Dear Neil: I just broke things off with my boyfriend of 3 years because he's been holding back in our otherwise fantastic relationship. We have had loads of fun together, we fight minimally, never bicker, laugh constantly, we have a wonderful sex life and we have a variety of mutual friends and interests. About a year ago, he first voiced his concern about whether things were progressing the "right" way. I eventually ended things because I felt I couldn't be in a relationship with someone so unsure about his feelings for me. A month later, he was on my doorstep, professing how much he missed me and that he wanted me back.
Here we are 8 months later, and I've had to cut him loose again. He says there is nothing wrong with our relationship, but something is missing for him. He says he loves me and would do anything for me, but doesn't know why he can't give all of himself to me. He suspects he isn't at a place to commit to me, or perhaps anyone. He says that he is struggling with walking away from his youthful "freedom." He currently lives with his parents, which he says is depressing, and has a job that he is very unhappy with. He's almost 30. Everyone else thinks we're perfect for each other - even him - but he just can't take the plunge.
-Rejected in Boston
Dear Boston: Some men simply haven't had enough experience to know what they want - or what will make them happy long-term. Other men are just attempting to find one woman who they can call their own and who they can have and hold. Still, others have the dream of tasting every single piece of chocolate in the entire chocolate factory. It sounds like you want the second choice, and that you're ready to settle down with one man to call yours.
So find such a man.
It's possible that your boyfriend doesn't know why he wants to break up with you because our real motives and our inner feelings are sometimes hidden from us. It may be that you were far more attached to him than he was to you. It may be that the closeness between the two of you frightened him, that he felt he was growing dependent on you or extremely vulnerable to you, so he decided he needed to push away in order to protect himself from becoming too close or too exposed to you.
But let's be clear. You want a man who wants you, and you don't want a man who doesn't want you. Wanting someone who doesn't want you back hurts too much - and it really messes with your self-esteem and sense of personal self-worth.
Perhaps the gentleman you've been involved with will come back and decide he can't live without you, but he may not honestly be ready for a long-term commitment, and you don't want to coerce a man into a commitment if he's not ready for one because there's no assurance that he will stay committed if he isn't ready and is feeling forced into it.
So what should you do? Let your boyfriend go, and quit hoping he will see the light and come back to you. Make peace with this relationship ending, grieve the future you thought you were going to have with him and lick your wounds so you can heal. I'm advising you to let him go, and for you to get strong so you can move on with a clear mind, an open heart and a clean spirit. That way you will be able to be emotionally available for someone else to enter your life when the opportunity arises.
If your boyfriend changes his mind and decides to come back to you again, you're going to have to deal with him more firmly. Saying he wants you back is one thing, winning you back, reassuring you and helping you to feel safe and secure around him is quite another. If there's a next time with your boyfriend, you want to be firm in telling him that action is now required of him, not just words.
If he doesn't come back, or if he remains emotionally held back, go out and find someone who wants you, and who is ready and able to give himself to you.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 20th year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com, but he is not able to respond individually to queries.