Dear Prudence: I’m a 31-year-old male and consider myself to be a borderline sociopath. I view this as a neural development disorder where many people fall along a spectrum, not something to be “treated” or changed. I do not wish harm to anyone, but I do come first and don’t feel guilt or remorse. This seems to work in most areas of my life, but dating is a problem.
By all recognizable accounts I am easygoing, successful, charming and normal. However, I do not feel love the way I imagine many people do. My love for someone peaks around the two-month mark in the relationship and I can feel that way for nearly anyone who meets my dating criteria. But I have been the “love of their life” for many women, who form incredibly deep bonds and end up devastated. In some relationships I have even been entirely upfront that I simply don’t “feel” the way most people do and they have not been deterred.
So what am I to do? I don’t enjoy hurting others, but I do enjoy when others care for me. Do I just continue this pattern throughout life, enjoying each relationship for what it is and knowing that if the woman gets her heart broken she will eventually get over it and go on to better relationships? Or is that callous and morally demanding of a better approach?
Prudence says: Thank you for a peek inside the brain of “that guy.”
The guy who discards women like they’re stained clothing, yet always has someone new to try. The guy who makes no explicit promises, who even sometimes admits he’s not like other people, but who behaves as if the deepening feelings are mutual. The guy who when told by the woman he is seeing that she loves him, realizes it’s time to move on — and when questioned about the breakup asserts it’s not his fault if she misunderstood his attentions.
Let’s take your borderline sociopath diagnosis at face value, and accept that you don’t want treatment, and frankly for major personality disorders there isn’t that much to offer. Because you don’t want to hurt others, you indeed are on the benign end of this spectrum, a kind of Mr. Spock. (At the malignant end are those who revel in causing pain, personified by serial killer Ted Bundy.)
It even makes a certain evolutionary sense that a small number of people like you serve a useful societal function. You are the hyper-rational creature who can make decisions without the clouding lens of human feeling. It also makes sense that you have your pick of partners. Sailing through life with confidence and élan is attractive. You do acknowledge that you have your own emotional needs, and that they are not about having reciprocal feeling but about the gratification of being adored.
So having applied your ample analytic skills to your situation, your question is what you should do about it. You’re right that you could go through life breaking hearts and eventually making your friends queasy about fixing you up, but morality requires that you don’t knowingly continue this hurtful pattern.
So stop making vague declarations about your lack of feelings. Be explicit at the beginning that you have never been in a relationship that lasted more than a few months. State that marriage is not for you. Say you offer a good time in the short term.
Some women will take this as a challenge, but they do so at their own risk. But surely there are female Spocks out there, and if you get tired of the endless chase, look for a woman who is as cool and unromantic as you. You would likely make a formidable if unsettling team, moving forward together like a pair of beautiful sharks.
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.