Hi A and B,
For the last 8 months I've been dating this truly fantastic girl I'll refer to as D. She's personable, witty, ambitious, and exceedingly smart. She's got a really neat career lined up for her future and has wife material written all over her. I've had so much fun spending time with her these past 8 months. We go to events together, tie our social plans in with some of our friends, and occasionally spend the night together.
Here's the problem: I wish D could just be my friend
I'm just not into her romantically. I think this stems from the fact that the way she presents femininity and the way I perceive femininity just don't match up (for what it's worth, cis-het guy here). That's nobody's fault, but it makes it hard for me to feel attracted to her and feel a burning passion for us to be together.
I'm extremely conflicted because I've been enjoying having this best friend/companion in my life, but I feel like I'm having to fabricate my romantic interest more and more in order to maintain it. The two of us have talked about this a bit and she's not of the same feeling; she both enjoys me as a companion and as a desired romantic partner. From our last conversation, it's now on me to figure out what I'm doing and I'm scared of all my choices. Which feel like:
a. Commit to it hard. People learn to love each other over time, right? She's been such a good companion that it's not worth risking losing that stability for either of us. Simultaneously, this option feels incredibly trapping.
b. Wait it out. Maybe we change up things in our relationship? I don't know. I'm not expecting her to change as a person, so maybe I just need to change how I perceive her? I fear the longer I wait to make a decision the more it's going to hurt and cause stress in the meantime.
c. Let her go. This is kind of where I'm at, but it feels incredibly selfish and stupid. As much as I'd like to, I'm not sure D would be comfortable transitioning much of our companionship to a platonic relationship. And I certainly have the friends and emotional resources to make it through a breakup/singleness, but I'm not sure she does.
I can't stress how much I care about her and want to hurt her as little as possible. I understand now why people lie and make excuses for breakups, but the two of us have been honest through difficult stuff so far, so whatever I choose, I have to own it.
As complicated/conflicting/confusing as your situation might feel - and we certainly want to validate those feelings - we agree with each other that your best option is to let her go. You yourself say “this [option] is where I’m at,” which helps us identify it as the choice that might be most genuine to your true emotions and needs. Other signals, for us, read almost as red flags; namely you say, “I’m having to fabricate my romantic interest more and more in order to maintain [the relationship];” and the option of committing to a long-term romantic relationship with D “feels incredibly trapping.” The fact that you’re having feelings of fabrication and entrapment - and that they’re growing over time (at least the feelings of fabrication) - cannot be rationalized or justified by some of the other things you say.
Two rationalizations include, “She’s been such a good companion that it’s not worth risking losing that stability for either of us;” and she “has wife material written all over her.”
For some people, it is acceptable and even preferable to choose a partner/spouse for stability, personality compatibility, etc., and not for any romantic compatibility. However, we would wager that those people, while they might vaguely miss feelings of passion, would not use words like “trapping” to describe the relationship with their significant other. At the same time, we want to acknowledge what you and our other readers already know: burning passion is impossible to sustain over decades of partnership. It may ebb and flow, but it is not consistent. That being said, you cannot work on bringing passion BACK into a relationship if it was never there in the first place.
Also, while 8 months does signal some stability, walking away now is as not as much of a sunk cost as walking away after years. And people separate after decades together! If it’s not right for one person, it’s not right; it takes two to tango. Even with the wonderful platonic aspects of your relationship that are still healthy and stable, it seems you are looking for more passion. If you stay with the wrong person and want something more - even if you tell yourself the friendship is amazing and worth the “something more” you’re sacrificing - we guarantee you will be more lonely than if you were truly single and romantically alone.
Another of your rationalizations is that you’re not sure she would want to stay friends with you and/or have the emotional resources to make it through a breakup/singleness. While you presumably know her well and we do not know her at all, we would caution you against assuming what she will or will not want, and what she will or will not be able to do. It sounds like you feel guilty that you’re not into her romantically - that the version of femininity she presents and the version of femininity you’re attracted to don’t match up. But remember, there’s a difference between refusing to accept someone as worthy of love and respect as a human being because of how they present femininity and not being personally romantically attracted to them. It’s totally awesome that you’re thinking about the nuances of gender and representation and presentation. It’s not as awesome that you’re staking yourself and your relationship on this hill.
It also sounds to us like your guilt is translating into a) a fear that she will fall apart if you leave, and b) a desire to save her from this fate and play the martyr. (If you didn’t have this fear and this desire, why else would you call letting her go “selfish”?) Our advice: don’t play the martyr. It’s not a great heroic act to stay with her and fight through your feelings of entrapment; you will not be “saving” her from some terrible future loneliness. She doesn’t need saving, and you both deserve better.
Also, we doubt you can “change how you’re feeling about her,” as you suggest you might be able to. We think this scenario would be (relatively) more likely in the context of a long friendship that eventually develops into mutual romantic attraction. But it is NOT likely when you two are already existing in the pressurized container/label of a romantic relationship. And since it sounds like D might want a romantic relationship or nothing, leaving no room for the less-pressurized context of friendship, we suggest you give up on the idea that one day your feelings for her might change.
One last piece of advice for you, and for any person in a relationship: in our opinion, it is never okay to cite physical traits as a reason for breaking up with someone, no matter how much that is your personal truth. It can be okay to say “I’m just not attracted to you (like that),” and leave it there. But we think people should never get more specific, never explicitly say, “oh, you weigh too much,” “you’re too short,” “I hate your voice,” “your style of femininity/masculinity/haircuts/shoe choice does not turn me on,” etc.
Obviously you value honesty, and we admire that very much. You say, “I’m having to fabricate my romantic interest more and more in order to maintain [our relationship]. The two of us have talked about this about... the two of us have been honest through difficult stuff so far.” So, we’re not sure if this means that you’ve told her you’re not attracted to her because of how she presents femininity, OR if you’ve told her you feel like your romantic interest isn’t genuine and you’re simply not attracted to her like that. There’s a BIG difference between the two. People cannot control many aspects of their physicality, but even the ones they can (e.g., haircuts) belong to them and them alone. When a romantic partner cites a specific physical trait as a turn-off, that is likely to stay with the jilted person for a long time, perhaps their entire life. There are few personality types that would be minimally affected by such an experience. We are NOT saying it is shallow to leave someone for physical reasons; we are saying it is unnecessarily damaging, or at the very least rude, to speak those physical reasons aloud.
But of course, it is up to you to decide what to say to D. As you wisely say, “whatever I choose, I have to own it.” Above all, we think you should choose to let her go.