Dear Captain Awkward:
I’m a 25-year-old male with a girlfriend of a little over two years. We’ve had our ups and downs over time, but for my recent memory, which probably means the last year, things have been going well. We have a lot of fun together, usually on our own as most of our friends have moved away as they get real people jobs. She is supportive, caring, funny, we have good communication in most areas (caveat upcoming!) and is someone I can see myself being with for a long, long time. The only negatives with our relationship before last week were 1) we have issues that have prevented us from having sex for our entire relationship, 2) she can become obnoxious when she drinks, and she drinks semi-frequently, and 3) she has a far shorter attention and tolerance span than I do. That hasn’t been much of an issue historically, but lately I have been reading up on feminist stories and consuming a lot more information, and it’s just not something we can share in doing because she isn’t that interested in it while I am bordering on obsessive.
These three problems have seen little flare-ups throughout our relationship where they become more than just a thought regarding our future and become actual issues, but we’ve worked through them at the time and they never really resolve, just slide back to low heat. I have been focused on her for our two years and building a relationship with her. I’ve never had a problem liking someone else or thinking about another woman in any romantic way. She’s been my only long-term girlfriend, and occasionally I’ll feel like I missed out because of my lack of past meaningful relationships, but that’s been more of an esoteric thought, less “I wish I had gotten to date _______.”
I was unemployed for most of this year with a brief temp job in the middle, but I’m currently working somewhere new and loving it. One of my coworkers caught my eye within the past two weeks, and I’ve been crushing hard on her. We brushed arms once or twice and it felt exhilarating, and I’m exceedingly attracted to her. This is the first time in my relationship with my partner I’ve actually liked another girl, and I really like this other girl. I don’t know her too well, although she’s friendly and funny and been fun to talk to. I think I’m mostly physically attracted to her, because that attraction’s strong. For the past week, I’ve felt like shit about this. I feel like an asshole, especially knowing I can’t say 100% I wouldn’t cheat on my girlfriend. I like to think I wouldn’t, but I can’t say I wouldn’t, and that makes me feel as worthless (I think, never cheated) as if I had done something.
These feelings for my coworker have brought the previous problems I have with our relationship to the forefront in my head. Especially not being able to share a consumption of social media with her. I have just recently started using Twitter a lot, mostly to keep up on social justice issues, and I want to do more. Start blogging, volunteer, maybe become politically active. We have little time as it is, and these things would eat into that time. It would be a point of contention no matter what. But before starting my crush, things were going well. These were concerns, but I didn’t think about them as often as I have in the last two weeks. I feel like I can’t trust any feelings I have because they may stem from my lustful thoughts and not any valid concerns over whether my partner and I should continue to be together.
One of the big difficulties is I don’t feel I can bring this up at all to my partner. We have excellent communication, but I don’t think I can bring up “I really wish I could fuck this woman, and I worry that’s an impulse I would act on in a moment of weakness” constructively, nor could I bring up “I think you’re holding me back from producing the thoughts and things I want to by not being as engaged as I am socially” constructively. I don’t know how I’d start working through this with her, so I’ve just been letting time pass and hoping my feelings change.
My question is, should I treat this as a crush I need to wait to pass before having any thoughts about where my relationship is with my partner? And is there any constructive way to discuss this with my partner?
You could have a conversation with your partner where you ask if you can open up the relationship and pursue your crush. And if she says yes, you could approach Work Crush and see if she’s up for the same. People are always recommending The Ethical Slut around here, and another book called “Opening Up” which might help you frame the issue for yourself and discuss it for your partner. Haven’t read ’em, can’t vouch for ’em, but smart people say they’re good. Dan Savage would argue that a partner who won’t or can’t have sex with you should let you explore sex with other people so that you can get your needs met and be happy. I can imagine situations where that is a solution, but I’m pessimistic that this is one of them.
My personal opinion is that open relationships & poly- stuff don’t work in relationships that are already not working. “I know, let’s take this thing that isn’t working and add more people to it!”
My other personal opinion is that, while work crushes develop into work relationships all the time, if you get shot down by this girl a lot of your personal business is going to come out at work. Where you work. So hang back on this one. Do not actively pursue. See if she comes to you.
Hard Truth: You can love people who can’t give you what you need from a relationship. You can love people who are incapable of making you happy. Love isn’t enough to solve certain kinds of incompatibilities. It doesn’t conquer all.
Sex is really important to me. I would have a hard time maintaining a relationship where that was not part of the deal, and an impossible time maintaining a relationship where that was NEVER going to be an option. I’m sure there are Reasons that sex isn’t possible or isn’t happening for you right now. Is that going to change in the future? Is there hope? Some kind of plan? Therapy? Does your partner identify as asexual? If so, there is likely a fundamental incompatibility between you around sex. Is it something you can talk about?
Self-expression – writing, communication – are really important to me. I would have a hard time maintaining a relationship that clipped my wings around, say, making movies, or writing this blog.
I would have a hard time maintaining a relationship with someone who drinks too much and especially with someone who is mean to me or “obnoxious” when drunk. “Too much” can mean a lot of things. If you’re dreading the thought of her getting drunk, of seeing her when she’s drunk, if you’re thinking about her drinking or working around her drinking in a way that affects your life….it’s too much. For you.
I would have a hard time maintaining a relationship with a partner where I could not bring up needs and dreams that are important to me.
I can tell that you are a sweet, loyal, caring, loving, ethical dude and that you want to do only right by your partner. But your needs – for sex, for self-expression and creativity, to be able to talk about anything and everything with your partner – are not being met inside this relationship. Your girlfriend doesn’t have to do anything objectively wrong in order to be wrong for you.
I know what it is to stay up all night with someone because you can’t decide whether you want to talk more or $%#! more so you just keep trading off until you eventually fall asleep, only to start over again in the morning. And I know what it is to stay too long in a relationship where there is plenty of love and laughter and loyalty but that essential spark – of desire, of shared dreams and passions – is not there.
Leaving someone you love involves some hard decisions and some pain for sure. Loyalty is great and admirable quality, but staying loyal to something that is hurting you and making you frustrated and small is not necessary. I think that you’re making sacrifices that you don’t have to make and that some of your loyalty is more about the idea of “having a girlfriend” and “proving you are a loyal dude and not a selfish ass” than it is about the actual relationship.
I think you will ultimately be happier if you end things with your current partner, take a few months to grieve and recover, and then jump back into dating and really look around for the kind of person who can make you happy. I think this crush, your happiness at work, are a message from the universe: “It can be so much better than it is now!”
I wish you well whatever you decide.