I am in an unusual predicament. I am divorced and have been dating a divorced woman on and off for the past six years. I was previously married for 17 years, when my (now ex) wife unexpectedly asked me for a divorce. I never saw it coming.

Shortly after my divorce, I met this woman, who had also been married for a while, and we started dating. During these six years, we broke up about seven or eight times.

While we date, we get along great. She is a terrific person. But whenever she wants to take the relationship to a new level by telling me she wants to get married, we get into a fight and break up. The breaking up part is always her idea.

I am not commitment-phobic. I just don’t feel the connection strong enough for marriage. I have felt it with other people I dated, but not with her.

We recently got back together again. Everything is wonderful. We are having a great time. And she is again talking about marriage. This time, when I told her that I can’t marry her, she became angry and said that if we break up, I can never call her again. This really hurts me. I cannot imagine not ever speaking to her again. She is an important part of my life. I can’t lose her, but I also can’t marry her. How can I get her to stay in a relationship with me?


By Baila Sebrow

On the surface, it may appear as though you want to “have your cake and eat it too.” For most people, especially women, your story will evoke anger. Countless women have lost their youth on men who gave them false hope. I am not talking about men who promise to marry them but never do. I am talking about men who date women for many years, and are entirely upfront about their intentions not to marry them, such as in your situation. What you and others in your position may not realize is that the results of these two types of relationships are really not that far off from each other.

Yes, you are clearing your conscience with your brutal honesty. And you can say without doubt that she is not being misled by you. But imagine what is possibly going on in her mind. Each time you called her after a breakup period, you in essence have given her false hope. She, in all probability, imagined that the fact that you dated others and repeatedly kept going back to her was indicative that there is a ray of hope for a future in marriage with you. Yet history kept repeating itself.

Now things have changed. In your perception, it seems that out of the blue, after six years, and seven or eight breakups, she has finally decided to punish you.

This woman has likely been thinking about giving you the final ultimatum, probably as far back as after the first time the two of you broke up. But, as many women in her situation do, she has been making excuses for you. This woman has been giving you too many chances throughout a long period of time, and through many tears. Then it finally came to be that she emotionally accepted that you are demonstrating a pattern of treating her like a comfortable old pair of shoes. And who can blame her?

You appear devastated by her unexpected turnaround. After all, things were going just superbly for you. Regardless of your status with this woman, whether or not you were dating her or in the breakup period, you still maintained contact with her. You were able to call her and chat when you felt lonely and needed a listening ear. In the flesh or in spirit, you always had a girlfriend.

Your ardent insistence that you cannot lose this woman, yet cannot marry her either, is telling me that you are in pain. Your pain may be coming from a sudden loss of security or quite possibly–hold on to your seat–maybe you actually feel something for this woman that you did not grasp and recognize before.

I agree that you are probably not experiencing the fear of commitment. However, I believe that you might be suffering from a different type of fear–the fear of abandonment.

Seventeen years was a long time to be married to someone. Your ex-wife did not just hurt you. You felt deceived by her. Without any forewarning, the woman who was your partner in life informed you that she wanted out of the marriage, of the life the two of you built together. That must have shattered your spirits. In that state of mind, how could you possibly trust another woman after enduring such emotional wreckage?

Meeting this terrific woman with whom you get along so well shortly after your divorce was a therapeutic blessing to you. But after what you had been through, marrying her is terrifying. It is not easy for you to place yourself in what you may imagine to be a vulnerable position of being hurt again, of being abandoned again. Yet her latest decision is also feeling like an abandonment to you.

You say that you have felt the connection with other women you dated. But did they feel the same way about you? Or do you typically allow yourself to feel something for women with whom you know that a future is not possible?

You sound like an intelligent man. You understand that the woman you are now dating has reached her breaking point. Based on how she is communicating with you, I believe she will keep her word by not allowing you to have any more contact with her.

If you were an unfeeling cad, you would never have taken the time to reach out for help. Instead, by now you would have been out on the prowl, seeking a quick replacement for this woman. So when you say that you still want to hold on to what you have with her, yes, it is possible for both of you to emerge as winners from this ordeal.

I urge you to find a therapist who can help you deal with the past that is in all likelihood still haunting you. Tell the woman you are dating that you are finally seeking professional help.

If you find that you are comfortable with that therapist, then stick with him or her. If not, locate a therapist who specializes in couples therapy. Ask the woman if she is willing to join you in therapy sessions.

Throughout this new path, please do not under any circumstances put this woman on any guilt trip to stay with you in the relationship. Stress to her that you are not sure if anything positive will result, and that there are no guarantees that all these efforts will alter anything between the two of you.

If you truly care about this woman, accept any decision she comes to, and do not try to convince her otherwise. She is entitled to move on with her life if that is what she wants. However, based on how she feels about you, I suspect that she will be there for you regardless of the outcome of this chapter in your relationship.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at v

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