I’ve been in a stable, long-term relationship with a wonderful man for the past two years. He’s kind, generous, sweet, and funny and he has endless patience and love for my five-year-old daughter. In fact, he’s more of a father to her than her real father ever was or will be. My problem is that I’m not sure he’s the right man for me; he’s fantastic, but I don’t really feel that spark with him. I also don’t know if that’s necessarily bad because of all his other great qualities. I want to talk to him about it, but I’m terrified of losing him, and I’m even more terrified for my daughter—I really want her to have a responsible, good father figure in her life. Can people really have lasting relationships without that spark? My relationship with my ex was abusive and I’m worried that that’s preventing me from recognizing real love. And even if I decide that this isn’t real love, is it horrible to stay with someone for my daughter’s sake? —PB, Tampa, Florida
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
I’ve been divorced for seven years now and when I go on dates, I still tend to try to find the good, no matter how bad the date may be. Recently, I went on a blind date with a guy who drank so much before our date, that he couldn’t even hold a conversation. (Thank you, Match.com.) Even though I was annoyed, whenever a few coherent words seeped through, I found myself jumping on them, “That was funny! He’s funny!” For some reason, I kept trying to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. (Clearly I needed Jody, Darren, and Chris to accompany me on this date and whack me over the head with a blunt object.) Now, I know your guy isn’t a jerk, but my point is, there’s something about a failed long-term relationship that can sometimes cause people to work a little too hard at finding the good in people, sometimes to their detriment. Could that be the case with this man?
No matter how wonderful he is, you deserve the whole enchilada when it comes to finding a partner, because from the way it sounds, you’ve already settled for a mere stale tortilla chip in your last abusive relationship. When you make yourself happy, you’ll make your daughter happy, too.
To confuse you just a bit, though, I want to challenge your idea of a spark. I wonder if before you met your fabulous guy, you had a history of being attracted to men similar to your ex. If so, perhaps your idea of what the spark should feel like is a little distorted. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it, but think hard before you let someone with so many great qualities go.
Ultimately, if you decide he’s not the one, don’t be afraid to be alone for a while. In fact, it may be advisable. Use that time to get to know yourself again and to redefine family for just you and your daughter. You’re worried about her having a great father figure and I get that. But the only thing in your control is you, so put all your energy into being a great mother figure—for example, being a woman who would never stay with someone just for her daughter’s sake—and the rest will work itself out.
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
I’m about to give you a response I’ve not given before in any of this column’s responses. And that answer is I don’t know.
That spark you speak of is something so personal only you can decide how important it is for you. I think yes, “people” can have a lasting relationship without that spark. Can “you?” That’s what I don’t know. If your desire for having a spark would cause you to stray and cheat on him and make you feel unsatisfied to stay with him, then get out now, because you’re being disrespectful to him and your relationship. You respect him and he respects you and your daughter. That’s really important. That’s probably more important than a spark. I wouldn’t undervalue having a stable, long-term relationship, either.
A spark is a temporary burning. By definition, it’s only meant to last a short time. Then you have nothing. Get it? So turn the longing for something temporary … into something temporary. Try really hard to get over the thought that you’re not fulfilled and that some theoretical spark would change everything for the better. I think you should want something that’s longer lasting and more fulfilling than a spark. It’s not easy to find someone who will take to you and your child so well (i.e. your deadbeat ex/father of your child). You know this and appreciate this wonderful man, which is great.
Don’t muck up a good thing by thinking about what you’re lacking. I think if you dissected every inch of anyone’s relationship, you’d always find flaws. But if overall, you’re happy and stable and feeling good about your life and your child’s, then stop worrying about the spark thing and work to make the relationship work. Humans discovered we could make our own fire long ago. So try to create a spark with this man or you may just end up lost in the darkness of the unknown.
The Gay Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
Hey PB, I’m glad you wrote to us. Sounds like you have a lot to sort out. I have some questions for you to consider. Did you have that spark with your abusive ex? And if so, ask yourself, is that what kept you engaged in an abusive relationship? Many of us get our brain signals scrambled when we’re in abusive relationships and start to misinterpret abuse for strong feelings that come out of real love. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. For some, that same spark of sexual attraction may also be connected to an unhealthy dark side called abuse. And when you start to equate one for the other, it leads to serious trouble.
I want you to think about how you experience that spark in your body versus how you feel it in your head. You may be looking for that abusive spark connection again, as it was in your past relationship. I invite you to consider that you need to rework your mental and bodily sensorial ideas of what having a spark means. Remember, you want a spark, but a healthy one, not one that is going to burn you into the ground. Let’s address the concerns you have for your daughter for a moment, too. Once you redefine what the spark and real love mean to you (which will take time), only then will you know if this is the man for you. And if he’s not the man for you, then he’s not the man for your daughter either. If you stay with him for her sake, no one wins—not her, you, or this patient, kind, funny guy.
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
PB, you have a few things you’re dealing with here, so let’s break it down. It sounds like you’re in a relationship with someone for the sake of your daughter. Not to be harsh, but that means you’re living your daughter’s life and not your own and that’s why you’re searching for an answer.
What makes you happy? You only get one shot to find out. There are, unfortunately, far too many people who go through life either settling for never finding a spark or staying with someone once the spark is gone because of fear of change or the unknown. From your question, I can see that you are not one of those people since you are no longer with your abusive husband and I commend you for that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because someone is a good person does not mean he’s the right person. I suggest having casual conversations without having a huge breakup discussion to figure out where your relationship is headed. You cannot stay with someone for the sake of someone else. It’s only cheating yourself. I wish you the best of luck.