My problem isn’t really a problem as such, I am well aware that I’ve got it pretty good and most likely I am in a state of ‘the grass is greener’, but I need help figuring out what to do with these feelings.
I am young adult, and pretty much my whole adolescent life I have had no interest from guys, and I internalized this as meaning I was unlovable and hideous. The first guy to ever show any interest in me, lets call him John, resulted in such excitement from me that I convinced myself the attraction was mutual.
The relationship didn’t turn out to be a disaster, as eventually I developed to love him and feel incredibly attracted to him and we have been together for about a year and a half. I know this is pretty messed up as I was forcing myself to be with him for the first few months of our relationship but miraculously it has developed into actual love.
Anyway, to my issue.
John was pretty much my first everything. Before him I had a few horrific, sloppy, face-licking kisses at a drunken New Year’s Eve party in the city but that was it. Our sex life doesn’t really leave anything to be desired, and he is a wonderful and caring partner.However, recent interest from guys that I work with, has made think about the future of our relationship. I was always interested in having casual encounters, not necessarily sex but that too, and I had given up on that with the total lack of male interest. Now that I have interest, the old feelings are resurfacing and I kind of feel trapped with the idea of never experiencing a single life.
Now, I know I’m being horrible and greedy and I am probably just wanting this because I don’t have it, but I need help deciding what I should do. Is this bad enough for me to leave my relationship? I fear that one day I may resent John for this, which he obviously does not deserve, and I do really love him but at the same time wish our relationship had developed a few years from now so I had the chance to explore my sexuality. Should I leave these things as harmless fantasy? Am I a horrific person for wanting more when our relationship is already so wonderful? Please help me and talk some sense into me, feel free to lecture! I need your rationality because I have none!
I realize that some people really do marry their first loves/sex partners when they are very young and have happy lives. And some people have arranged marriages where the attraction and love happen later…and have very happy lives. We inherit our ideas about romantic love and when is the right time to pair off permanently from our upbringing, our culture, and our situation, so I don’t want to tell you that it’s impossible to be happy if you don’t follow my finicky Liz Lemon-y model of serial dating.
And yet…most people I know who have happy relationships right now did not marry their first partners. Or, they did, and then they divorced those people and went on to have supercalifragilisticexpialidociously better lives with partners they met later when they knew themselves better. And they didn’t marry people because they thought they couldn’t do any better (so might as well force themselves to love this guy!) And while I am very happy to be in love now, the times that I was single and able to do stuff like “move across the country because I felt like it without giving one single fuck about other people’s priorities or opinions” were times of huge growth and I would not trade them away for anything. There might be more to the whole “single life” you feel like you might be missing out on than sex. Are you doing what you want with your life? Work-wise? Education-wise? Travel-wise? Are you living your life to please yourself or to be a part of this couple? Sometimes we develop crushes on people not just because we want to bang them, but because we want to BE them. Make a long list of stuff you want to do in the next year, five years, 10 years. Then ask yourself: Does it seem like John should be in that picture? Does having him in that picture make the list of stuff you want to do seem more possible, real, exciting?
There are a couple of things that really trouble me about your letter. The part where you had to force yourself to be attracted to John. I don’t think it’s an accident that you included that. The part where you link your relationship to him to your really low self-esteem and the worry you had that no one else would be attracted to you. The part where you claim that you don’t really even have a question, when you are in fact second-guessing your entire relationship and how you feel about sex. The part where you admit your desires for sexual exploration and experimentation, but immediately tie them to your notion of the attention you are getting at work as a measurement of how attractive and worthy you are. The part where you use the words “feel trapped.” The part where you call yourself “horrible” for maybe having second thoughts about the relationship and worry that you “may someday resent John.”
Secret: You already kind of resent John, and your brain is already looking for reasons to go live in the post-John future, which is why you included the part about having to force yourself to be attracted to him. Right now your brain think you need some ironclad reason, so it’s casting about for one, but you feel guilty because he has been nice to you and not done anything wrong. The good news is, you don’t need an ironclad reason! “I think I might be happier being single” is a good reason. It is totally natural to re-evaluate a relationship that got off to a, to be honest, EXTREMELY DODGY start, and see if it is still working for you. Also, I don’t get the sense that you guys have been together all that long, and you don’t have decide whether you permanently want to be with him in (what I’m guessing) are your early 20s. Question on, my friend. Question on.
Whatever you decide about your relationship, I highly recommend Jaclyn Friedman’s book, What You Really, Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety, and not just because she had me on her podcast this week and I find her to be wise and hilarious. I think it would be good for you to sit and do some reading and writing and figure out what you want out of sex. Maybe it will help you have some conversations with your current partner about what you’re feeling and what you want. Maybe it will help you realize that you want to find a different partner or partners to get your needs met. I also recommend seeing a therapist if you can. There’s something really self-effacing about your letter that bugs me and I think you should work out a lot of these feelings about yourself with a pro.
Things I know:
- You are not horrible for wanting to be single for a bit and maybe explore sex with other partners.
- You are not horrible for questioning whether you want to stay in your relationship, for whatever reason.
- You are not horrible if you find your “pretty-good-but-not-great” sex life lacking and want to do something about it.
- Wanting to break up with someone is not horrible and does not make you horrible and selfish. Pretty much everyone reading this (and definitely the person writing this) has broken up with someone sometime. Are we all horrible people?
- You, Letter Writer, are probably not horrible.
If you broke up with John, he’d survive, and you’d survive. Yes, sometimes breaking up really hurts, and to get what you need you end up in the position of hurting someone else and that can feel scary. But the reality is that you’d both be sad for a while and then you’d eventually get over it and meet people who are super-into you. So don’t let guilt, or a sense of “You loved me when no one else wanted me, so now I owe you” keep you with someone you don’t want to be with. Is breaking up scarier than saying “John, I care for you, but I want to change things up. Would you be willing to try ___________?” (Open relationship? Some kink you’ve never told him about or want to try?)
If you do decide to ask for an open relationship or a big change in how you relate sexually, have the conversation before you actually do anything with other people. I give a huge massive side-eye to “I want to see other people, is that okay? Cool, because I already am!” (That doesn’t make you ‘poly’, that makes you a jerkass.) Listen to what he says. Don’t use ultimatums or try to force him into agreeing so you can go bang someone the next week. Give him some time to adjust and have a real discussion. What has been an ongoing problem for you isn’t really a problem for him until you bring it up with him, and it’s not fair to expect him to be okay with it immediately on your schedule.
Frankly, I’m pessimistic about relationships that start in a monogamous model and then try to transform into an open- or monogamISH or poly- model in the middle. Based on my inbox and personal experience, it’s usually a sign that something is doomed but needs a little time to die the rest of the way. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, if it gets you into a place where you are ultimately happier and you can mind your manners and your partner(s)’s feelings in the process.
If you DO decide to break up, leave out the part where you had to force yourself to be attracted to him. And leave out the narrative about how you love him but just want to experience “the single life.” Go with the most adult breakup possible in this situation: “I’m sorry, my feelings for you have changed and I don’t want to be together anymore.“
Let’s talk for a second about these hot dudes at work. Whether or not you ever hook up with any of them, I think they are sending you important messages that you need to pay attention to. You’re getting the primary message, which is “Hey, people think you’re hot! Howabout that!” The secondary message is “Hey, guess what, there are people on the earth that you don’t have to work at being attracted to. HOWABOUT THAT!?!?!?!“
We’ve seen on the blog that sexual attraction ebbs and flows in long-term relationships, and sometimes people do have to put in some “work” to keep the spark alive and stay connected to each other, especially as you start adding the question of marriage/kids/shared household/BIG TIME FUTURE STUFF! to a relationship. But the work you do in your relationships shouldn’t feel like “doing your taxes when you’re pretty sure you’re going to have to pay” work. It should feel like a “cooking your partner a nice dinner” level of work, or if it’s been a while, a “taking a second to send a birthday card to your Grandma because it will make her happy” work, as in, you have to buy the card and remember to get stamps and find a mailbox on your way to the train and there’s a little bit of effort involved to get it in the mail on time but it isn’t really that big a deal and it feels great to do something nice for someone.
Speaking as a monogamous-leaning person, I think that when you’re deciding whether to stay with or settle down with someone for the long haul, the prospect of being with them should feel like a giant adventure. “Woohoo! We both rolled a hard 20, so now I will do it with only you, possibly forever! I win everything!” Not that there won’t be crushes and slumps or second thoughts or compromises along the way. You’ll have to make some serious choices about sex, but also about career, where to live, family, money, and not every single one of those choices will be 100% perfect or easy. But choosing to be with someone shouldn’t feel like choosing to make your life smaller or choosing to miss out on things that are really important to you. A good relationship shouldn’t make you feel trapped. A relationship that works for one partner but not for the other does not work.
Only you can decide what you want. All I can do is remind you that what you want is important. It’s more important than what you think you’re supposed to want, or what you force yourself to want, or what you used to want, or wish you wanted, or feel guilty for not wanting more. So pay attention to what you want and do some thinking before you decide anything important, ok? You only get one life, I think you should be extremely greedy about making sure that you get everything you want from it.