(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Right now, I have a question from Stephen. Stephen writes, “Dear Dr. Kenner, I have overwhelming romantic feelings toward Ann. They keep me up at night. I’m 30. I don’t date and I don’t sleep around. I’ve never pursued a woman. What do I do? Some background – I got to know Ann at social gatherings. Recently I met with her after work, said hello, then kissed her lips. She was in shock and said she had to return to work. I gave her space before asking her out on a date. She said yes, but explained that her life is complicated. She just ended an engagement. Her brother is involved in a criminal case and her mother is having chemo. We talked, then kissed passionately. Ann said that although she has romantic feelings for me, she did not want to risk losing my friendship by starting a romance. The other day I ran into her while she was on a date and a few days later, a mutual friend told me that Ann was going on yet another date with a different guy. We still see each other and cuddle occasionally. I’m conflicted. Maybe I should get to know her better? She’s the only woman who has ever made me laugh. She’s intelligent and she understands me. When I’m with her, I pretend that we are just friends, but I’m suppressing intense feelings for her. I’ve had enough sleepless nights and I’m ready to lose her as a friend and try a romantic relationship. If it doesn’t work, it will help me get over her. What do you recommend? Stephen.”
Stephen, number one, I think you partly answered your own question – yes, you need to get to know her better. She’s told you that her life is complicated. What do you know about her engagement or her brother’s criminal case? Is the brother guilty or not guilty? Is she very involved in it? Is she funding him? What’s going on there? And what about her mother’s chemo? Is she the only caretaker for her mother? Is she close with her mother? Maybe she doesn’t like her mother and is conflicted? So definitely getting to know her better as a friend, which is what she’s recommending, will help you see if she’s truly a compatible partner to take it to the next step.
The second point I want to make is, make sure you listen carefully to her. Ann has told you that her life is currently complicated, and her choice is that she wants to remain friends. And look at her actions too – she’s already dating others. Even though you want it very badly, you can’t impose a romance on her, against her will. So if she is willing to try and exclusive with you, you have that option. If not, you need to listen to her.
The third point, which I would consider before the other two, is really some heavy introspection. You mentioned that this is one of the first times that you’ve felt these powerful romantic feelings. So you feel a lot of passion for her. You admire her, and including her admiration of you, which is really important. You want that mutuality. But you’ve only known each other a short time. There is a lot, I guarantee you, there is a lot that you don’t know about one another. So you want to be very good to yourself, Stephen. You don’t want to allow the newness of this overpowering emotion, this passion, blind you to the facts of her character and her life that may or may not be compatible with you and your long-term happiness.
I encourage you to think longer range. If you were to marry her, be aware that you’ll be marrying the difficulties that Ann has in her life. Do you want that? Do you know about her past? Has she dated many times? Has she broken off more than one engagement? Or was that engagement really important and he left her and she’ll be forever sad? You need to know what’s going on there. You want to know her relationship, as I mentioned earlier, to her brother who has criminal charges against him. And her mother, who is going through cancer treatment. You really want to know about her childhood, her past, her ambitions in life. So what I’d recommend is, I wrote a book with Dr. Ed Locke called The Selfish Path to Romance, and no it doesn’t mean the mean, rotten way to romance. It means the self-valuing, self-esteem way to romance, how to never betray yourself in a romantic relationship. And the subtitle is “How to love with passion and reason,” so you would get your passion in there without sacrificing reason.
The skill that you need to learn is introspection, and we have in part three of our book, we have dedicated it to finding your soul mate. How to choose the right partner. How do you select your partner? And one of the key, there are multiple things and I’ll go through a few of them, but one of the key things you want to know about yourself, introspecting, is what’s fundamentally important to you? For example, for some people, religion is very important and for some people, not being religious is very important. What is fundamentally important? Do you want kids or not in your future? That’s an important question, if you’re looking for a partner. What about your career? Would marrying Ann conflict with your career? You’d need to date her first obviously to find out, but what are her career aspirations, or maybe she’s already settled if you guys are already in your 30s. Also, you need to know about interests and tastes. Maybe you have different tastes – maybe she loves modern things and you love antiques. Even though that’s not a moral conflict, it’s a conflict that could cause a lot of problems in a relationship. You’ve already said that you feel at home with her personality, which is good, but what about her habits? Maybe she’s a neat-nick and you’re not a neat-nick, or vice versa. What about her attitude toward money? That’s important. You want to find out, is she careful with money? Does she earn money? What does she expect of you? Does she want the old style marriages where father knows best and the father is the breadwinner so to speak, or not? What do you want? And also, what about fitness and health? Some people could be very mismatched. I’m very lucky. My husband and I both enjoy fitness and keeping ourselves healthy. It would be very uncomfortable, I think, for either one of us if that were flipped and very different. You want to know about leisure and lifestyle, and you want to make sure there are no deal-breakers. For example, alcohol or drug problems, or anger management problems.
So you want to do enough thinking with enough data so that you have a harmony between your reason and your passion, your emotions. My final word would be that romance is too good, Stephen, to bypass introspection and deeper knowledge of your potential soul mate. I wish you well in dating, and if it’s not Ann, I’m glad you’ve started the journey. I think our book, The Selfish Path to Romance, could help tremendously. I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner on The Rational Basis of Happiness.