Advice: Unconventional Wisdom

Columnist Hara Estroff Marano shares advice on a boyfriend's fear of marriage, online flirtation and a seven-year scratch.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on July 1, 2004 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015

How come I get no luck?

I'm a 20-year-old straight male, although recently I've
struggled with my sexuality. I've never had a girlfriend or gone out on
a date. I have bipolar disorder II, and have acquired acting skills to
cover it. I have also developed an optimistic outlook on life. My
problem is, women don't see me as a likely romantic candidate for some
reason. I've bought an assortment of colognes and some exotic hair
gels, dyed my hair dirty blond and yet I can't find a date. What should
I do?

Forget the colognes, hair gels and dye. You've undoubtedly seen way
too many late-night TV ads. Nor should you be taking the hair-dye
approach to bipolar disorder. Success comes not from superficially
disguising your condition but from learning how to grapple with it
realistically-recognizing your mood triggers, acquiring self-management
skills and setting up your surroundings to support you. By its very
nature, the condition clouds insight, so you may well be unaware of ways
you are behaving that put others off. Lots of people with bipolar
disorder feel they've never had a successful romantic relationship, and
indeed, social events both strongly influence moods and are influenced by
them. Poets and other wise souls have long argued that romantic
attraction is itself a form of madness with a bipolar nature. At the very
least it pitches those in its grip between highs and lows that
dramatically impact brain chemistry. With or without romance, bipolar
disorder can make day-to-day life more of a struggle and typically leads
to confusion in one's sense of self, so maturing on all fronts will
likely take longer for you than for someone without the condition. I hope
you're taking prescribed medication regularly, but psychotherapy is also
invaluable for improving social and romantic functioning. Look for a
therapist specifically experienced in treating bipolar patients with
cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy. In addition,
you'll probably get a great deal both socially and informationally from a
local bipolar self-help group. Check out the Depression and Bipolar
Support Alliance ( to get started.

Should we have sex now, or wait until we're

Help! I have been raised with the idea that you wait until
you are married to have sex. I have been dating my boyfriend for almost
seven months now, and we are talking about marriage. We live about two
hours away from each other, and now I'm going into the military and
leaving him behind. I love him and he loves me. I do want to have sex
with him, but I also don't want to be shunned by my family and friends.
What should I do?

If you've been raised with the idea of waiting until you are
married to have sex, by all means honor your beliefs. Otherwise, you wind
up feeling that you've been cheating-on yourself. Neither distance nor
deployment has anything to do with your core values, so don't let
circumstances compromise you. At its best, sex adds a layer of profound
attachment to love. There are many ways to express love and affection
without intercourse, and I hope you and your beau are enjoying them

Why did my E-mail flirtation go up in

I am 53, and I've always been physically faithful to my
spouse of 32 years. So when I started an e-mail friendship a year ago
with a co-worker 2,000 miles away, I thought it was OK. He's twice
divorced and lives with his fiancee. We exchanged photos, phone calls
and did some naughty flirting. I even told him I loved him. Then guilt
set in. We agreed to just be friends. When his youngest son moved away,
he became depressed and no longer flirted back. Then he overlooked my
birthday; I got emotional. He said good-bye; he wanted to be honest
with his fiancee. I feel used. Yet I miss his friendship. What can I do
to bring him back as a friend?

You feel used? Dahlink, you were using him for excitement as much
as he was using you for diversion. Your e-mail flirtation went up in
flames because: A) It's way too easy to push electrons around; and B) You
confused fantasy with reality. Flirting is exciting and a fabulous mental
exercise; no wonder you love it. Almost everyone does. You don't have to
reach out 2,000 miles to do it with a stranger. Why not try flirting with
your husband? Start by sending him dirty, flirty e-mails, or leave
written messages on his pillow. If that doesn't jump-start the
relationship, turn your skills to fiction and pen a romance novel.

He wants to wait until he's 40!

I am a 29-year-old single female who met a wonderful guy 10
months ago and started an amazingly romantic relationship. Since we
were getting along so well, I tried to take the next step and introduce
him to my family. That's when he freaked out. To me he seemed
financially and mentally ready for a serious relationship, but he said
he was not ready for commitment and broke up with me. I tried to tell
him that we are soul mates and belong to each other, but because of
negative influences from his friends and family, he didn't try to work
out his problem. I ran into his best friend, who told me that he still
thinks about me but is scared of marriage and might not be ready until
he is 40. Why does he think that way? How can I change his mind and
make him realize he is making a mistake he will regret?

Believe it or not, most guys still see themselves as the (actual or
potential) Provider. The orthodox version usually comes complete with
benchmarks of accomplishment before starting a family. Quaint, I know,
but it's hard to obliterate eons of evolution in a few hot dates.
Introducing a guy to one's family certainly conveys seriousness and could
definitely scare any guy just a few months into a relationship. While you
were getting on so well, why weren't you talking and sharing your views
on relationships? Did you ask him whether he was ready to meet your
family and get a sense of what that meant to him? It isn't only your
definition of readiness that counts, it's also his. And on average, it
takes couples six months of regular dating to recognize that they are
getting serious. Instead of beating him over the head with your vision of
soul mates, you should have been spending time listening and gently
exploring his attitudes about life and love. Lick your wounds, and next
time, don't be so swift to haul a guy home just because you're excited.
Let an awareness of mutual attachment develop organically.

Now that he's clean, he's sexless

I've been dating a guy on and off for seven years. When we
met, he was fresh out of a 17-year marriage he didn't want to leave. He
was depressed, addicted to pain meds and did some really hurtful
things. I stood beside him as he went in and out of treatment centers.
These stresses and my life as a single parent prompted an emotional
breakdown after he stopped calling. Eventually, he reappeared, clean.
We're seeing each other again-only now there's no sex, no hugging,
holding or kissing. He just has no interest in anything romantic. I do
love him, but sometimes I want to feel like a woman, not like his pet,
maid or Mom.

You're already answering your own doubts. Whatever his
reasons-physical, emotional, a mixture of the two-Seven Year Man is not
what you want or need. You can spend seven more years rediscovering how
self-defeating it is trying to whip him into shape, with no guarantee of
success, or you can honor your healthy need for a fulfilling
relationship. Keep him as a friend, but devote your time to exploring
other possibilities. Choose a partner wisely. Evaluate one as you would a
friend-look at his character, personality, values, generosity of spirit,
the relationship between his words and actions, his sensitivity to your
needs, his relationships with others. Freedom from substance abuse should
be high on the list; consciousness is an asset. At the very least,
substance abuse suggests underlying problems that need to be addressed.
Respect yourself, know your needs and speak up for them clearly.
Otherwise, you will face disappointment at not getting what you want and
anger at your partner for not having met your (unstated) needs.