Carolyn Hax is away. The following are from July 18 and Aug. 1, 2003.
My girlfriend and I have had an up-and-down relationship for four years, complete with several breakups. We keep getting drawn back to each other — there are qualities we see in each other that we simply don’t in other people. But she is very demanding emotionally, and I end up feeling like I don’t have enough time for work, friends and non-shared interests. Her demands push me to the limit, and I eventually get angry. I’ve told her I feel worn out by her, that I can’t do or be everything she wants in a mate. Recently, I delicately brought up that she was high-maintenance. She told me that belittled her feelings, but her response was so practiced that it was obvious some other guys said the same thing. I know I can’t change her, but are there things I could do to foster a less high-maintenance style?
— Tucson, Arizona
Yes — don’t maintain it. Stop being what she wants in a mate, start being yourself.
Either the roof will fall in or it won’t — but both outcomes warrant a round of applause, just for busting you out of a rut that has you using terms like “very demanding emotionally.” You need to be you, she needs to be needy, and it’s time you both figured out whether you can be these things bearably together.
Or, not. We pluck people out of the crowd because they satisfy some inner requirement in us. No friend or mate or family member is ever perfect, though, and not every requirement is healthy, so there’s always some dealmaking involved; getting anything you want always costs something else.
You say your girlfriend possesses some rare qualities — for which you pay with your energy/free time/your right to live drama-free. Sometimes all it takes to break a relationship impasse is a conscious decision, once and for all, yes or no, whether a person is worth her price.
My brother has been dating a woman for about a year, and my entire immediate family does not like her. Even my super easygoing husband thinks she is terrible. I am serious. She is manipulative, passive-aggressive, immature, and has a self-righteous streak that goes for miles. My mom is just crushed that this girl will likely marry my brother. I think if he thinks she is so great then let him make this HUGE mistake. He is 34 and complains that there are so few women out there who have never married and have no kids (requirements for him), so I think he is feeling a bit desperate. What does a family do?
— Common Problem?
A family embraces futility. It’s a common problem, yes, and intractable, and heartbreaking.
That’s because attempting terrible-mate-extraction surgery not only rarely succeeds, but the complications also can kill the family. You can’t get rid of the whole problem unless you cut out the sibling as well.
In layman’s terms: Your brother’s girlfriend may be a jerk, but it, um, takes one to love one.
I know, I’m a jerk for calling your brother one, but — he has requirements.
You huff that the girlfriend is controlling, immature and “has a self-righteous streak.” Yoo hoo. There’s a call for you on the big red phone: Your brother dismisses all widows, divorcees and mothers as unworthy of his attention. How would you describe that?
Our loves reflect ourselves. There’s something in your brother, something you can’t (or would rather not) see, that makes this woman attractive to him.
Certainly if the girlfriend is or does something malicious, you can and should say so, as long as you stick to the facts. Otherwise, you need to look for, recognize and understand what that “something” is. Then, if you still believe this chick is a “HUGE mistake,” you’ll at least be judging the whole mistake instead of unfairly singling out the girl.
That, in turn, will arm you with better responses, even if it’s just to throw up your hands in despair.
Seeing the problem for what it is also means you’ll voice more trenchant concerns when your finger slips off the mute button — and you’ll be less likely (98 percent versus 99) to put your brother on the defensive.
Don’t trash her, for example, if you think he’s acting too desperate; ask why he’s in such a big rush. If you think she brings out a bad side of him, concentrate on what he’s become versus who did it to him, and be ready with lucid examples. And if he ever mentions his requirements again, then ask him why finding someone nice doesn’t suffice on its own.
If your brother does marry this girl, cry, de-smudge, then adapt: Try to see what he sees in her, and, when that fails, be discreet when you get up to flee.
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