values, has the foundation for a great marriage.

It seems that you and the man you were dating were moving toward such a relationship. Not only is it a shame that he broke up with you because a mythical expectation never materialized, but if he continues to embrace this belief he may never give a promising relationship a chance. Is it possible that you can discuss these ideas with him and see if he would like to reconsider his decision?

If he is willing to reconsider, we'd like to suggest two steps that can help him sort out what he really feels about you, and what he expects. The first is for him to find a happily married friend, relative, rabbi, former teacher, neighbor, etc. who can be a mentor and sounding board for him. Single friends can't play this role; they often reinforce negative stereotypes and unrealistic expectations.

The second is for both of you to read the first few chapters of our book, "In The Beginning." It will help both of you to better understand the dynamics at play here, and decide whether you wish to continue the path toward marriage.

We hope that our answer has been helpful, and wish you the best of luck.

Rosie & Sherry


Hello Rosie & Sherry,

Thank you so much for responding to my last email. Everything you said rang true for me regarding my friend's situation. I'm sad to report that things with her took a turn for the worse.

She's still with this guy she met on the Internet. Early in their courtship he promised her a lot of things, like promising to pay for her tickets to come over to his country, and also to sponsor her post-grad education when she's ready. He told her he had a lot of money for them to start a life together and she shouldn't worry about anything. On the strength of those promises my friend had begun making plans to move to where he is, much to my and her family's dismay. When she told him she's ready to meet him he demurred and told her he's too busy and that he's still "looking into things."

Also, after that he's been communicating with her less and less, sometimes off for several days at a time. When they do have conversations, the guy begs off after 10 minutes, saying he's too tired to talk. And whenever she tries to recall him to their plans for the future and all the stuff he'd said he'd do for her, he glosses over the subject by peppering her with endearments and switching to another topic. But he never breathed a word since about their future together.

My friend is 27 years old, lives with her parents and after she met this guy she quit working and all she does now is hang around the phone and be on the Internet almost the whole day waiting for this guy to come on, and if he doesn't show up or doesn't call she'll be crying the whole time and making herself really miserable. She'll swallow any excuses he makes, though.

I have an impression the relationship is unraveling and the guy is just stringing her along. She's more miserable than happy now. As her close friend, I don't see anything positive coming out of all this. She used to be an upbeat, happy young woman and now she's a shell of her former self. All her romantic relationships are long distance. Her last long-distance relationship was with a guy she met on the Internet who constantly lied to her and strung her along for two years. She has never met him in person. It turns out he's already married and just needed a part-time fancy. He promised her everything, of course. Now it seems as she's getting drawn in to the same situation.

She keeps telling me she won't listen to advice. Oftentimes I think I should just give up and let her figure out stuff for herself. I'd welcome any suggestions and advice from you though. Thank you very much for your help.


The fact that this guy is cooling off the relationship with your friend is actually a good thing, in that it sounds as if nothing will ever come of an Internet "romance" that seemed problematic from the start. Now, of course, is the time to address the bigger picture. Your friend needs help, but it is not the kind of help you are capable of giving her.

We have a number of questions. What made a formerly happily, bubbly 27-year-old quit her job and turn into a depressed Internet junkie? Why does she repeatedly seek out long-distance relationships that are orchestrated by con men on the other side? Why, at age 27, is she still living with her parents? We don't know the answers to these questions, but we do know that your girlfriend needs intervention by a licensed mental health professional.

The best help that you, her other friends and her family members can give is to convince her to meet with a well-qualified therapist. You may want to speak with your friend's parents about the situation. If they have similar concerns, each of you should try to get recommendations for a good therapist, interview the candidates to see if they will be good for your friend's personality, and when you find the right one, discuss with him/her the best way to refer your friend to them.

We feel that this is the best way that you and your friend's family can help her break the self-destructive pattern in which she finds herself. We hope that you are successful.

Rosie & Sherry

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