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Dating Advice #271 - Gut Feeling

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

"On paper," she has everything he's looking for.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm having trouble determining whether my current courtship is headed in the right direction, or toward a dead end. I'm a professional in my mid-20s and live on the East Coast. The woman I'm dating is from my hometown and is in her first year of graduate school. Laura and I have a good time together, come from similar backgrounds and are both dating for marriage.

However, while my brain tells me that this makes sense, I can't shake the feeling that something is wrong. We've been dating for over four months, yet I don't know if there is chemistry between us. While I enjoy the time we're together, I don't find myself yearning to spend time with her. It doesn't bother me if we don't speak on a given day. After four months, shouldn't I have a bit more enthusiasm?

There's another factor that I suspect may be contributing to the problem. Laura is not very expressive of her feelings, and it often feels like she considers me as "just another friend." For example, when she was home for vacation recently, I came to dinner at her home. This was the first time I was having a meal with her family, and I thought it was a big deal. Yet Laura barely paid attention to me while I was there, and even left the table to sit in the living room and talk to one of the other guests for a while. I later told Laura how much this bothered me, and why, but I don't think she really understood.

Similarly, after spending time at my house, several people noticed that she hadn't paid much attention to me. My mother commented that Laura doesn't look at me the same way my married sister looks at her husband, or the way my brother's soon-to-be wife looks at him. Laura and I went on a double date with my brother and his fiancee, and they both noticed the same thing as well: little attention, little chemistry. When I mentioned this to Laura, she says that she's not good at expressing emotion and will "try to do better." But she doesn't seem to consider this a major problem.

At this point, I don't know what to do. I really do like her, and I don't want to ruin something that may be right. And Laura has reassured me that she is taking things seriously, and definitely considers me more than a friend. So while my head says "keep going," my gut says to take a break. What do you suggest?


Dear Jason,

When we read your letter, we could practically hear you asking, "Why does dating Laura have to be so complicated?" She's someone you like and are attracted to, and you share basic values and life goals. You even like each other's families. So why do you feel so unsettled?

We think that your gut feeling that something is wrong is probably correct. Something is not right about this courtship. After four months, two people who are dating with marriage as their ultimate goal should look forward to each opportunity to talk on the phone or get together, and should be motivated to move things to progressively higher levels. None of this is happening for either of you.

Many daters have a similar experience. They date someone who, at least "on paper," has everything they're looking for. They enjoy each other's company, but somehow things aren't progressing. They have a gnawing feeling that something isn't right. They continue to date, hoping that things will work out, but the longer they date the more frustrated they feel.

So here's our advice: Instead of simply continuing to "hope for the best," take a step back and look at the real source of your discomfort. Once you do so, you can explore whether the problem is something that can be resolved or not. Examples of resolvable issues include:

  • unrealistic expectations
  • misunderstandings and other issues that can be addressed through better communication
  • generalized anxiety that isn't based on anything in the relationship itself
  • a logistical or practical problem

Fortunately, you have already identified a few of the issues that trouble you. The first point you mentioned is that you don't feel "chemistry." What does that mean to you? Feelings of physical and emotional attraction usually grow over time. While it's not realistic to expect "fireworks," it is realistic to expect to think about each other when you're apart, to look forward to seeing each other again, and to long to share your thoughts and experiences with each other. This is not what you're describing.

Why are these elements missing? Is it because Laura can't be more open with you, as evidenced by her difficulty expressing her emotions and deeper thoughts? Perhaps it's because Laura simply isn't ready to relate to someone on this deep a level, which could be the reason why she doesn't pay that much attention to you when you're with a group. Are you holding back because you sense she isn't as invested in your relationship as you want her to be? We can't even begin to hypothesize about the reasons why Laura acts as she does, but when we look at a growing relationship, we expect to see more than she is giving. And we expect you to be feeling more that you've said you feel.

Having said all that, there could be a much simpler reason why things doesn't seem to be moving forward. It could be because you're simply not right for each other. If that's the case, the two of you will never be able to relate to each other on a deep enough level, and trying harder isn't going to change this.

As you try to sort things out, we suggest taking seriously the fact that your family members also have a sense that something is missing between you two. When more than one or two people who are care about you express concerns about a relationship, it's smart to pay attention to what they're saying. Family and friends can often see things from a different perspective, and their insight can help you confront something you're trying to avoid or may not even see at all. This doesn't mean they're always right, but at least their observations should be checked out. And in this case, your family seems to corroborate your own intuition.

So how can you resolve this impasse? We suggest finding a quiet, relaxed time and say something like this to Laura: "I really enjoy spending time with you, but I feel as if we're having difficulty connecting on a deeper level. Do you feel this, too? I think we need to talk about what we expect from our relationship at this point and why we haven't seen it until now." This may be a discussion that will continue over a few dates. If you believe Laura could use some more help to become more open about her feelings, she may be able to get help with that.

In sum, we believe you are correct that "this isn't how it's supposed to be." Your sense that chemistry is missing, that you don't feel enough excitement about each other, and that you haven't been able to deepen your connection are all serious issues, which may not be resolvable.

Instead of continuing with the status quo, we recommend that you explore whether or not you and Laura can address these issues so that your relationship can grow. If you decide that you cannot resolve them, we encourage you make a timely decision about moving on.

Rosie & Sherry


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