Brutal honesty about relationships

In her article entitled My “Naked” Truth, Robin Korth provides a poignant and thought-provoking account of a nascent romance cut short by incompatible desires and brutal honesty. After a short and unconsummated romance with a man she met online, she ended the relationship because he was not physically attracted to her.

Korth’s date found fault with her body, and blamed her appearance for his lack of desire. Korth never comes out and says it, but it’s clear that just as he found fault with her body, she found fault with his character:
  • that he did not find her attractive just as she was;
  • that he was too brutally honest about his feelings; and
  • that he asked her to change herself to fit his desires.
Some of the online responses provoked by the article make it clear that many people hold a perceived culture of patriarchy accountable too. I can see their point. Advertisers and the media certainly do no favors to people with human imperfections; the ideal of happy wealthy healthy youth is continually paraded before our eyes, and these images can certainly warp our worldview.

We have only Korth’s side of the story, but from what she wrote it seems her partner was narcissistic. At a minimum, he appears not to have understood that the way he chose his words could be hurtful to her. Honesty Is good; insensitivity is not. He should have known that his forthrightness about his preference for younger women would cause her distress.

I can empathize with Korth. It is a sad fact of life that we must all grow old, and most of us are eventually reminded of our diminishing prospects — and ultimately, of our mortality — by the declining interest that others express in us.

Korth believes that she deserves a partner who likes her as she is. This is almost accepted wisdom today: that everyone deserves someone who loves them just the way they are. But a moment’s reflection reveals that this desert imposes an implicit obligation on others. This is obviously an untenable position. Apart from familial obligations like the duty of a parent to love its child, no one owes anyone else love.

Part of Korth’s frustration surely has its roots in the expectation in Western society that every person can find one true soulmate. In this childish and romantic vision of love, physical attraction is always coupled to a deeper companionate affection. Unfortunately though, the real world seldom is so accommodating. In real relationships, there are different kinds of attraction. One can feel a strong attraction in one way, but a weak attraction in another way. For example, one can be very attracted physically to someone, but only fancy their personality a bit. Or vice versa. When people get together it is because the sum of all of the types of attraction is sufficient. It does not mean that they both have the same feelings, or that they have the same priorities. Physical attraction may be more important to one, and a personal connection may be more important to the other. How many people are honest about these priorities early in a relationship?

Yes, most people long for a partner who loves them just they way they are; but most people also want a partner who is at least a little bit better than average — in appearance, personality, culture, wealth, etc. These two desires are not compatible. Many people make compromises to find a partner. Many end up alone, and not always by choice. Those who expect the perfect partner will likely be disappointed. People should either adjust their standards to fit reality, or they should learn to be happy alone. As I wrote in a comment to Korth’s article, “there are many lost souls caught between plaintive hope and bitter resignation, because their expectations of the world are so far out of sync what the world has to offer.”

There is no point in blaming someone for failing to match your desires.

Likewise, there is no point in trying to shame someone for having desires that exclude you.

If a relationship doesn’t work out, don’t blame the other person, don’t blame yourself, and don’t curse human biology or deride the whole culture. Just move on.

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