Last year around this time a patient of mine told me a story which has stuck in my mind and which she said I can tell again in this blog. She was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a friend she had not seen for some time. Her friend was all excited about a new guy she was dating. He was good-looking, generous, and thoughtful. And he was fun to be with. But there was something about him that was bothering her.
“Wait,” my patient said to her, “let me guess. He’s a gay porn star.”
“How did you know that?” her friend replied.
Now, either my patient was lying to me—which I don’t believe, since she never has lied to me—or she is the world’s best guesser. If I had been in her place, I probably would have come up with any one of the usual problems: he was married, he had AIDS, he drank too much, he had spent the better part of the previous year in a mental hospital, he had a couple of illegitimate children, or, maybe even, he was a transsexual. Any of these would have been an impediment to developing a long-term relationship. Some women might have considered any of them as a “deal-breaker,” an obstacle too large to climb over.
Apparently this young woman did not regard her boyfriend’s cinematic career as a deal-breaker. However, she objected—as well she might—to his insisting on having sex without a condom. I think any man, of any profession, who refuses to wear a condom is reckless and is showing an insensitivity to the woman’s wishes and needs. Unprotected sex is dangerous. Of course, the nature of his work put him particularly at risk.
When I heard about this young woman, I tried to imagine that she was my patient. How would I have reacted to this relationship? Sometimes women, and men too, come into my office telling me right off that they know the romantic affair that they are currently in the midst of is bad and should come to an end. They almost never ask my advice, though; and I do not offer it. I might have had trouble in this instance not rolling my eyes, but I would have tried to be impassive and thoughtful. This is not because I usually hesitate to offer advice—even unsolicited advice—to my patients, but because in matters of romance, no one pays any attention to what I think. Anyone who has served as a confidant to a close friend knows what I am talking about. Trying to talk a close friend out of a disastrous relationship is futile and, if such a discussion goes on over a period of time, as it usually does, it is annoying to both of them.
There is a second reason I hesitate to condemn any particular romantic affair. I may be wrong. Over the years I have, naturally, known of relationships that seemed to me to be doomed. I remember a very young couple who had met in a mental hospital. Both my patient and his inamorata were intermittently acutely psychotic; yet they were determined to marry. I thought neither one of them would be able to sustain a successful marriage to anyone let alone to someone who had similar severe problems. But I was wrong. They did get married, and they both helped each other to manage their illnesses and life in general.
I remember a man who married a woman with six children. He was unemployed. It seemed imprudent to marry under those circumstances, at least at that particular time; but they got married anyway. He got a job. She helped him. He grew to love her children as his own; and, as far as I could discover, they lived happily forever after.
Many men and women regard certain specific circumstances as deal-breakers. Sometimes this incompatibility is a matter of religious difference or differences in the level of education. There are age differences that trouble some people. If a man is violent, that might be—and probably should be—a deal breaker. Some men insist on marrying a virgin, or so I am told. I do not meet many such men. Some men might hesitate to commit themselves to someone who has been promiscuous. Many men would not feel that way if that behavior seemed to have ended in the past. There are some who could overlook a spouse having worked as a porn star, even a gay porn star. If such a couple came into my office years later saying they were happily married, I would not be a bit surprised.
And, of course, there are some who seem like a perfect fit at first but who do something unforgiveable during the course of the relationship: an infidelity with a mutual friend, an abandonment for a period of time, a sudden failure of character such as rudeness or vulgarity. For others even these transgressions are not deal-breakers.
Obviously, there is no right or wrong about such matters. What is a deal-breaker for one person can be easily overlooked by someone else. Sometimes someone will enter a relationship that would have previously seemed impossible and unimaginable to him or her because of some aspect of the other person; but people fall in love, and the previously unimaginable becomes acceptable.
When I think of couples who seem to have nothing in common, I remember in particular a marriage long ago that was reported in the newspapers. The wife was a British Lord, (his) husband was his chauffeur, a Black man who was evidently uneducated and of foreign extraction. I made a list of their incompatibilities:
Still, if it has turned out that their marriage was successful and lasted all this time, I would not be a bit surprised.
P.S. This royal couple also had a big difference in age, as I remember, but I don’t remember who was older. (c) Fredric Neuman Author of Come One, Come All. Ask advice at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ask-dr-neuman-advice-column/