Quality Problems vs Safe Problems
An anonymous poster asked a question on reddit:
My GF has genital herpes and I don’t. I love her with all my heart, but I live day to day wondering if I should stay with her
So from the very beginning of the relationship she was honest about her condition. Her ex cheated on her and got it and then gave it to her. I was a little bit weirded out about it at first but that didn’t stop me from wanting to be her friend. Long story short I fell for her deeply and we started dating. It’s been a year and a half now and I’ve been using protection every single time we have sex but it’s just been coming to the point where it’s hard to move pass the fact that she will always have that. We’ve been talking about marriage and possibly having kids but it’s just so far fetched for me. Bottom line is, I don’t want to risk my health but I don’t want to lose the woman I’ve always wanted in my life. I don’t know where to go with this relationship. We are both 30 and yes I have brought it up to her. She says to do what’s best for me. She would understand. This woman is my other half, no doubt. It’s just that I know if I stay with her, I’ll continue to see her in a different light. I hate feeling like this.
Here is my response:
You’re full of shit.
Hear me out: I know you think you’re serious and sincere, but I’ve heard this story a billion times in my practice, and it’s never what you think it is.
You’ve been with your woman for 18 months, and you claim you are ambivalent about staying with her “because she has herpes,” but you’re full of shit. How do I know? You’ve been with her 18 months, yet a thread on reddit is shedding new light on the condition for you. All the information you could ever want about herpes is a google search away, and you don’t know jack about the disease that you claim is the central sticking point of your long term relationship. That tells me it’s an excuse.
And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a GREAT excuse! It’s nothing that anyone can solve, and it’s not really your woman’s fault, and certainly not your fault, and yet there it is, lingering forever.
She’s the woman you’ve always wanted–she’s your other half! If only it weren’t for this big, bad, unsolvable problem that you haven’t even begun researching in 18 months and that you have no responsibility for, you could commit to her fully and spend the rest of your life with her.
Total bullshit. And now that it’s in black and white like that, I think you’re man enough to realize you’ve been bullshitting yourself about this issue, and you’ve been acting like a pussy and hurting your woman unfairly.
I’m going to make a few guesses here, and they are speculation because I don’t know you, but I’m completing the pattern, so I bet I’m right:
- You’re afraid of commitment
- You’re afraid your youth is slipping away, as you move into your 30s
- You’re afraid she’s not really the one you spend the rest of your life with
- You’re afraid of telling her because you don’t want to hurt her
- You’re afraid of telling her because you’re afraid she’ll be mad at you
- The real reason you’re ambivalent is something you’re too ashamed to admit to her, and probably to yourself as well. Maybe she’s not physically attractive to you, maybe you’re questioning your sexuality, it could be anything
So you make a safe excuse, that you pretend is not really solvable. It’s safe because no one can blame you for being concerned about “your health” re: a disease that has stigma. If this were really the problem, you would’ve researched it to death and made a final decision within days of starting to fall for her, 18 months ago.
When your woman tells you that you need to make your own decision, and she wouldn’t blame you, she’s fucking dying inside. You are acting like too much of a pussy to just own your real thoughts and feelings and be real with her, and it’s tearing her up.
What can she say other than what she’s said? If she blames you, then you get to tell everyone what an unreasonable, diseased bitch she is when you leave her. If she begs you to stay, then you get to hold this over her head forever. And I think you sort of like that because it gives you power in the relationship: you have a free pass to leave her on a whim, guilt free. Who would give up a sweet deal like that?
I’ll tell you who: a real man. The man who deserves her will do right by her and make a fucking decision.
Get real about the reasons that you have cold feet, man up and be honest with your woman about those reasons, and stop pretending tiny, infrequent cold sores are the reason you can’t commit. Also, when you’re done, if your woman keeps you, apologize to her for being such a pussy and putting her through that bullshit. She deserves better.
A lot of people took exception to my abrasive tone, my sexist language, and my presumption that I knew so much about this anonymous guy who had barely posted more than a paragraph.
My tone, and my words were all carefully chosen to drill into this man’s soul and change his life. I was confident I was right, but the proof is in the pudding:
The poster of the question responded within minutes, saying I’d hit the nail on the head, and he had a lot to think about. He followed up in another post thanking me again.
How did I know?
You might have noticed a phrase in my response: “safe excuse.” That’s kind of a code word, the usual phrase is “safe problem.” A Safe Problem is the opposite of a Quality Problem.
A Quality Problem is a forward thinking decision that could have a significant impact on our identity, circumstances, or quality of our lives, so they feel risky.
Examples of Quality Problems:
- Moving to a new area
- Career Change
- Committing to a Relationship
- Leaving a Relationship
- Starting a Family
A Safe Problem is an issue that lingers even though, strictly speaking, the solution is in our control.
Examples of Safe Problems:
- Communication problems or bickering
- Blaming Others
- Avoiding making decisions
- Time management issues
When someone is terrified of the risk of solving a quality problem, they will often replace that quality problem with a smoke screen of safe problems, that they can use so they never have to face the real, underlying issue. They never have to take any risk or face their fear, because they make themselves powerless and paralyzed by “problems” that apparently have no solution.
I knew Mr. Anonymous was full of shit, because everything about his “problem” reeked of safety, in all the ways I outlined in my response to him. All I had to do was ask myself: if this problem went away, what real problem would he have to face? And I gave him a bullet point list of the real issues that I had a strong inclination to believe were underlying his question.
That’s how I knew he was using herpes as a safe problem to avoid the real issues like fear of aging and commitment.
So I put it to him to him in a way that would interrupt his pattern of using the safe crutch (shocking and abrasive language), and that supported his essentially heterosexual, gender normative frame of the world. Luckily he was honest enough with himself to take that punch and say “You know what? It’s true, I’m afraid of something else.”
That insight, combined with his level of honesty means this guy has a fighting chance to grow and change and maybe have a long, happy marriage.
What safe problems are you hiding behind?
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