Critical thinking: What’s the difference between the right guy and the wrong guy?


File photo. File photo.

(To be read with “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash as proper background music.)

One huge problem with coming from a dysfunctional family is lacking a roadmap for having a functional relationship. Certainly, I have functional relationships with friends and even most of my family members (now), but when it comes to a long-term partner, I am absolutely clue-LESS.

To make matters worse, I grew up in the theatre with a bunch of entertaining yet extraverted exhibitionists, which means I also lack a sense of normal social boundaries. As a result of my background, I experience a lot of angst when it comes to determining what is acceptable behavior in a man (and myself) and what is not.

This condition is akin to driving on a strange road in extremely thick fog—it is scary and there are no points of reference to help navigate. Since my goal is to have a successful, functional long-term relationship, learning what is acceptable and what is not, is critical.

In other words, what most women may understand as unacceptable in a man quite quickly, I have to analyze for a long time, which includes consulting about 10 different people before I can decide A) if the behavior is indeed unacceptable/acceptable, B) whether or not said behavior is a deal-breaker and C) is the problem really with me rather than him?

Say I have met a nice-looking, passably intelligent, reasonably employed guy who’s house is a total mess (as in dishes in the sink for weeks, papers, tools, and clothes piled everywhere in a layer of dust bunnies and grit).* I, on the other hand, a visually oriented person, need things to be tidy and reasonably clean. I will obsess—possibly for weeks—over this point from 12 different angles ranging from basic hygiene issues to deep psychological implications before deciding if I should keep this man in my life or let him go.

I will also spend a lot of time second guessing myself. Am I hijacking what could possibly be a wonderful opportunity? Am I settling for something less than I deserve? Will the benefits of being with this person outweigh this issue in the long run or will it cause an irreparable rift? Is this issue really all that important?

It is nerve-wracking.

The benefits to all this (possibly) over-thinking is that when I make the decision to 86 a relationship, I am sure that it is the right thing to do and I can do it calmly without reserve, allowing for as gentle a break-up as possible. The downside is I spend way too much energy on an issue that most people could figure out in a fraction of the time.

At least I am trying to get it right.

*Disclaimer: This scenario is based on many men I have dated (or married) over the years and does not reflect any one in particular.

Mary Burruss is a freelance writer and blogger who thinks moving to Charlottesville was one of the best decisions she ever made. She writes about art and culture for pubs like Art Times, US Airways Magazine and Virginia Living, and blogs on and Salsa dancing is the latest in a long string of her passions.

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