Teach Him New Tricks?

Q: After dating a good man for about 10 months, I have realized that he doesn't make me feel appreciated. I have asked for what I need: please look at me when you talk to me, please don't walk into or out of places ahead of me, ignoring me as if I weren't there, please listen to me when I talk to you. I finally realized something needed to change when I was on an airplane recently and had better, more attentive conversation with a complete stranger! I told my guy I thought we needed to be just friends. He admitted he felt things hadn't been that good either, and felt relieved, but now he has suddenly gotten all attentive again, as it was in the beginning, and has vowed to change. But is it possible for a 53-year-old to really change? We have been trying counseling, with only a little effect. I'm 45, and if I were still 30 I'd say so long, and would have another date by Friday, but it's not like that any more. I desire intimacy, connection, LOVE. Is it possible to keep seeing each other occasionally as just-friends? --Abby

Dr. Susan: First, about the just-friends option: don't waste your time. Or his. Every time you go out with him, he's going to be disappointed you're not sleeping with him, and you're going to be wasting time you could spend seeking out someone who better matches your intimacy needs. (Besides, what kind of friend is that inattentive?)

Now, for the big question: can he change enough to satisfy you, and do you have a right to expect that anyway? Yes, and yes. We all have a right to be listened to and paid attention to. Or why bother calling it a relationship?! He was attentive at the beginning, and he is a little more attentive now when he fears losing you, but otherwise he seems to utterly take you for granted. I suspect he'll always go back to that absent attitude as his natural default state. No, you're not going to get passion and LOVE with a capital "L" from this guy. You may or may not find it with another man. But if after less than a year of dating he's treating you like a ratty old shoe, do give the counseling a long and serious try. Change can seem very small at the time, and yet add up to something. He clearly values you, yet doesn't understand how to relate intimately. Some women manage to be pretty happy with such mates, slightly improved. Others are driven to the brink, again and again.

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