How do you know if the significant other really loves you?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 2, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

A column of yours on breakups brought up some really good points — the big one being, if you’re dissatisfied with a relationship, don’t fake it because you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

I was recently on the receiving end of this, despite my multiple attempts at and encouragement of honest conversations no matter what the truth was.

Because my ex didn’t want to lose me as a girlfriend — he enjoyed the perks — he didn’t say anything. When he was done, he then revealed the truth.


(Nick Galifianakis)

Trust me, he was a superb actor for years. I had no idea he didn’t like me at all.

Now that I’m in a new relationship, how do I spot this dishonesty? The new guy is great and telling me how happy he is, but so did the ex.

Not Getting Burned Again

Your ex enjoyed the perks, but did he create any for you to enjoy, besides words?

Carolyn:

Yeah, sure he did. The companionship and conversation were big ones. It’s just that they all ended up being insincere — like the entire relationship. They had to be, since he said he never loved me. He was just filling a role he thought he was supposed to, complete with gestures.

So, yeah, that’s why I’m curious to know the difference.

Burned again

Maybe so, but you did say this: “despite my multiple attempts at and encouragement of honest conversations.” That sounds to me as if you were looking for reassurance that he loved you, and people don’t do that unless they sense on some level that the love isn’t there.

If there’s anything to this, then the first thing you can do is become attuned to your insecurities, to a need for affirmation. When it’s there, intimacy usually isn’t, because intimacy is its own proof.

I’m also skeptical of the “he said he never loved me.” That may be so — is this time to mention psychopaths, who have no empathy but happily absorb the attention of people they charm into loving them? — but it’s also possible he changed his story for his own reasons.

We are all revisionist historians to some degree, and minimizing (or exaggerating) past feelings is a specialty. Breakups are less of a fuss if you can devalue or vilify the ex, and if it’s fuss you want, then the person you had doubts about three weeks ago can quickly become the One Who Got Away.

I don’t think it’s a conscious choice so much as a reflection of our present emotional needs. Still, I’m continually amazed at how many people look back on past relationships, marriages even, and refuse to offer up anything nice about the ex or anything positive about their past feelings. All I can think is, there was love once. Or even just a few laughs here and there.

For various reasons, though — often to help people feel justified in their current dislike or hostile actions — those are so often cut out, painted over, rationalized away.

So at least consider the possibility he did this with you.

And, again, watch for your own sense of comfort and trust. If you’re pushing in vain for “honest conversations,” then the truth is already out.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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