Dear Team Awwkard,
Ok so here it is: I’m back at university after having to take time out due to depression and a very bad reaction to meds last year. I have a feeling that the depression was in a large part due to the relationship I was in at the time where my partner had Major Depression and Other Issues which meant I spent a lot of time trying to manage his crises, get him to seek help etc and deal with the emotional abuse that he threw at me when he had an ‘episode’. That relationship ended in February and I am much happier now, breaking up with him was a bit like stopping banging my head against a wall. I made the decision that since this is my last year of university and I am going to be thinking about jobs/a career/relocating that a serious relationship isn’t something I am looking for, because I want my decisions to be focused on what I want. My family have been wonderful and supportive throughout everything and I am happy to be back at university although I still worry about things like work habits and slipping back into how I was behaving this time last year.
Over the summer I got a job at a pub to try to pay off my overdraft and met J. J, who has a girlfriend, worked in the kitchen and as most of the staff who worked at the pub tended to socialise after work together, we became friends, then good friends. He has just started university and I went to visit him during his freshers week because we enjoy going out together and he is fun to hang out with. Well the first night he explained that him and his girlfriend had decided that they were allowed to sleep with other people that they thought might be good relationship material. Their relationship is iffy, something I see as a combination of going off to university, the two year itch and probably other factors as well although we don’t tend to discuss it very often. Long story short, we wound up getting drunk that night and having sex. Very good sex. That happened again the next night and the morning after too.
Then I returned to university and since then he’s come up to see me twice, we text constantly (something which happened before the sex) and I enjoy hanging out with, and having sex with him. We’ve discussed me seeing/sleeping with other people (he minds but it’s fine as long as I am honest with him) but he’s recently told me he has romantic feelings for me and is considering breaking up with his girlfriend. Right now I’m confused because I don’t know if I have romantic feelings as well as pants feelings and friend feelings for this guy. I don’t know if I want a full blown romantic thing or things to continue as they are or what. I’m also dealing with fitting back into university after nearly a whole year of being away. The channels for communication are pretty open and we are planning on having a proper chat about this eventually because feelingstexts keep happening when one of us is drunk but I don’t know what to say or how to approach it.
Basically I feel like I need some guidance and perspective on the whole situation. It’s difficult to decipher in my head and my friends normally make generic noises about things like this so I’m reluctant to talk to them.
Dazed & Confused
Dear Dazed and Confused:
My inbox is FLOODED right now so thanks for something I feel like I can answer quickly.
1. As for whether to be serious with this guy, you don’t have to decide right now. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing and unsure about getting closer, that is a totally valid decision and you don’t have to lock shit down just because he’s making vague noises about feelings. Casual relationships are real relationships that can incorporate feelings and require good manners and consideration. There is no pressure for you to make it “more”, so only make it more if you want more with this particular guy. Also, you get to try out an actual boyfriend/girlfriend scenario if you want and then bail if it’s not working.
2. GIANT MASSIVE SIDE-EYE to someone who has a girlfriend but “minds” you seeing other people and who offers “breaking up with his girlfriend” as some kind of incentive. I mean, if he wants to have a real serious relationship with you, then breaking up with is girlfriend should probably happen, but it’s not something he needs your permission for or for you to make a decision about or should dangle out there like some special awesome carrot, and I’d be wary of anyone who needs that much of a safety net that he can’t risk being single for even one second before lining up the next person.
3. If you do become boyfriend & girlfriend would it be an open relationship or would you decide to be monogamous? Some soul-searching on your part about whether you are non-monogamous and what you want out of a relationship is in order. Make sure that what you decide is what you want vs. what you think will make you a Chill Girl. Only be cool/chill about him seeing other people if you are actually cool with it, not because you feel pressure.
4. Put your phone away (and turn it all the way off) when you’re drunk for the next couple of weeks and see what happens without those little FEELINGSPELLETS of attention.
5. Is this guy a welcome stress-relieving outlet from university life or a distraction/excuse to not fully embrace friendships/classes after a time away? Hot people who live far away are an EXCELLENT distraction from messy daily life.
No clarity, I’m afraid. But some topics for you to journal or think about while you decide. In the meantime, enjoy yourself.
Hi Captain Awkward,
Career-wise, it’s been a positive move for both of us, and even the redundancy I experienced 2 years down the line wasn’t a disaster, as the payoff meant that I could start a new career in the same field as my partner. Which is where the trouble started. My partner got me a job with the same employer, and although it’s been fine, it would have been a lot easier if I hadn’t fallen immediately in lust (from first sight; that’s never happened to me before) with another colleague (we’ll call him Mr X). You’ll probably think I’m silly, because absolutely nothing has happened between me and Mr X, save friendly chats, and some socialising. He’s dropped a few hints that he likes me (he’s single), but clearly has no desire to come on strong to someone who’s already attached.
That hasn’t really helped me, though, as I’ve been a bit obsessed with him for a year now, and I can’t figure out whether my lack of sexual interest in my partner is due to Mr X being all new and exciting (I’ve never been this keen on someone for this period of time without having a relationship with them; and I’ve only had two of those), or whether I now love my partner more as a brother, as I do love him very much, and I’ve always looked after him. This is probably part of the problem as well, as although he holds down a very capable job, I’m still very much the ‘responsible adult’ outside of work. My partner also has some mental health issues which do make life more difficult, and which I’m now trying to get him to take responsibility for. I know he isn’t keen to do this, and I’m angry about it, but can’t fully express that without really upsetting him, which makes me feel awful.
Being shift workers, we do have trouble finding time for sex, but the real problem from my point of view is that I’m beginning to feel like a performance artist. It’s fun to do things that satisfy him (apart from one fetish that I’ve tried and have difficulty with, so we’ve stopped), and I do end up satisfied too, but it’s not nearly as fun for me as it used to be. I’d love to tell him what I’d like, but I’m not totally sure of that myself, and in the meanwhile my partner spends an awful lot of time talking in sexual cliches, making me feel that it’s the idea of sex with me that turns him on, rather than actually being with me, if that makes sense.
I’ve read most of this site, which makes me suspect you’ll tell me that my relationship is over, but I enjoy being with my partner most of the time, and I’m not totally sure that I have the right to turn his life upside down just because my clit won’t shut up about a man that I don’t know THAT well. I’m looking for other jobs, but have mixed feelings about whether to cut ties with Mr X, as part of the social circle at work includes a long-standing friend who I’d be happy to keep in regular contact with. I’m also feeling a little selfish, and not really seeing WHY I should be the one to stop seeing someone I get on well with. I’m aware that I haven’t helped myself by keeping this in my head for a year (I do have a couple of friends I could talk to, but I just have no idea how to bring the matter up), so it could be that I’ve wasted your time a bit. If you or your readers have any advice on getting my clit to calm the fuck down about Mr X, I’d be grateful, as I do love my partner, and feel that I do at least owe him some effort to keep us together.
My very best wishes,
Confused of Crazy Clitshire
Your letter made me invent some categories of crushes.
1. Unattainable Work Crush: Makes you put on lipstick and pay a little more attention at work. You feel energized and alert and pretty. Generally good for you, unless acted upon, because this person makes you into a better version of yourself.
2. Attainable/Mutual Work Crush: It starts in the above way, then progresses to mentionitis and paranoia that everyone knows.
3. Aspirational Crush: This person has attributes you desire for yourself or reflects things that you like about yourself. You think you want to sleep with them, but mostly you want to BE them. Harmless and invigorating. Turns you into a better version of yourself.
4. Differential Crush: This person somehow magically checks every box that your partner does not about what you thought you wanted out of a romantic relationship, and shows up in your life right when things with your partner are at their rockiest and least secure. Suddenly everything you’ve been missing is thrown into sharp, painful relief. Bonus if your partner notices this and becomes extra-insecure around this person.
An Unattainable/Aspirational crush is awesome and totally harmless. It passes in time, and sometimes helps you level up to the next stage of who you want to be. Whatever makes your day go by faster and more pleasantly!
A Mutual/Differential crush often spells you looking for your underwear under someone’s couch or back seat and using the words “It just happened.” The person’s hotness feels like an excuse to be shitty to your partner and your partner’s deficiencies seem like a good reason to sleep with the hot person.
In my opinion, “It just happened” describes a situation where people who were flirting heavily and considering sleeping together steer themselves into a situation where there is enough alcohol to create a sheen of plausible deniability. “You’re too drunk to drive home, why don’t you crash here” and “You can’t stay in those wet clothes, let me find you something to change into” lead to one person’s face accidentally mashing against the other person’s face in an event that is usually a surprise only to them. See also “Hahaha…everyone always mistakes us for a couple, even though we’re totally not! Hahahaha, what a funny joke!“
I don’t mean to sound all finger-pointy and judgmental, because I generally don’t care if people sleep with each other, but I am totally skeptical of the “It just happened, I swear!” defense. We are men of action, and lies do not become us. There are a lot of steps involved in getting drunk, going to a secondary location, taking off all of your clothes, and putting your bits on or in someone else’s bits. It’s never an inevitability.
I bring this up in the case of your letter because I think your ladyboner for Mr. X is of that volatile Mutual/Differential variety, so there are two questions/problems here.
1) How do you fix things with your current partner? Answer: Couple’s therapy, maybe. Individual therapy to get your own head straight, maybe. Asking him to deal with his mental health issues head-on and giving him some time to really change bad patterns. Looking for a different job. Having some difficult, serious talks about what you want out of life and where you’re going with this and should you keep going on together. What are you going to do about kids? Career? Extended family? Dreams deferred? Staying sober around Mr. X, watching your mentionitis, and not sleeping with him while you all work at the same place. Training yourself to stop comparing your partner to Mr. X. You mention that you feel like a performance artist who is doing a lot of work to try to please your partner sexually and stay connected. What is your partner doing to impress and please you and stay connected with you? Is it time to ask straight up for more of what you want?
2) How do you get your mind off Mr. X and not sleep with him while partnered with someone else? Staying sober, watching mentionitis, not putting yourself in compromising situations, not indulging flirtations. Training yourself to not compare your partner to him or consider him a viable alternative to your partner. Picture him doing gross things like pooping or clipping his toenails. Maybe finding a new job.
That doesn’t totally solve the issue. If you were single, would you want to date Mr. X? Or sleep with him to get it out of your system?
Do you want to be single?
It’s good to be loyal to your relationships and understand that attraction ebbs and flows and changes with time, but time poured into a relationship that isn’t working now and doesn’t seem like it will get better in the future isn’t a reason on its own to stay. If things were still exactly like they are now in 1 year, would you want to stay? 5 years? Forever? If the answer is no, and you don’t see things really changing, have courage and be done. If you still want to try to work things out, give yourself a time table and start having those difficult conversations and doing the work.
You have a lot of choices about this, including the choice NOT to eff up your personal and professional karma by using a hot coworker to get you to “done” in a way that humiliates your partner. Maybe treat Mr. X like the distraction he is (even if he is a welcome one) until you’ve sorted out old business, ok?