Relationship column: Courtship is partly a sales pitch
Editor’s note: Neil Rosenthal is taking the week off. This is from “The Best of Neil Rosenthal.”
Dear Neil: Help me make sense out of what happened in my recent relationship. From the time we first met, “Brianna” and I were together all the time. The relationship turned extremely erotic, and it stayed that way for a full year. But then more and more demands were placed on me. She wanted more entertainment (show, concerts, trips, wining and dining, etc.). She wanted to quit her job and be supported by me fully, and she asked me to pay off some of her debts. I got increasing pressure to propose to her. More and more conditions were put on sex, and the frequency of our lovemaking dramatically declined. She also became hypersensitive to me saying anything the least bit critical of her. Even a minor request could set off a major angry defensive reaction, and increasingly I found myself reluctant to say anything at all that she could possibly interpret as critical.
Our relationship ended recently with her angrily moving out. When I said there were things bothering me, she repeatedly cut me off in mid-sentence and talked right over me, so it became impossible for me to say anything. I’d like your thoughts about what happened in this relationship. Why did we fall apart?
— Feeling Burned in Canada
Dear Burned: What we typically get in the beginning of a relationship is not a real person, but rather a salesperson. Salespeople are almost always agreeable, easy to get along with, engaging, charming and appealing because they have their eyes on a desirable goal. It takes a while to really know what you’re getting in the beginning of a relationship, because the salesperson is typically running the show much more than the real person.
Also, it takes some time in a relationship to distinguish between the dream (what you hope and think you’re being offered) and reality (what you’re actually being offered). It appears that sex was used by your girlfriend as her lure. It sounds as if she wanted to be completely financially taken care of so she didn’t have to work, and she wanted to get married. That was her agenda — the saleslady’s goal — but that agenda didn’t fully come out until she felt secure enough in the relationship to let it out, which in your case was about a year.
Then when her more authentic self finally came out, she was considerably more defensive in real life than the saleslady had been, and she didn’t want to have sex as frequently as the saleslady offered it. Eventually, it appears she grew angry because she wasn’t getting enough of what she wanted, so she withdrew from you and became rejecting.
Meanwhile, you couldn’t make requests of her, or express what you felt or what you needed. How long did you think you could comfortably live without being able to express yourself? No one can afford to agree to be silenced in a relationship and never express displeasure or dissatisfaction with their partner. It destroys closeness and intimacy because you are forced to be false in the relationship.
Both men and women need to be diplomatic about sex, because so much is on the line for both people. The woman wants to be liked, loved, romanced and wanted for herself, not for just her body, and she doesn’t want to feel she’s under constant pressure to perform. The man’s ego is on the line every time he is denied, which is why men who are often repelled tend to quit trying, and then seethe in resentment and withdrawal. It is destructive to a relationship to withdraw sex in order to get what you want. Even if it works, it damages trust and closeness.
That’s what happened in your relationship. Your girlfriend’s agenda came out — what she wanted from you in exchange for what she was giving. Both of you apparently decided that you were getting a poor exchange for what you were giving. You weren’t getting a loving, erotic woman, you were getting a demanding woman who wanted to be taken care of. And she wasn’t getting what she was wanting, either.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 21st year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.