October 9, 2013 | by Michael Radkowsky
Ball and chain?
holding hands, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

LTRs aren’t for everyone despite societal pressure to pair up. (Photo courtesy Bigstock)

Hi Michael,

 

I’m a 27-year-old guy wondering if there’s something wrong with me. The problem: I’m not really interested in a relationship. I like casual dating because it’s fun to go out with someone and I definitely like having sex. But when guys start wanting to get mushy or exclusive, I head for the exit.

I like my space and my privacy, so I don’t like having someone breathing down my neck and criticizing my every move. I also don’t like the drama of having to worry about someone getting hurt when I do something they don’t like. And I definitely don’t like giving up things I want to do because you have to “compromise” in a relationship.

Overall, relationships seem like a giant PIA to me. But, everyone I know is chasing them. Am I nuts?

 

Michael replies:

 

I don’t think you’re nuts.  Relationships are really difficult, for all the reasons you describe. It is hard work, and often uncomfortable, to be up close with someone else all the time. As you mention, a partner often impinges on our privacy, injects opinions when we haven’t asked for any, makes demands on us and criticizes us. So yes, it’s well worth wondering, why bother being in a relationship?

I’m not going to try to convince you to be in a relationship — that’s your decision to make. But for those of us who think that being in a relationship seems like an enormous headache, it’s worth considering that relationships also offer some amazing rewards.

Obviously, relationships provide someone with whom to share life’s ups and downs, share financial obligations and other responsibilities, have a sexual relationship and possibly raise children. And in addition, being in a relationship can provide us with ongoing opportunities for personal growth. For example: You may get to know yourself much better.  Someone who knows you well can help you to see things about yourself that that are worth knowing, that you might not otherwise see.

• You’ll develop your ability to be more resilient in the face of disappointment, because when you’re in a relationship, you can spend a lot of time being disappointed in and disappointing your partner. The better you get at tolerating being disappointed and being a disappointment, the more likely you are to have a satisfying life and strong self-esteem.

• You can use the stressful situations that are a feature of any long-term relationship to learn how to stay calm when things get crazy. Not only will your relationship improve as you get better at managing your anxiety, but the rest of your life is likely to improve, as well.

• You’ll have multiple opportunities to figure out what is really important to you. When each of you wants different things, there is often a lot of pressure for one of you to give up what you value. Basing your relationship on honoring what is most important to each of you can help you know your bottom line.

• Of course, all the points you raised have validity as well. If your highest priority is to be let alone, then a relationship is not for you. But if you are willing to immerse yourself more fully in the messiness of life by having an intimate relationship with another person, that relationship can help you to become a stronger, more resilient person. This is not to say, of course, that you can’t become stronger and more resilient if you remain unattached.

One more thought: Relationships are a balancing act of being an individual and being part of a couple. You’re afraid that you’ll lose your independence if you are in a relationship, but getting close to someone else absolutely does not have to mean that you let all of your boundaries down and merge with the other person. Given how strongly you want to avoid another guy taking over your life, your biggest and best growth opportunity in a relationship would be to figure out how to stay true to yourself while at the same time being open to someone else.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

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