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I am engaged to a caring and successful man that I am very compatible with. Unfortunately, I am not attracted to him. Does chemistry trump compatibility?
Would it be a relief if I said “yes”?
When folks ask for my advice, it is often because they are living with a question to which they can’t quite find a resolution. And so the two of us will walk with that question for a while and we’ll see if, together, we can find a little clarity. Occasionally, however, folks show up with questions to which they already know the answer. Those people aren’t looking for clarity. Rather, they are looking for permission to act on the decision that they have already made.
While the 26 words of your letter aren’t enough to tell me for certain which category your question falls into, CTC, I kind of have to wonder: are you hoping that someone will say that it’s OK to break off your engagement? If so:
It’s OK to break off your engagement.
I don’t play a whole lot of cards, so I’m disinclined to talk about chemistry trumping anything else. Rather, if I were to reach for a metaphor for our conversation, I would prefer to say that a marriage is a bridge between two people. And sexual attraction is one of the stones out of which that bridge is built. Along with the other stones — attitudes towards money, philosophy around how to run a home, a desire to have kids (or not), and so on — sexual attraction keeps the bridge upright. When one or more of the pieces is compromised, the whole thing is liable to fall down.
Now, over the course of a marriage, some of the stones in couple’s bridge will inevitably get jarred loose — there will be times when, due to depression or physical illness or childbirth or age or whatever, a couple won’t be sexually active. A strong marriage can survive that. But wise people don’t begin a marriage with stones that are missing.
Wise people recognize that a bridge that wobbles is a big clue that they aren’t called to walk down the aisle together. To put that thought a little differently (and to switch rocky metaphors), wise people recognize that that the stuff that feels like pebbles in their shoes when they are dating or engaged — a partner who never picks up after herself, a partner who deflects serious issues with jokes, in-laws with crappy boundaries, a lack of sexual attraction — will feel like boulders two or five or 10 years into a marriage.
Your fiancé, CTC, deserves to be married to someone who wants to have sex with him. And you deserve the same. Intimacy — emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy, giving your authentic self — is vital to a marriage. That intimacy is something that you can’t fake. And its absence, especially if the two of you are planning on being monogamous, will fester until it builds into a poisonous resentment between you.
Would you want a spouse who said, “You’re great — but I’m really not attracted to you”? Does that sound like giving your best to your partner?
As awkward as it might be to un-tell friends and family that you’re getting married, as much as such an announcement might hurt your fiancé, calling things off now will yield a fraction of the awkwardness and a fraction of the hurt of a divorce a few years from now. And you know what? It might actually be a relief for you and your fiancé alike. It’s hard to imagine that he hasn’t picked up on the reality that you aren’t attracted to him.
Don’t get married, CTC, if you are in any way ambivalent about spending the rest of your life in the same bed as this man. Give him a chance to go and find someone who thinks that he’s hot stuff in every way.
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