The traits in a man that win you over at first could be the very ones that lead to your breakup. PHOTO | NATION
Kate*, a 26-year-old marketer, smiles with open embarrassment when she narrates the experience of a man she dated when she was a naive college student four years ago.
He was tall, skinny and handsome. He was so light-skinned that everyone called him Brown. Brown was a conductor on a matatu that plied her route home, back in the days before the law required them to wear uniforms. And Kate, like most girls in the neighbourhood, was attracted to the ‘bad boy’ that Brown was.
Kate tried her chances with Brown and they dated for a couple of months. It was horrible: “Brown wasn’t a man you could pin down for more than a few seconds without him getting fidgety. He knew little about romance. His conversations were shallow and uninspiring and his bad boy image didn’t fly any more,” says Kate.
The fascination and thrill of dating a bad boy was a sheen that wore off quickly and it wasn’t until she sat home alone on most evenings that she faced the question she had been avoiding for a long time: “What good is his ‘badness’ to our relationship?”
A somewhat similar fate fell on Wangui*, 32. Wangui met her boyfriend in the banking hall of a local investment bank. Evans was aggressive, intelligent and very opinionated and had a sharp tongue to boot. These traits that the trading floor asked of him were the same traits that reeled Wangui in.
Evans challenged her intellectually and in her career; he made her thirst for corporate success as much as he did. But when it came to navigating the relationship, Evans just didn’t know when to switch hats between the trader on the floor to the boyfriend in the relationship.
“He wasn’t pleasant to people. He would constantly talk down to others, especially to those he considered beneath him – waiters, watchmen, parking attendants. He’d talk down even to me sometimes. And he always had something to say,” recalls Wangui.
And on the day that she ended their relationship eight months later, says Wangui, Evans spoke as if she were losing out on the best thing that ever happened to her. Wangui was disgusted.
So what is it that happens to turn this initial attraction into repulsion? According to relationship and sex therapist Maurice Matheka, such women translate the attraction into a mental idea of the kind of relationship they would want to have with the man they are attracted to. And they ignore the reality of the relationship they will actually have beyond the attraction. “It’s like building an entire relationship out of the streak of this infatuation,” says Maurice.
Such relationships are not based on shared values; they are based on a one-sided attraction that tips the scales against one half of the relationship. What women try to do, says Maurice, is to try to change their man to keep the relationship from falling apart.
Njambi*, 35 and single mother of one knows this too well because she experienced it with her ex-boyfriend. When Njambi met him back in campus, what attracted her to him was his style of partying: “He didn’t just party,” says Njambi, “he partied hard.” Njambi says that they would be out on the town every Friday and Saturday until the wee hours of the morning and there was never a dull moment with him.
Their relationship blossomed beyond the corridors of campus, and they continued dating – and partying – until she fell pregnant with their first child when she was 27. Despite the need to reconsider their lifestyle for the sake of their baby, says Njambi, her then boyfriend continued to party just like before.
And even after she delivered, asking him to ‘settle down’ to take care of her and the baby seemed like asking too much of him. Njambi left him to his partying and drinking, and moved out to raise their child on her own.
Relationship therapist Matheka says that such episodes are common today amongst many women especially in urban areas. It isn’t that your man isn’t attractive anymore; it’s that he has not changed to settle down into the man the relationship needs him to be. You were attracted to what he was, not to the man he is.
“The partying and the late nights are who he is. That can’t change. What can change, though, is how you say to him that you want him to be a more responsible adult who knows how to take care of his family,” says Maurice.
If a woman can nail that, then she can let her man be who he is, but still get him to taper down on the partying and other formerly attractive but now repulsive traits that threaten the security of the relationship.