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  1. Kids & Family

Tell me about it: Accept, don't judge, girlfriend's differences

Differences with girlfriend may not be deal-breakers

Q: I'm male, late 30s. I've been seeing a woman, and getting along with her in many great ways, for over a year. One of her strengths is her ability to get along in life on her own; she's a fairly independent, "lone wolf" type, not afraid to disappear to a foreign country, or the wilderness, by herself.

But I'm having trouble coming to grips with a flip side to this: Her self-reliance seems to go hand-in-hand with a lack of ability, or interest, in maintaining many close friendships or ties with family.

She's made sincere efforts given the parental hand she was dealt. But she has few close friends, none in the same time zone. I asked myself, "Who would I invite if I wanted to have a surprise party for her?" Unless I invited all my friends and family, I'm afraid it would be a very small, very tame party.

I can't imagine being who I am, being sane and happy, without having such a network of family and friends. So while I feel pretty solid with our one-on-one time, I feel like I'm getting very little in terms of expanding my circle — not just for me, but for any children I might have. Just knowing she doesn't maintain many friendships makes me wonder what kind of person she is. I feel like she depends on me for a large amount of her social life, and suspect she and I are fundamentally different in terms of what we seek and value.

I keep telling myself to focus on the many positives. But I'd be lying if I said that it's what I'd really want out of a relationship.


A: Then you're kind of lying to her by staying, no?

I could end this answer here, after reminding you that forcing yourself to focus only on the good (or only on the bad) hampers your ability to read people accurately, and that it's okay to break up with someone just for not giving you what you need — even someone you love. Figuring out stuff like this is what dating is for.

But even though I'm not getting paid by the word (wow, right?), I think there's information here to warrant a longer answer.

For one thing, you're staying. Unless you're prone to inertia, that says you want her in your life.

And, you're framing arguments against her using your own worldview, versus trying to understand hers.

Your assumptions, of course, might still be correct; maybe she is dependent on you for her social life, her scant emotional attachments are a warning, and you and she value different things.

But isn't it also possible that she enjoys the gift of your social group without actually needing it? And that if you and she broke up, she'd revert to lone-wolfism without unraveling?

Isn't it possible her few close ties are solid, and therefore signs she's emotionally healthy — just in a way you're not used to seeing?

Isn't it possible she wouldn't want a surprise party?

Not all differences create a net loss, right? Often they balance us out.

Granted, even if all these questions have best-case answers, she still might not be right for you. Among other things, it's okay to have no interest in learning to speak Introvert; an extro-intro pairing can require just as much education, dedication and open-mindedness as an interfaith, interracial or cross-cultural one, and no one who isn't game for the challenge should take it on.

Just don't leave because you can't imagine any other definition of "sane and happy" than your own. What matters is whether her definition is sound for her, yours is sound for you, and they can coexist without one of you surrendering more than you care to give.