He keeps breaking up and coming back

Question: I’m a 50-year-old divorced woman with a great teenage son and a wonderful job. I should be really happy, but my boyfriend, 58, is a self-described commitment-phobe who keeps breaking up with me because he “can’t do this” — that is, be in an otherwise great relationship (he’s twice-divorced). The last time it happened, we didn’t talk for three weeks, then he came back saying how much he loved and missed me and knew he wanted to be with me. Being an optimist or a fool, I got back into the relationship.

Now, four weeks later, I feel he’s getting antsy again. I’ve asked him before if he was happy and that set him off on a long lecture about what does happiness mean, why do I have to ask that, etc.

I really want a future with him, but I know that not being able to talk about our relationship is a problem. Any suggestions on how to start a relationship discussion? And, yes, I’ve read a bunch of books on why being with a commitment-phobic man is a bad idea. He’s so great otherwise, though.

Answer: You do want to be able to communicate with him, if only so you can guarantee you’ll never again be on the receiving end of his musings about the meaning of happiness when all you wanted to know was whether he’d still be calling next week.

I suggest you chuck the gauze and just ask what you want to know. “You seem antsy. Do we need to take another break?”

He may not be great at articulating his feelings, but I’ll argue he’s an extremely effective communicator: His consistent actions and unsatisfying words are telling you exactly who he is, more effectively than your words and actions are speaking for you.

Everything he has said and done says it’s time you made peace with his otherwise-greatness.

The most straightforward way is to accept that, for you to feel satisfied, you need deeper intimacy and steadier companionship than he can or will provide, and to break up with him.

That’s not the only way, though, because there isn’t one kind of relationship that works for everyone, and there may be more than one kind of relationship that works for you. You can, for example, accept this guy as a date, not a mate. To some, that’s the best of both worlds, autonomy plus company.

You can schedule yourself around his emotional claustrophobia by anticipating the need for breaks.

You can choose not to take it personally when he gets antsy. Rewiring your reactions isn’t easy, but he’s got two ex-wives to remind you this isn’t all about you.

You can wing it until you figure out what works.

You can also read your own letter, and appreciate exactly how much control of your well-being you’ve relinquished to someone else: You “should” be really happy?It’s such an easy trap, believing you’d be happy if only X would be a certain way (and hoping, ahem, books will agree it’s possible). However, it’s always worthwhile to take the more difficult route, of admitting “I’m in my own way.” If you’re not sure how, here’s a hint: Look to whatever it is you can’t bear to face.

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