There are tons of ways men can screw a woman over, even if unintentionally. We're exceptionally talented at it sometimes.
But one of the least-addressed is when men simply sit too long on the emotional fence, wasting precious years of their partner's time before ultimately heading for the door. And they often leave for reasons that they've felt for a long time, but have squelched simply because they're hard to bring up.
I call them the Time Bandits.
They rob their partners of life's most precious resource. And I'm here to call my fellow men out on it.
To be fair, I've been this guy myself at times, to some degree. While I've never wasted years of a woman's life, I have stayed in things longer than I should have, and I'll never be that guy again.
And sure, ultimately the responsibility is on a woman if she feels her time is being wasted; address it with your partner, wait to see a change and if none is forthcoming, move on. But that can be hard when a guy is misrepresenting his intentions or hiding his uncertainty about the relationship until he bails out with no warning.
I also agree it's unethical for either partner -- regardless of gender -- to waste the other's time by misrepresenting their feelings. But it seems a worse crime when perpetrated against a woman. If she wants to have children, time is a resource she simply has less of. A woman only has until her late 30s by most physicians' estimates to have kids without increased risks to mother and child. But a man can delay until 50, 55, even 68 if he's Picasso.
I live in New York City. I see too many women who've lost crucial child-bearing years to a guy who spent years in emotional limbo and then hit the road.
For the record, I'm not judging any relationship that simply doesn't work out or the men who end it late in the game because they grew apart. No, I'm calling to task men who've been on the fence since early in the relationship, stayed in that same position for years on end, then finally called it off for the same misgivings they'd had years earlier.
And the reason a guy usually puts off the breakup? Simple: Lack of courage.
Because breaking up is brutal, for both parties. It's a lot easier to postpone it than address it head on. I've spent plenty of time coming up with my own reasons of "why it's not a good time to break up right now." But it rarely is.
You just have to do it anyway.
I know countless men -- some of whom I count among my good friends -- who have expressed a serious concern about compatibility early in their relationships, and yet not acted on it for years. To me, there's a statute of limitations before which you can cite a particular issue as the reason for exit. And the clock starts ticking the first time you mentally decide, Hmm, this is a pretty big problem for me.
Once you have that concern, I think that as a man you have a moral obligation to do one of two things: 1) raise your concerns with your partner and attempt to reconcile them; or 2) recognize that if this incompatibility is not "fix-able" and a real deal-breaker for you, get the check and head for the door. If she's looking for The One and thinks you're it, it's a crime of the heart to stay with her if you know you're inevitably going to leave.
It also robs her of time to find another man better suited to her.
I recognize it's not easy to arrive at the "exit" decision. It's a grave one, and one we don't want to make lightly. Leaving someone is rarely a move you can take back. But part of being a man (or hey, just an adult) is to act in union with your inner beliefs. If you truly don't think you're aligned with your partner, you have an obligation to act on that.
I dated a woman once where I was pretty sure at the one-year mark that we weren't going to go the distance. But it took me three more months to finally break it off. Why? Because I genuinely cared for her and didn't want to hurt her. But I also couldn't bear to think about how disappointed she was going to be with me. I figured I was going to be the "asshole," so I put it off as long as possible. Again: fear.
But let's say you begin dating a woman when you're both 30. And you have an issue, with, say, your different approaches to money (or sex, or religion, or raising kids, or alcohol, or resolving an argument). And you've either, a) discussed the issue but can't come to an agreement, or b) chosen not to ever raise it. Then you can't spend 3-8 more years in that relationship, failing to act on an issue that still bothers you every day.
That makes you an asshole.
You may not be deliberately trying to hurt her or rob years from her life, but that's what you're doing. It's like knowing you like brunettes but start dating a blonde, and then nine years into it you break up with her, saying, "Sorry, I just never liked your hair." That's not her fault -- it's yours.
What can make matters tougher is that even if a woman feels her time is being "wasted" and addresses it, she might be reluctant to hit the door too quickly because starting over with someone new takes time, too. So she's more likely to give him a third or fourth chance to turn it around.
Which is why it's incumbent upon us men to not exploit that leniency.
By staying on the fence, guys, we not only further rob our partners of their chance at happiness, but we muddy our own sense of identity. We're living a double life, compromising our own beliefs. And that act of flouting our own instincts will make us less able to follow them down the road when the real Ms. Right comes along.
So man up, my fellow men, and get the hell out of relationships your heart truly isn't in. You're not doing your partner any favors, and you're probably interfering with your own future chances at romance. Take an honest inventory of what is most important to you in a partner and if you're not on the same page, give her as much time as possible to find someone who values what she's bringing to the table more than you do.
Yes, even if she hates you for it in the short-term.
As men, we're born with the perhaps-undeserved biological advantage of a looser time frame to accomplish any family-related goals in life. Let's not abuse it.
Time is precious. So when it comes to relationships, gentlemen, no stealing allowed.
This piece was originally run on The Good Men Project.
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