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#406: By staying with my first partner, am I missing out on the single life?

Hello Captain,

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!

Hello there!

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.

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175 comments
  1. Rachel said:

    You should write a book. Enjoyable and useful as always.

    • karinacinerina said:

      Seconded!

      • MV said:

        Resounding third!!

      • Leigh Sala said:

        Hear, hear!

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks! Thinking about it for sure!

      I will write a book when I feel I can put something together that doesn’t make me go “Wow, this was way better as a blog.” See: Julie & Julia (not only was it better as a blog, and the movie should have been called JULIA! because blogging is boring to watch on screen). One of the things that makes this place work is the interactivity, whereas a book is just me telling you stuff.

      Right now I’m really trying to focus on making movies and writing movies and let advice take the back-burner of the many-burnered stove. You guys will be the first to know when that changes, and obviously I greatly appreciate the votes of confidence.

      • My Two Cents said:

        I totally think you should write a book because us all running out to buy it (and copies for all our friends) and see you on book tour (which we would totally do!) is a really tangible way that we can express our GIGANTIC appreciation for this blog and your incredible wisdom. And yet…(and yet)…you are so right, the community here, responding in real time to these real issues, is such an important part of the experience. It would be hard to replicate that in a book. I hardly ever read the comments on other blogs I follow. This one, I come back again and again to see where the discussion is going. It’s fascinating to see it evolve.

        So yes: write a book, but also, yay for the blog! :-)

        • I would have mixed feelings about a book. I mean, I’m sure it would be amazing and I would totally buy it, but the writing process would be laborious I’m sure, which would leave less time for the blog, which would make me sad.

          On the other hand, I believe the good captain runs annual or semi-annual pledge drives. Donating a dollar (or more if you can) is a great way to say ‘Thank you for the blog,’ with the added bonus that it doesn’t entail her having to find the time to write a book on top of the blogging.

      • I would literally and totally buy a book that was just the archive of this blog with comments included. And all the trolls would have their trollery physically archived for all time!

      • Amy Pond said:

        You could have different sections, with each of the Captain Awkward-isms that we see on here, maybe – Geek Social Fallacies, Darth Vader Boyfriend, and of course, everyone’s favourite game show, Don’t Fuck That Lady! Because I know that one thing about the blog, is that when I started reading here I was there going, ‘Evil bees? What? Darth Vader Boyfriend?’ to all these posts with references. One thing a book might do really well is explain all these ideas, and maybe have some sample posts? I don’t know, just an idea. But I would totally buy a Captain Awkward book. It would be the most useful reference book!

        • Sarah said:

          If nothing else, we should put together a craft book with all the sayings and patterns to knit or mosaic them or whatever.

        • Clearly someone should put together the reader’s guide to captain awkward, a glossary of sorts, and maintain it in such a way that Jennifer doesn’t have to do anything. Or at the very least compile things to add to the FAQ.

          I wonder if that’s me. It’s not me today, I’ve just taken up like three new things. But maybe it’s someone.

          • thegirlfrommarz said:

            Ooh, I made a start on that a while back! Will dig out the draft. If anyone has any brilliant ideas about where I could share it with you all, let me know!

  2. fadeaccompli said:

    I stayed in a relationship with my first boyfriend for too long. He was a nice guy! (Not even a Nice Guy, but genuinely considerate.) We were friends! I loved his family. I liked him. I loved the thrill that came of him being so very into me. No one else was ever looking at me as a romantic figure the way he was. It was very nice to feel wanted.

    I should’ve broken up with him a lot sooner. I should’ve let him go find someone else, who was really into him in the way he was into me, a lot sooner. I thought that I needed a reason, and, well, nothing was wrong. I liked him. He adored me. It wasn’t as if there was someone else I was longing for.

    LW, I have great sympathy for your position. But it sounds like you don’t want to be in this relationship. So don’t be. Not wanting is enough. There is nothing horrible and greedy about wanting to be single again after being in a relationship. Many people do it; that’s why it’s called having a boyfriend/girlfriend, and not being married. And even married people get to back out of relationships they discover are not right for them! But it doesn’t sound like you’ve made a Forever And Ever commitment to this person, so you don’t have to treat the relationship as if you have.

    • Amy Pond said:

      Yeah, I was in that position, too. He was great and lovely, but I just wasn’t all that into him. I broke it off with him eventually, though… and we have now been BFFs for about the last 5 years, and that works much better for us. (It didn’t help that before I finally actually broke up with him, that everyone always pointed out how alike we were and how we were obviously MFEO)

      And the thing is, LW, if you’re just settling for someone, that’s not fair to them, or to you – you deserve someone you really, truly want to be with, not just because they’re there, and the other person deserves someone who’s really into them and wants to be with them. Staying, when that isn’t the case? Isn’t a good thing for either of you. Like the Captain said, it only breeds feelings of resentment. A sense of obligation and a lack of anything better are not good reasons to stay in a relationship. You should be in a relationship because you want to be.

      • JenniferP said:

        Ha, this would be great if it were Dr. Who fanfic and you were talking about eventually breaking up with Rory. I mean, it’s also great as someone’s real life.

        • Amy Pond said:

          Feel free to pretend that I am an Amy Pond from an alternative timeline where she saw a much better therapist, got over her childhood issues with the mysterious man in her front garden, stopped stringing Rory along, and settled down doing something awesome with a nice young man who was everything she ever wanted and who didn’t walk into the elevator in the creepy building when the doors opened by themselves.

          • Linden said:

            I would watch the hell out of that show.

        • Nerdlinger said:

          Ah yes – poor Rory – I know a lot of folks thought it was romantic (the whole waiting for her for centuries thing) but I always felt massive pity when I’d watch him on screen.

          Totes OT – but god how I love how everyone knows about Dr. Who here!

          • Romantic until she had to wait 30 years and hated him for it.

          • redheadedgirl said:

            He chose to wait the 2,000 years. The Doctor was going to take him by the short road to the other end, but he made a CHOICE to stay and protect the Pandorica. When Amy got trapped in the other time stream, she did not have a choice. When Amy has a choice, she chooses Rory. But she hates having her agency taken from her. THAT is the key difference. To Rory’s credit, he did not throw the 2000 year thing in her face, because he understood that.

          • Nicole said:

            Oh, I love Dr. Who but I has so many problems with Amy and Rory. Losing your daughter and not being totally screwed up and devastated for years? Finding your daughter as an adult and acting like it is nothing special (even though she was a brainwashed assassin?) And the actual relationship. It was weird, because half the time it really did seem like they were just settling. And then they would put in these huge romantic gestures (like the roman soldier thing, or the way Amy and Rory left). There were very few points where you actually could feel and believe their love. But personally, I think a lot of that was also due to the show not giving the appropriate impact to certain events (the Pandorica, Melody etc)

        • Not to derail into Doctor Who fandom too much, but Rory is like the most pitiable character on TV. Amy lies to Rory and cheated on him with the Doctor and threatens to hit him a few times (perhaps Moffat thinks this is comedy?) and then (Spoilers) he’s always dying.

          • JenniferP said:

            Ha! I personally got really psyched in that episode when they were getting divorced. And then their breakup was snatched from me by a freaking do-gooder in a blue box.

          • Amy Pond said:

            There was a period where he like, just started to be more assertive and badass and whatever, and I was all great! but then the writers noticed they were losing their patsy and made him the moron that everyone walks all over, again. I like Rory, but I most like the Rory who started to take a bit of action over his life instead of letting his significant other + madman in a box run it.

          • Gilia said:

            I was really disappointed by the reasoning behind the break up. If was something about Amy finding it difficult to adjust to life without the Doctor and Rory couldn’t handle not being enought for her, then fine. Great! Make perfect sense to me.
            But Amy not being able to have children? And this being news to Rory. Do these people not TALK to each other!?!
            Heh, I totally de-lurked over Dr Who. Awesome sauce

    • spinks said:

      I had a similar experience. He was lovely, and very into me, I liked his family, we had a lot of interests in common and liked spending time together, the sex was OK. But I got to a point where I was pulling away and feeling unsettled and the only reason for it in my head was ‘I’m not ready to settle down.’ We hadn’t even talked about settling down, but I wasnt happy so I broke it off (as nicely as I could, under the circumstances, given there wasn’t really much of a specific reason).

      We went our separate ways, he ended up in Germany for a few years and met another woman and got engaged. I finished my PhD and did some travelling and went out with a few other guys. That’s about all I had heard from him and I didn’t try to keep in touch.

      (This is where it gets weird). Then a few years later, my sister ran into him in London quite by chance, and gave him my email address (she will never let us forget this now, which is funny because she used to complain about him all the time when we were first going out.) It turned out his engagement hadn’t worked out, we got back together, and this time … the time was just right. Been married for 12 years and still going strong. He did comment that he had considered asking me to marry him when we were first together. I asked why he hadn’t, and he said (thoughtfully) “because I knew you’d say no.”

      So this is a long winded way of saying that if you feel you need room, and space, and time, then do what you need to do. Having feelings for random work people might be just a way your inner self is letting you know that you need more freedom, and maybe like me you just aren’t ready yet to settle down.

    • That In A Hat said:

      This is starting to sound like a precipice I seem to be edging toward. I don’t think this guy and I are, I dunno, officially dating or anything (that is, we’ve been on a couple of dates, but I wouldn’t be changing my facebook status or anything), but it sure seems that could be an easy possibility. And… I like him. That is, I like spending time with him, and he’s funny, and he’s nice, and he’s nerdy, and hey, he’s pretty cute and cuddly too (I’m a big fan of platonic cuddling, but it definitely seems like most platonic cuddles are an attempt to make it a little less platonic. Which isn’t bad, but hey, sometimes–most times–I just want a cuddle without having to worry about anything else, dangit).

      But…

      I don’t know. On a romantic level, something’s off that makes my shoulders go up. And I can’t suss what it is. It could be that he is All Wrong For Me. Or it could be that I’m a grey-ace in her mid-late 20’s who’s never dated and doesn’t do change very well. I mean, even if I met a guy who was The Right Guy (for where I was in my life, if not for ever and ever), I’d probably still be a bit off, because what the hell am I doing, right? So I might as well jump and see if it works?

      But then I see things like this, and I don’t want to be that person who stayed in a relationship they weren’t sure of for a year or more, because that feels too much like leading someone on. Hell, this almost feels that way. I like the guy. I’d just like to spend time with him, even one-on-one and friendly-like, without feeling like the whole thing was a prelude to Something More.

      • You don’t have to figure out if you want to keep going for a year or more to keep going next week!

        You also don’t have to decide you want to have sex in order to cuddle!

        All you need to know, really, is if you want to go out with this guy again, and if the thing you two are proposing to do sounds like fun. If it does, do it, and do it again, until it stops being fun. If he wants something else, consider if you want that. If you don’t, you just say so.

        You didn’t lead anyone on if you didn’t make promises you don’t mean at the time.

        You might find that remembering that you can do just only what you want and no more, forever and ever amen, makes your ears come down. If it doesn’t, that might be good information.

        You can also say to him, “Guy, I like cuddling and all, and this is nice for right now. I’m not seeing myself wanting anything really serious or anything, I just want to keep things as they are. How do you feel about that?”

        He will say something. You will listen to that and decide if you like what he says, and if you think what he’s saying is true (because sometimes people say things they don’t mean because they’re lying to you, or to themselves, about what they want.)

        He may ask what you mean, at which point you can say that while he’s been great about not pressuring you for sex when you cuddle (assuming he has in fact been not pressuring you for sex!) and you’re hoping it can stay that way, and maybe even talk about how you’re not sure you want sexytimes with anyone ever.

        Or you can avoid all that and go with telling him that he is the best cuddler ever and can you stay cuddle-buddies? Emphasizing that you like things as they are?

        I think the best way to find out if someone else thinks you’re living the Prelude To Something Else/Better is just to ask. And to always only do what you want to do for as long as you want to do it.

      • While I recognise the feeling of not wanting change and not knowing how to fit someone into my life and not knowing if I am ready and all that, because I have been there, I also know what it feels like to be totally and utterly not ready for any of that and go for it anyway because WHOA, boy, this is amazing and it want it – because I have been there too. Just something to think about, maybe?

  3. Hello LW!
    I identified with a lot of your email from my own younger-me experiences. I was with anyone who was willing to be with me, to whatever degree they would bestow upon me, because no one else was willing to be with me. This makes you sad, but you don’t know you’re sad, because you’re just so damn GRATEFUL. And being with someone because you’re grateful starts to put you on some seriously uneven footing.
    I stayed with someone because he was just such a nice person and really the “only thing wrong” was that he would rather do anything else (except houseclean) than touch me. And I was so grateful for all his rescuing of me when I was a total loser, blah blah.
    (Note to CA and all you Awkward Army: I know I wasn’t REALLY I loser, it just felt like it.)
    And I forced myself to date two people who I thought were fun or nice or whatever.

    Those relationships ended slowly, drawn-out over much more time than they should have, because nothing was “really wrong.” But in the meantime, I was expending energy and building hopes and dreams on a fantasy of a relationship that did not really exist. All this to say…

    It sounds like you are doing some of these things, yourself. And while they were happening to me, I couldn’t be talked out of it, because my sense of fairness to the boyfriend did not extend to fairness to ME. I’m so kind/patient/loving/whatever, right? Sacrificing yourself for a dying relationship only chips away at you.

    I have nothing against your fella here, but I bet he would be much happier if he was given a chance to be with someone who is enthusiastically excited about being with him, and you would be happier if you were given (no, if you TAKE) a chance to be with someone who digs the real you.

    You may not know the real you yet, if you have always defined yourself as girlfriend-of-someone (you may not be doing this) or if you never get pizza because he never gets pizza, or you never see westerns because he doesn’t like westerns…

    I’m in support of you gently, lovingly ending your first relationship with him, giving both of yourselves some space, and staying friends. I am friends with all but one of my exes and I love it. But I had to get away first. Find yourself. Then you can find someone you want to be best friends with and have pantsfeelings for – and let your dear first love do the same. Since he has done nothing wrong, there is no crime in being gentle about it. Have a little ceremony or pledge to have lunch as friends in six months or something like that, whatever feels right and natural. He will always be important to you, and bonus: no asshole memories to taint the time you had together. Ditto for him about you.

    And I wish you great luck!

    • Badger Rose said:

      Sacrificing yourself for a dying relationship only chips away at you.

      Oooh, yes, so true, in so many ways.

    • Jenna said:

      I did the serial monogamy thing with whatever guy asked me out….
      Then after my husband passed away, I took some time off to be by MYSELF. I wanted to find out who I was with no pressure to be nice, to conform, to go see X because the boyfriend/fiancé/husband wants to see it, to eat at X restaurant because X likes eating there, to buy X to have in the fridge/pantry because X likes it….
      And THEN when I had an idea of what I actually liked and disliked and was willing or not willing to put up with I started dating again….I was 42. It’s a long time to wait to shape myself by my own wants and desires rather than defining my life by someone else’s, but, I am happy with the results so far.
      Women in out society are encouraged to define themselves in terms of men. You are expected to want a boyfriend, a fiancé, a husband. You are expected to subordinate your desires to the desires of the man in your life. It takes EFFORT to buck this. If you are single and not dating, you get pressure from the people around you. If you are dating and not looking for THE ONE, you get pressure from the people around you. If you have one guy that you are seeing and not aiming to get married, you get pressure….
      It may be what the people around you expect, but, it may or may not make you happy. Find out what YOU need and want, and then find the people who can help you with that. Find your people, or person.
      It all starts with finding out who you are for yourself.

      • espritdecorps said:

        Yes. A good relationship is not a failure if it doesn’t lead to marriage.
        I hate the whole concept of soulmates. Not everyone wants to be ‘completed’ by their ‘other half’.
        Sometimes a warm, loving, sexy relationship leads to other places, good places where you attend each others significant events, and become friends with their new partner, and keep new partner as a friend even after they break up.
        Sometimes you don’t marry wonderful people because as awesome as they are they’re not worth making space in the refrigerator, and compromising on what you eat for the rest of your life.
        And you are so right that you can’t know what you want until you know who you are.

        • heathenbee said:

          “I hate the whole concept of soulmates. Not everyone wants to be ‘completed’ by their ‘other half’.”

          I spent a great deal of my life thinking this is what I needed. And it made for a lot of obsessive Oneitis, heartbreak and loneliness on my part, despite the fact I *really* enjoy and value my own company and autonomy.

          And then I met my “soulmate”: the one who actually was also looking for their “other half”, and guess what? He was smothering, needy, and controlling, and I’ve discovered my autonomy is far more valuable, and I *am* my own other half.

          Next time I just want a pal who is his own person, who’s with me simply because we have a great time together, someone with his own life who recognizes mine as being just fine as it is, someone who’s generous with me and values what I have to offer, and doesn’t keep a score sheet.

          • Ethyl said:

            And then I met my “soulmate”: the one who actually was also looking for their “other half”, and guess what? He was smothering, needy, and controlling, and I’ve discovered my autonomy is far more valuable, and I *am* my own other half.

            ::wild applause::

          • gluon1 said:

            What Ethyl said. Standing ovation of me, at least.

        • Leela said:

          This so, so hard. I am complete, thank you very much. I want a partner to share a life with me, not function as some sort of human bandaid.

  4. Esti said:

    I second all of this so hard. This might be (is probably) unfair of me, but LW, I’m not sure that I totally trust your assessment that this relationship is wonderful and that you’re really into John now. I believe that *you* believe it, but you’ve got a bit of a track record of convincing yourself that things are good (or good enough) because you don’t think that anything better will come along.

    I was the same way in some of my early relationships, because I assumed that all relationships must have prices of admission that were like the ones I was paying (not being really attracted to the guy, running out of things to talk about, having totally different goals for the future, fighting a lot, etc.). It was only as I had better relationships later that I realized that not only was it possible to not have to put up with those things, but also that there was a whole other level of good relationships and feelings for a partner that I didn’t even know I’d been missing out on in my okay-but-not-great (and sometimes terrible) early relationships.

    So maybe your feelings a sign that this particular monogamous relationship just isn’t as good as you need it to be. Or maybe they’re about not being satsified with monogamy, even in a great monogamous relationship. Or maybe it’s about curiosity and missed opportunities, and if you had a few years of single life you’d be very happy with John. But in any of those scenarios, this relationship is not making you happy and satisfied right now. Not being happy and satisfied right now doesn’t always mean the solution has to be breaking up. But when you’re young and don’t have kids and are in a relatively short relationship and have a history of settling because you don’t think you’ll find anyone better — that’s the time to go chasing something that doesn’t make you wonder whether it’s enough.

  5. General Assortment said:

    This letter is freakishly like one that I was thinking of writing about 3 years ago. (1.5 years into my first serious relationship).
    Much like the LW, my first BF was much more invested in the relationship than I was. And even though I was raised with liberal views on sex, he was my ‘first’ at most other things.
    About a year or so into the relationship, part of me worried I might be missing out on single life. But when I really considered the future, how I would very much like my partner to be the father of any babies I might have, how much I would miss him if he were not around.
    I decided to stick with it. And it’s been pretty much, totally, completely, awesome.
    I think it’s totally natural to occasionally have doubts about a relationship, and you don’t need to feel guilty about them.

    That said, don’t stay with this guy just because you feel obligated too. I’d suggest a journal to write some thoughts in, see if you can get to the root of the problem (whether it is unhappiness with your current partner, or something else you might be looking for).

    Also I would suggest some ladies nights. Getting hit-on in while I was out with friends definitely helped solidify that what I was looking for was not a ‘casual encounter’. No one that hit on me seemed any more fun, more satisfying, or ‘better’ than the guy I am with now.
    Good luck LW, I’m sure whatever YOU decide will be the best thing for you.

  6. Britt said:

    Relationships can be awesome, LW. Really awesome. But you’re right that there’s something equally (but differently) awesome about being beholden to absolutely no one. You don’t realize how many decisions are impacted by having a partner until you don’t have one. Little stuff like what to have for dinner and what shelf to keep the creamer on in the fridge and where to go on vacation when you have a long weekend or whether to go out for super fun but possibly ill-advised drinks with friends after work even though it’s Wednesday and big stuff like where to live and how to spend your money.

    I’m not saying all of this to convince you to break up with your boyfriend, but just to point out that if you think being single might be awesome, you’re right and you’re probably not even thinking about the million ways it could be.

    One of the big things that it’s easy to ignore or forget about relationships is that they’re about timing. There is not just one singular person in all the world that’s right for you, there are myriad permutations of the right person and the right time and it’s just a question of which one the Choose Your Own Adventure book of life manages to put together. Maybe if you had met your boyfriend later after you had some other experience, things would be more certain for you, but that’s okay! All that means is that maybe he’s not actually ~the one~, and that there’s someone equally (or more so!) cool and smart and kind and fun and everything else who you will cross paths with at some other point and it’ll be high on awesomesauce and low on forcing yourself to love someone and growing resentment.

    If you want to make things work with your boyfriend, and I understand if you do, I honestly, do, what the Captain said about lots of communication and giving him time to adjust is spot on. “Seeing other people” has a pretty low success rate for the original relationship in my experience, but if nothing else, the experience of communicating about difficult stuff and dealing with the death of a relationship gracefully is good to have under your belt.

  7. Badger Rose said:

    Oh, yes.

    A brief story of my own: my first boyfriend was the first guy who ever expressed attraction to me, at a point where I wasn’t sure if it would ever happen. (I was awfully young for that kind of fatalism, but it really did feel like a NOBODY MIGHT EVER BE ATTRACTED TO ME EVER AGAIN thing.) So we started dating.

    I really was in love with him, and at least at first, I really was attracted to him. (You can hear the ‘but’ coming, right…?)

    But the thing is, the fact that we’d started dating when I felt like this was maybe my omg only chance really made the relationship screwy, especially as we started to grow apart. For instance: starting early on, he would talk about how lucky he was to get in ‘on the ground floor’ with me–that is to say, before other people started expressing an interest. At first that seemed really flattering (he thinks I’m really cool! he thinks I’m becoming cooler all the time! he thinks he’s lucky he found me before I realized how cool I could be!).

    But later it felt more like… like a reminder of what I owed him. Like, he loved me before I was awesome, so even if I’m awesome now, he should still get some kind of credit for seeing that early. Like, I am happy and confident and sexy now, but he wants me to remember that when we met, I was none of the above. Like, I could go see if maybe this first guy I ever met isn’t necessarily the perfect guy for me, maybe there’s someone else better for me… only I can’t, because I owe him for loving me when I was unlovable.

    It stopped feeling like a comfort and started feeling like a trap. And realizing that was the first step in my breaking up with him.

    Which I did. Very slowly and tortuously and painfully for both of us, and I wish I’d just cut things faster. But part of the reason that it was so very, very hard was that I felt like I owed him something. Not because I’d loved him once, not because I still cared about him, but because he’d made some kind of sacrifice, loved me when I was unlovable.

    I know how much it hurts to contort yourself through the logic of trying to prove that you’ve paid someone back “enough” for caring about you, so that you can be free.

    Listen: You are already free. You do not owe John. You may care about him; you do not owe him. You were never unlovable, so you do not have to pay someone back for loving you. You are a free person, and it is your right to end any relationship you want, to find out if you might be happier with someone else, or no one at all.

    • espritdecorps said:

      So much this!!!

    • That phrasing just makes me think, “People are not businesses, dude.”

      • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

        What? But … but … corporations are people! The Republicans keep saying so!

    • Rowan said:

      That’s so much “you were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you…”

      • heathenbee said:

        That was my first thought too.

    • sp4rema said:

      Yeah, “I liked it before it was cool” is douchey when we’re talking about MUSIC, it is way out of line when it comes to people.

    • Xenophile said:

      For instance: starting early on, he would talk about how lucky he was to get in ‘on the ground floor’ with me–that is to say, before other people started expressing an interest. At first that seemed really flattering (he thinks I’m really cool! he thinks I’m becoming cooler all the time! he thinks he’s lucky he found me before I realized how cool I could be!).

      It could also be he was massively insecure himself and didn’t think he could ‘compete’ against other suitors or something. I dated someone who felt threatened by my being queer and constantly said stuff like, “Oh, I’m so lucky you don’t understand that you’re hot, because once you do you’re going to leave me and have a dozen girlfriends.” Yay, biphobia.

      • Sarah in Tokyo said:

        Jeez. Was this said along with a condescending pat on the head or something? Seriously, it’s amazing that someone can come up with that line and not think “wait no, that’s shitty. Best not say that out loud.”

  8. LW, I too internalized a lot of information growing up about how I was unlovable in a romantic format. This came not just from the 13 year old boys that I was a foot taller than, but also from my own family members.

    I definitely stayed in a couple of relationships past their expiration date. And every time I looked back from 6 months on, or the next relationship I thought to myself “Wow, WHAT was I waiting for?”

    I think sometimes I was waiting because I thought, if it weren’t for this someone I would have no someone. So I would have to wait until I got to a point where I would rather be alone than be with the person I was with. That point is really not a place where you want to spend a lot of time. (I once threw a steel toed boot in the general direction of my ex’s head. HELLOOOOOO Time to break up. We then dated for like 4 more months. OY GEEZ.)

    If in your heart you want to not just sleep with but also date and have relationships and do other things with other people, then you probably don’t want to be with this guy anymore.

    However don’t let the interest of other people be the thing that defines your choices. Don’t just date guys because they are interested in you!

    You’re young and inexperienced, so I think it is an awesome idea for you to go out and enjoy being young and having experiences. But there will probably always be some other guy or girl who is interested in you, so just be careful that you aren’t letting other people’s interests guide your decisions instead of your own in the future. I understand how easy that can be to do when you thought no one would ever be interested.

    Think about what you want, and it sounds like right now, you want to play the field, and I think that’s okay.

  9. dear LW,

    one of those unicorns who’s making it work, over a decade later, with her first boyfriend here. we’re married, i’m pregnant, the whole deal, and it’s going swimmingly–but it also sounds VERY different from what you’re describing.

    when we were deciding whether to get married, i went through a similar thought process: am i selling myself short on experiences (sex, life, etc) by linking myself to this first guy FOREVER? is there someone out there who might be EVEN MORE AWESOME?

    here’s the thing though: my conclusions were that, NO, no one could possibly be more awesome! i was always into MrSc: i want to have all my life adventures with him. i want to have all my boring saturday-nights-at-home with him. sexytimes have only gotten better–and, crucially, more various and interesting. more interesting than sexytime with the-work-fellow-giving-me-the-eye seems.

    that’s why it’s working for us: because, odds-defyingly, it’s WORKING.

    it does not sound like it’s working for you. which is okay! that a fellow is lovely does not necessarily make him THE lovely fellow FOR YOU (plus, this lovely fellow probably deserves better than someone with one foot out the door, no?).

    • Two_Kinds said:

      I have a question that I hope is on topic enough? If it’s not, everybody feel free to shut this down.

      This is a question for all the people who are in the Still With My First Long Term Relationship and ZOMG It’s Still Great Camp. Do any of you also belong to the seriously less fun camp across the lake (the one near the swampy beach that has too many leeches) called Camp Jerkbrain?

      I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years and he’s the best and sometimes when I think about him I just want to pinch his cheeks and I don’t care if that’s weird. But he’s my first boyfriend. He’s also my first sex partner. The sex is cramazing and we’re both bi and figuring out how we can both explore that in a poly relationship, which just makes me feel fluttery and excited. Also, he and I are into travel and we both don’t like our jobs, so we might just quit and travel around the U.S. together or go to Europe or something awesome.

      So that sounds really great, but then my chronically cruel Jerkbrain will pipe up.

      “How do you KNOW this is working?” It says. “You’ve never been in a relationship before. Maybe all the mediocre ones look like this. Maybe there’s a real fairytale relationship out there that will be like HEROIN-FROSTED CAKE compared to this relationship, where you have all these doubts. Also, open relationships, even ones where you talk all the time and are really kind and considerate are MINE-FIELDS. And bisexuality isn’t real. Also, who goes to Europe? Lame.”

      Camp Jerkbrain, what a terrible place.

      So, besides seeing a therapist (already on it!), and reading the Pervocracy’s green flags post when I’m feeling uncertain, is there any advice out there? If I worry about the future or if I’m making the right decisions, is that evidence that there’s something wrong?

      • LabRat said:

        My entirely depressing reply is that I know my relationship is great and functional partly because it makes me feel happy and safe and sexy, but also partly because my family background is screwed up and I have this big, lavishly illustrated catalogue of what NOT working looks like, with field notes as to exactly why.

        I have a jerkbrain (see: screwed up background), but the doubts tend to be different. (You are just faking being a happy functional partner because how could you even who are you kidding! Etc.) I have it pretty well corralled these days though.

        I wouldn’t say having a jerkbrain or having doubts or worry at all ever means there’s something wrong necessarily. Short version.

      • I am not with my first love, although I do spend too much time in Camp Jerkbrain.

        I will tell you, Camp Jerkbrain will say all those things to you even if you *have* been in a relationship before. It sometimes says that about Mr Wit, because in a lot of ways he is not who I thought I would end up with. Now, the Wit Relationship is super-awesomely good, with communication and squee and all that. But I still get brain weasels.

        So… just, as long as it’s working, let it keep working. If you want to go poly and have some hot bi poly fun, do it. If it doesn’t work, stop doing it. Keep communicating and if the relationship stays awesome, yay! If not, okay!

        It is true that you will change as you get older, and so will your partner. If you change in compatible ways, then this might be the Relationship For Life for you. If you don’t, then it is not. That is okay, although painful. After a while you’ll get to the point where you’re more sure about who you are, and while you’re still learning awesome new things your core is mostly done, and it might be a little less scary.

        Also: THere is no relationship like heroin-frosted cake and if there were, it would suck pretty quickly and rot your teeth. Everyone has doubts, really, no really. Open relationships are minefieldy in that they will uncover problems in your brain, heart, gut, or primary relationship — but if they do, those problems were already there. Communicate generously and you’ll be fine. Bisexuality totally exists, or you wouldn’t want to schtup hot boys, girls, and everyone else, and neither would your partner. Trust that you want to schtup all those different kinds of people and ignore anyone who says it’s a lie.

        Worrying about the future just means you’re worried about the future; if you are living in a state of anxiety, you might talk to a therapist, becuase living in anxiety sucks. It might mean there’s something wrong, or it might mean you’re feeling anxiety about something.

        Mostly, breathe, trust yourself, have open communication, have hot monkey sex when it feels right, don’t when it doesn’t, love all over yourself because you are awesome, breathe some more, and it will all be fine in the end.

        • Quixoticcat said:

          As a bisexual poly woman currently involved with amazing people, I think that this is The Best Comment. Every part of it is spot on.

          The most important bit is the communication – my husband and I went through all those landmines, we found a LOT of problems in our relationship but we communicated about them, we worked through them and ultimately we realized that together was where we wanted to be. That we each have an additional partner is the (non-heroin) icing on the delicious relationship cake.

        • Two_Kinds said:

          Thank you! I love your advice of if it works, do it, and if it doesn’t, stop.

          If I think about right now or three years from now, I’m perfectly happy saying, “Yup, this guy is still in my life, being awesome.” It’s when I start thinking in terms of FOREVER that I get the anxiety.

          I guess I have to learn to live with the idea that I don’t know what will happen and even good relationships can dissolve if the people in them change.

          LW, whether you’re leaning towards stay or go, it might help to think of your relationship with John as a valuable piece of your life. Just because the relationship ends doesn’t mean it wasn’t time well spent for you both.

          • NessieMonster said:

            Eep, me too. I’m in a place where I’m happy day to day in our relationship, and I’m thinking about which of us will move where when my PhD is done and dusted in 15 months time, or whether my SO will want to move to be with me before that point. But tease me about marriage, mortgage and kids and I may just have a full blown panic attack.

            Having been watching up close over the last two years as my parents complete the process of separating their lives, I’m often plagued by doubt of: “Is this the one? Will we marry? What will we be like in 20 years time? Will we fuck it up and break each other’s hearts? How can I possibly KNOW if this is the person for me? People change! What if…!”

            Because if my parents couldn’t get it right, and no-one can foresee the future, what chance do I have? Even if it’s right now, will it still be right in the future?

            And since there doesn’t seem to be an answer to those sorts of questions, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

          • Don’t think about forever. Forever is a long time that you cannot see the end of. Seriously. 3 years? Long enough to be certain of.

        • Ethyl said:

          Another bi poly lady who is with not my first love but still with someone I met my second month in college (we are now in our 30s), agreeing with you. Well-said!

      • I’m not in my first relationship, but I am in one that I’ve been in for four years now (which is glorious and fantastic and better than anything I dreamt up as a romance-fascinated 7- to 12-year-old), and a favorite fireside song at my Camp Jerkbrain is, “But you thought all the other ones were great at the time, so how do you know you’re not wrong again?” Basically, if it helps, what you are descripbing also happens to the experienced among us.
        Trust your gut. If you feel fulfilled and satisfied in your relationship, that probably means it’s working! My Big Red Flags in past relationships have often been things like thinking wistfully about one thing or another I would love to do and just not being able to picture it as a possibility if I had to calculate around that partner, and it doesn’t sound like you’re particularly having that problem.

      • As another one of the unicorns, I do have bits of Camp Jerkbrain but not in the way you have them. They are most self attacking. Things like am I smothering him, am I being too clingy etc. I guess I don’t have the opposite thoughts about the relationship working because of the personal experiences I have had with my parents and in-laws having such awful relationships that just were not working. Kinda like LabRat up there.

      • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

        I sympathise! I have Camp Jerkbrain (great name) moments, too, of the Is This Real variety – for me, it’s because my one-and-only is in Spirit and I’ve only my own self to trust about what happens. But what your question made me think is, who the hell tells us what’s good or bad or just mediocre? It’s OUR relationship (I mean anyone getting these questions coming up) and if it’s making us happy, then it IS good. It’s sort of like the way the advertising industry, fashion industry, makeup, everything, is out to say “You aren’t good enough, but if you spend enough money on our products you might just reach an impossible standard that we set, and keep changing so you have to start over.” The whole idea of what romantic or partner relationships are “meant” to be like is bound up in that sort of marketing crap these days, and I’m betting our Camp Jerkbrain thoughts have – consciously or not – bought into the cultural tropes.

        Two Kinds, you sound like you’re really happy, to me. Wanting to pinch SO’s cheeks just for the pleasure of being with him sounds pretty darn good to me.

        And tell Camp Jerkbrain it doesn’t know what it’s talking about if it thinks Europe – EUROPE! – is lame. Pfffffffffffffffffffffffft. ;)

      • Me and my husband became a couple when he was 21 and I was 23, and we got married a year and a half later (and we’re mono). We’ve been married for over eleven years now.
        I had managed to cram in two mono and one poly boyfriend and a fairly large number of sex partners of both genders before that, while I was his first girlfriend.
        None of us are in camp Jerkbrain. We sometimes talk about other people who are single, or we watch a TV show where people are going in and out of relationships, and it just seems like SO MUCH WORK. We do call ourselves soulmates sometimes, because we almost always like the same stuff and think the same way. Meeting new people on the other hand – sure, it can be fun and stimulating, but it also feels pretty demanding. It takes some effort, interacting with others who think differently and like different things. (Maybe we’re just incredibly introverted, despite having sufficient social competence.) The odds of finding someone whom you’ve got this much in common with is gonna be like a million to one, so it feels like we were super-lucky enough to hit on a very unlikely jackpot when we were very young.

      • Sarah in Tokyo said:

        I’ve actually asked an eerily similar question-in-a-thread a while back, though for the life of me I can’t remember where it is now. While my situation differs re: poly and bi goodness, I’ve also been with my Awesome Dude for two years now. And while he’s not my first, this is my longest and certainly most serious relationship to date (moving in together! The commingling of book shelves! His parents love me! How did this happen?!).

        And while I’m happy and comfy and stuff, I absolutely end up at Camp Jerkbrain, roasting pine cones in lieu of marshmallows. See, my last several relationships were, by and large, anxiety-riddled no-one-else-will-love-me clingfests on my part. And now that I have an awesome one, I’m occasionally all like “uh oh, am I doing this right? Ohgodohgod what if I’m not?”

        On my comment, a lot of people popped up and reassured me that this isn’t an uncommon thing. Relationships are big, huge things that can change your life. Of course you’re going to think hard about them! The future is big and scary and important and, yes, worrying. People think hard about kids, careers, schooling, apartments, pets, etc., so why would it be wrong to think about your relationship?

        I don’t think it’s evidence that you’re doing it wrong. I think it’s evidence that you’re doing it like basically everybody else.

        • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

          “The commingling of book shelves!”

          I <3 this. :)

        • mintylime said:

          Commingling of book shelves is SRS BIZNSS.

          It may have been a sign of Serious Problems in my first marriage that we never commingled our music collections. I’m pretty sure I lost out on some good books when we tried to separate those shelves. :(

      • MamaCheshire said:

        I’m not with my first (ha!), but I was the first woman my spouse slept with. And I have had the jerkbrain about that, about is it really fair to keep him tied to me when maybe he’s just with me because he doesn’t know there’s a better person out there/doesn’t think he’s capable of attracting better (though he so totally is) and I’m a mean mean person preying on someone more vulnerable and…yeah.

        We’ve been together for 10 years, married for 8, spent part of that time with the relationship open and now it’s “theoretically, there could be someone else that is Just That Awesome and we might consider poly again, but we’re not seeking it out.”

        Relationships do in fact take work, and for the most part I’m suspicious of anyone who claims that their relationship is awesome ALL THE TIME and that there are NEVER doubts…because, well, most of us have Jerkbrains to some extent, and crushes, and wacky what-if scenarios.

        Generalized advice for everyone who is questioning like this: Get your hands on a copy of the book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. It asks a series of diagnostic questions about whether or not your relationship is worth keeping/fixing or whether you’d be better off out of it. It correctly pointed me away from my Darth Vader of an ex-fiance, and it also correctly (nine years ago now) pointed me to continue working things out with the guy I’m now married to after we had a really horrible fight that I wasn’t sure was fixable.

  10. espritdecorps said:

    My first partner was a good guy. I had chosen him to lose my virginity to, and hadn’t expected a real relationship out of it. Sex was great, he cared for me and was ready to start a family. He was 22, I was 21, and our friends expected that we would get married, because we fit each other so well. He was a ‘good catch’ and I was so lucky he wanted me, and there were other girls who wanted him. But I didn’t. I really, really, didn’t. Not in that way. I was actually pretty resentful of him for complicating what was intended to be a short-term thing with his feelings. It took way longer then it should have, but I finally ended things.
    Years after I broke up with him, I had had a couple very shitty serious relationships, lots of happy, fun sex with good friends, and lots of personal and professional growth, but I wondered if maybe I had thrown away my opportunity for the whole package. If he had been ‘The One.’
    Through the magic of the internet I reconnected with him, and he was such a different person. Different from who he had been, and WAY different than who I had grown into. We still keep in touch, and he’s a good man, husband, and father, but we would have made each other miserable. We wanted completely different lives.

    My instinct knew what I didn’t have the experience to put into words and reasons.
    I hope you trust your instincts and make the choices that are right for you.

  11. maeganhypaetia said:

    Hi LW! I recently (as in last week) ended a long-term, cohabiting relationship because I realised I am gay. Our situations sound kind of similar; I wanted to be with other people but seriously considered either staying with my ex, never telling him anything had changed or staying with him and looking into opening up the relationship. Ultimately, I could not be happy in a relationship with a man and I think you cannot ultimately be happy in a relationship John, wonderful as he sounds. Someone having all the qualities of being a great catch does not necessarily make them a great catch for you.

    Breaking up is always hard and it’s rare that people are entirely certain that this is what they want to do; relationships don’t end quickly with a bang but rather with a fizzle and I think if you have been seriously thinking about being with other people, your relationship with John has been fizzling out for a while. That is okay! Thinking about other people does not make you a bad girlfriend or a bad person, acting on those thoughts without discussing it with him (either in an opening the relationship sense or in a “we are breaking up” sense) is what is not okay. So you need to talk to him; he does sound like a wonderful guy and that means he deserves to be with someone who is into him as much as he is into them and, for whatever reason, you cannot be that person right now. Ending the relationship with him now will enable you both to stay friends, given some time. It is perfectly okay for you to want to experience life on your own; when people are in long relationships it is really easy to start thinking of yourself as half a couple rather than as a whole, individual person. You need to start living as you, not half of you and John.

  12. People who happily marry their first kissing friend/sex partner do exist! I am one of them, as of last October. Nonetheless, I agree with Capt. Awk that the LW is probably not one of them.

    I had misgivings about committing to my first boyfriend for life, but I never felt trapped, as the LW does. In the first few years, I definitely felt no long-term obligation to him whatsoever. I wonder if John is maybe putting some pressure on the LW to consider the future seriously?

    LW says that John doesn’t leave anything to be desired as a lover, but it sounds like perhaps they don’t desire him all that much. If the LW think they’re missing out on something, they probably have cause. I married because I never felt that I was missing out in that field. Quite the contrary. I’m really, really glad that I’ve spent my twenties having terrific sex with a person I’m in love with rather than dating a bunch of dudes who might or might not get me off and treat me nice. The prospect of dating around has always felt like a buzzy local attraction that just doesn’t seem that great after driving by and seeing the long lines. When contrasted with hanging out on the beach or going to a museum or whatever I primarily wanted to do on vacation, it doesn’t seem that important.

    But I don’t think that’s the case for the LW. The LW deserves more than “not a disaster”, and it’s their right to seek it out.

  13. mp said:

    I don’t want to get sidetracked into the poly conversation, but since the Captain brought it up:

    My partner and I were monogamous for the first 2.5 years of our relationship, and we are going on 4 years open. Our relationship worked opening it up, because (in a similar vein to superfulous consonants above) the process went somewhat like this:

    Hey! We love each other a whole lot! We can imagine being a pair of old ladies sharing a park bench feeding the pigeons and telling whippersnappers about how it used to be back in the day! AWESOME!

    But! You want to have a specific set of experiences that I can’t give you! Either because of plumbing (she had never slept with a guy, and well, I can’t give that to her) or proclivity (I have a tendency to make out with my friends).

    It took A LOT of work, and a lot of money (4 months with a relationship coach who specialized in “alternative lifestyles”)

    Now, the poly is much less of an issue in the house than the chores. (Last weekend, when I texted said partner that I was hooking up with a friend for the first time, she and the boy who was tying her up paused to hi-five before going back to their business. We both dished the next morning)

    The point I want to make is, redefining your relationship in any way should be an effect of the enthusiasm that you’re feeling (OMGHOORAYHOWCANIEVERSURVIVEWITHOUTTHISPERSON=keep dating, get married, move in together, adopt a puppy, whatever it takes; meh=PROBABLYTIMETO MOVEON)

    • Yeah, being nonmonogamous requires being solid and happy together! If you start out with “ehhh maybe adding people will help?” it is preeeeetty unlikely to help.

      • Kelly said:

        Oh, Lord, this. If you’re not already happy together, adding more people will just make it get uglier, faster.

      • quartzpebble said:

        Yeah, there is a catchphrase among some poly people for that: “Relationship broken. Add more people.” Generally considered a bad idea.

      • twomoogles said:

        Sounds a lot like having kids. :D Adding more people to an already shaky situation doesn’t make it better, regardless of who those people are, I suppose.

        • I read that as “an already sharky situation”. Can that be a thing?

    • Hazel said:

      You are my poly role model.

  14. RodeoBob said:

    LW, I want to give you a few mantras, phrases to repeat and consider.

    “A relationship does not need to be ‘bad enough’ in order for it to end.”

    Lots & lots of very nice, very happy relationships come to an end without ever being “bad”. One partner wants kids or marriage or co-habitation, and the other doesn’t. One partner has a job offer in another city, the other partner is happy and won’t relocate. One partner can’t imagine not going to church every Sunday, the other partner wants to change faith. And so on, and so on.

    “Breaking up is not an inherently mean or cruel act; it does not make you a monster or a tyrant.”

    There are situations where breaking up can be hostile, but there are also situations where perpetuating a relationship is an act of malice. No one is entitled to a relationship; ending one does not deny anyone their rights or due.

    One last thought for the LW. The Captain suggested therapy, and I’ll second that; your letter said you were “horrible, greedy” and “horrific”, but I’m pretty confident you’re none of those things. You’re an average, ordinary person who feels horrible. When there’s a disconnect between who you are, and how you feel, well… therapy is designed to help re-connect those two things, so that how you feel and who you are are in better alignment with one another.

  15. LabRat said:

    Another unicorn reporting in. My husband wasn’t my first kiss or my first boyfriend, but he was my first sex partner and my first serious relationship. (We have been married 8 years, together 13.) I am very, very happy in my marriage. I am also a unicorn and I damn well know it.

    Things that make me think that maybe what you have is not quite the same thing:

    1. I never had to force or fake attraction to him. Intimacy was an issue at first, but that was because intimacy was difficult for me. I had to figure out how to do sexual things without freaking out over the raging fire of my pantsfeelings for him.

    2. I did go through the “but I totally missed out on dating and singledom and I have no experiences beyond him” thing. But like a few of the other unicorns above, considering the future without him felt lonely and lesser, not awesome and liberating.

    Don’t get me wrong, we had all sorts of problems that were basically direct fallout of being each other’s first serious relationship and then jumping up an extra difficulty mode to marriage. But they were… problems of how to be close and mutually supportive when you’re both hard-nosed independent adults and not as emotionally mature as you’re going to eventually get.

    • stickyrice said:

      …are you me from the future? Because this sounds exactly like mine and my husbands relationship, except that we’ve been together for ten years, married for five.

      It’s nice to hear from other folks with similar experiences – basically nobody I know IRL paired off as young as we did.

      • LabRat said:

        Spoiler: in the future you will have many more tattoos.

    • bluecandles said:

      “1. I never had to force or fake attraction to him. Intimacy was an issue at first, but that was because intimacy was difficult for me. I had to figure out how to do sexual things without freaking out over the raging fire of my pantsfeelings for him.”

      It’s been really refreshing for me to read the Cap’n’s reply to the LW’s letter, and to this comment!, because of some own conflicts I’ve been having when dating.
      I’ve had friends tell me that I am too picky & don’t give guys ‘a chance’ because if I’m not attracted to them & find them boring, I’ll reject them after the first date. Apparently, if I just ‘work at it’, and ‘give [the guy] time’ (i.e. go out with him for a month/a few months), I might start to be attracted to him and eventually find him interesting. This appears to be a bit contradictory to what’s being said here, and I feel little less picky and guilty now.

      • JenniferP said:

        Be picky! I am extremely picky, ergo, my boyfriend is hilarious, brilliant, kind, and hot like fire.

        • bluecandles said:

          Aye, aye, Cap’n. I feel a whole lot better after this post (and I hope the LW does, too).

      • I want to second the captain’s “Be picky!” It’s a big gripe of mine when people tell me I’m too picky about who I date. If there is anything I SHOULD be picky about, it’s my potential life partner. I won’t be made to feel guilty about it! A favorite response of mine is, “If you think he’s so cool, then you should date him, and I’ll keep looking for someone I think is cool.” Feel free to borrow that for your pushy friends.

        • bluecandles said:

          Thank you. You’ve got a good point there, I have just spent so many years feeling bad about it (and not realising my friends were inadvertently doing that, too). The thing is, they usually haven’t even met the guy they’re encouraging me to date, or it’s an abstract notion of how I should approach dating….

  16. Muse's Muse said:

    Hi LW,

    I’m one of those people that dated one person and 20 years later is still with that one person. We started dating freshman year of high school and stayed together for seven years before getting married. We are still very happy together. It’s a cliche, but I married my best friend. We have very similar senses of humor, values and interests. I’m not going to lie. There are pros and cons.

    Con: I’ve had to consider someone else’s needs while making every adult decision from job to location to living space.
    Pro: Telling my husband exactly what I wanted/hoped for out of life helped me figure out how to tell him what I want/hope for in many other areas of our relationship.

    Con: Barring a tragedy, we are never going to know what it’s like to be with anyone else.
    Pro: While we are strictly monogamous, we’re both very open and honest about being attracted to other people. I would be worried if my husband said he never thought of any other woman as attractive. Because he would be lying to me. It’s a lot healthier to admit you have those feelings and move on.

    Con: It took us a while to figure out the sex side of things because we were both virgins and didn’t really know what we were doing.
    Pros: We are both honest about what we want/don’t want in bed. And good jeebus, once we did figure out what we were doing, it’s worked really well for us.

    Con: I have never lived alone and don’t really know what it’s like to be totally independent.
    Pro: There is always someone around with a fire extinguisher when I have an “incident” in the kitchen.

    It IS possible to be happy with one person for your whole life. That said, it’s also possible that a perfectly good relationship just isn’t going to be that life-changer that makes you happy. There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with him for you to break things off. If you were sure this was THE guy, you wouldn’t have taken the time to write all of these concerns down and send them to an advice column. If you are devoting this much thought to this problem, it would probably be better for you to see what else is out there.

    You’ll notice that my “pros” above (except for the fire thing) are related to honesty. You need to be honest with this guy about what you want, what you hope for. You’re not a bad person. This isn’t going to haunt you for the rest of your life. You have to do what makes you happy rather than taking everybody else’s feelings into account.

    There might be backlash, from friends, family, etc., who can’t believe you’re breaking off such a “good thing.” Just remember that these people aren’t in your relationship. They don’t know what it’s like to be you. And when people get upset over long-term couples breaking up, it’s rarely about the couple, and more about, “If that couple breaks up after all this time, what’s going to happen to my relationship?!’

    Good luck.

  17. Muse's Muse said:

    Wait, I’m a unicorn?

  18. Poppy said:

    Hi LW! Your letter is very timely as one of my good friends in the process of breaking up with her boyfriend – but in her case, she’s playing the role of John. It is her boyfriend’s first relationship, and even though my friend is a kind and lovely (and beautiful) person, and from what I have seen their relationship is very happy, he wanted something different. They considered having an open relationship, but my friend ultimately decided it was not for her.

    It’s definitely sad for both of them, but I do think that he will be happier when he’s out of this relationship that’s making him feel trapped, and when she’s not with someone who kinda resents her for that. I know for sure that she’s glad he figured out he wanted something different now and not a few more years down the line. I also wanted to tell you something that I told her when she was considering an open relationship:

    There are no “right” answers when it comes to life. It can be very difficult to make a change, when there’s a voice in the back of your head saying “But what if John is THE ONE and I’m being horribly greedy?” There are hundreds and hundreds of possible happy paths for your life. One of them could be staying with John, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t be happy if you broke up. Or that if you stay with John for the time being, or try an open relationship with him, that means you have to stay with him forever. It’s your life, and you get to make the choices you want! And even if you’re not 100% sure about them, it’s more likely than not going to be okay! And if it’s not, you can still change your mind at any time.

  19. duck-billed placelot said:

    You know what’s cool about being young? You’ve got time. So you can, actually, say to John, “John, you’re amazing and great but, I’m really feeling like I missed out on Single Me, and I need to know what that looks like before I make any decisions about grad school/area code/babies. So I’m gonna go figure that out, but I hope we can reconnect in the future.” And then you can go have sex with hot guys at work, and fall in love with a pirate, and flirt with being the girlfriend of a polyamorous married couple, and make out with two guys at one party, and and and….And then, if in a year or two years or whatever, you think to yourself, ‘geez, John really fit nicely in my womanhood/life plans’, then you call him, and maybe be with him again, if he wants and you want. But right now? Right now you don’t really think he fits well. He’s a sweater you bought on clearance when you were feeling unattractive, and now you’re thinking, “The color isn’t too horrible, I guess…And the lace bit is…interesting? I think? And none of the buttons seem to be missing…And it covers all the essential parts a sweater is supposed to cover, I think.” Don’t do this with clothes OR boyfriends, LW. Somewhere there is someone who wants the mustard yellow, lace-trimmed, button sweater of your boyfriend, and maybe that someone is you in five years, but you now needs to find something else to wear.

    • “The color isn’t too horrible, I guess…And the lace bit is…interesting? I think? And none of the buttons seem to be missing…And it covers all the essential parts a sweater is supposed to cover, I think.” Don’t do this with clothes OR boyfriends, LW.

      OMFSM this is the most apt metaphor I think I’ve ever seen.

    • Leela said:

      I agree with most of this, and I love your metaphor, but I’d leave out the potential for reconnection. When breaking up, you don’t want to give the other person false hope for a reconciliation- that’s going to hurt them more down the road.

      • Knights Who Say Knit said:

        Right, and saying “oh, maybe we can get back together later” and expecting him to be there if you eventually do want to get back together is just putting him on a shelf, trying to get him to put off all the fun meeting other people and eventually maybe finding true love but in the meantime at least really good sex adventures that you (that is, LW) are getting,expecting him to wait around in case he’s needed later. And that is Not Fair.

  20. Hey LW, reporting in from the “Single and Awesome” front.

    Personally, I’m not the kind to flirt overmuch or go home with different people, mainly because the main reason I am single is because WORLD TRAVEL PLANS! and CRAZY AWESOME FUTURE OF TRAVELING! If I happened to meet a guy who had the same plans as me or had complimentary plans, then ok maybe. So why am I posting here? Simple. Because of society’s mixed messages and how you can Punch Them In The Face. (caps important.)

    On one hand, society likes to tell us that love comes but once, that is is always perfect (*snorts*) and it is something worth fighting for. I have seen my friends stay in relationships for love~ when they complain about the guy 90% of the time they bring him up. THIS IS NOT GOOD. So, for one, don’t stay just because you love him. Stay if you love him, if you can’t imagine the future without him being better, and if you are working towards complimentary dreams and goals.

    On the other hand, society tells us being YOUNG AND SINGLE is VERY special! That we must sow our wild oats! That we MUST have certain experiences otherwise OMGWTFBBQ ur doin’ it wrong. When you really are doing it right, for you. Don’t buy into this form of thinking- it only leads you to discovering expectations rarely actually are that great.

    So what should you do? Take inventory of what you want, and more importantly, what you want your future to be. It’s your future, you should decide it! And that’s ok, because if you do not have that future then you will miss out on something, and he will miss out on something because he could have a better one too! Because though you are awesome, sometimes two people just don’t fit together like magic, and if you aren’t THE ONE TO SHARE THE FUTURE WITH then you gotta let the guy go, so you can continue on your own rockin’ path.

    A relationship does not need a bad guy to end. Even though my longest running friendship ended on implosion, I am very grateful for that person and those years because they taught me so much. You can move on, but still appreciate him and how he has helped you regain some of your special self. I have a feeling that one of the reasons guys are hitting on you now is because the confidence that this relationship has given you, made you shine, and you can carry that confidence with you the rest of your life as a amazing gift. But gifts are gifts- you don’t owe it to the person to give a perfectly equivalent, or more expensive gift, back.

    • You sound a lot like me, and so I’m going to echo you here.

      TAKE INVENTORY.

      No, literally, make a list, on paper. Categories include Goals, Dreams, Dealbreakers, Wishes, and What you Want in a Partner. Measure your life with John against these lists. What fits? What doesn’t? You’ll get a sense of what’s important to you. Pay attention, very very much attention, to those misfits that make you sad.

    • This, so much this. You decide what your life should be like, you decide whether or not that contains a, several or no partners and at what point in your life you want them (ok, maybe give them a say in the matter, but you get what I mean). Neither relationships nor singledom are obligatory. In fact, none of society’s messages regarding how these things should be done are obligatory.

  21. This is an interesting split in the comments. I too was where you are now, LW, although I was attracted to him — too much, leading to my own trouble which was too much libido and absolutely nowhere to go with it.

    I am sorry I didn’t end things sooner, to set us both free. Eventually I realized I hadn’t even been in love with him for *at least* a year (I kept telling myself “every relationship has ups and downs” and “he’s a good guy, how could I do better?”). By the end I didn’t even give a shit if I was going to be alone for the rest of my life, I just couldn’t stand it anymore.

    After that, I accidentally ended up in another long-term relationship very quickly afterward. And it is very little like it used to be with my ex. I don’t feel stifled — I’m NOT stifled. I get to explore with and without him, and it’s lovely. I’m not even the same person I was when I met my sweetie, and that’s okay too.

    The ex was (is) a decent person, and all that. But he wasn’t who I needed in my life. There are never any guarantees that you’ll “do better”, but “good enough” isn’t good enough either.

  22. The Other Side said:

    Hi There, LW:

    I want to reiterate some of what the others have stated: You do not owe John anything for “picking” you at a time when you are feeling less than fabulous. You do not have to stay in a relationship, which makes you feel trapped and which doesn’t make you feel “Oh Hell Yes!” whenever you are with or thinking about John. And please, do not prioritize the happiness of your relationship with John over your own happiness. Therein lay evil bees.

    It is far, far kinder to cut a relationship short when things are still amicable and before resentment swallows any joy you feel and when the resentment feels like you are carrying a two-ton rock on your back. Yes, break-ups suck. There is no getting around this. And to reiterate, you really don’t have to have any other reason than you’re unhappy.

    Should you decide to break up with John, be wary of anything that starts to sound like pressure to stay when you don’t want to or a guilt trip about all of the wonderful things he’s done for you or anything about you being ungrateful. If he does, stand your ground, restate your case, and walk away. Any of the above is a big red flag to be heeded and a sign that your decision was sound; bonus if he tries to “make it up to you” and decides to be super-duper sweet an attentive to “win you back”.

    I’m not saying John is anything like what I mention above. I feel the need to provide a cautionary tale because, I was in a similar position with my ex four years ago. I wasn’t feeling “ZOMG, THIS IS AWESOME YAY” about him and our relationship, in fact I had several misgivings and I needed some space to think about what I wanted to do next. But when I asked for that space, I received all of the above as he pressured me to stay. And I did for three more years, with the bad behavior escalating to the point where it nearly destroyed me.

    I wish you and John the best. I hope the two of you can break-up, take some time to heal, and perhaps forge the basis of a good friendship in the future. I also hope the two of you find someone who really, truly, makes you say “OMFG YES!”

  23. Jean said:

    Oh my GOSH, LW, this sounds pretty much exactly like how I ended up in my terrible first marriage! It’s a bit different in that we broke up for 5+ years in the middle and I casually dated some people in there, but when we got together he was my first kiss, first everything, and I had been convinced ’til then that nobody would ever want to be with me. When we got back together as young adults, the time that led quickly to marriage, I was convinced nobody would ever want to marry me, and he was willing, so I went with it (and even spurred the whole process forward).

    It’s similar right down to forcing myself to be attracted to him and coming to love him. Yes, our sex life eventually became pretty good as we worked on it, but I never fully loved and respected him the way I should have, which was not OK and not a good basis for a solid marriage. There were other issues, too, including my feeling that I needed to explore my sexuality further, my having feelings for someone else that were much more real and organic in how they started, and some problems in how he treated me, but our marriage was doomed from the start because it wasn’t a genuine thing. I didn’t ever go, “YES! I get to spend the rest of my life with this guy!” I went, “YES! Someone is willing to marry me!” and “I like this guy and feel like I owe him my life for loving me.”

    FWIW, the first person I was with right after him – the one I’d been attracted to while in my marriage – also wasn’t right for me, but I tried to force it to be right, yet again, because I was SO relieved to be with someone I was full-on attracted to and infatuated with. But I eventually figured that out, too.

    Now I’m with someone I’ve been with for almost three years and I still feel like I won the lottery (rolled a hard 20, whatever) every day. It helps to be older. Though I didn’t feel “done” with dating when we met, I haven’t felt constrained by our relationship at any point through now, whereas I did back when I dated my ex-husband. I think the fact that this is giving you such distress is, as CA puts it, an excuse for you to imagine a life without him, which probably excites you on some level. (Which doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner! I loved my ex, too, or at least, felt very serious loyalty and affection for him, but it wasn’t the kind of thing I could really build a life-long commitment from.)

  24. Jolly said:

    If you don’t want to outright break up with John (which would honestly be my advice), you could maybe bring up an open relationship with him. Reread your letter: do you sound like a satisfied person? Doesn’t seem that way to me when I read it, and time isn’t going to make you more satisfied than you are now, it will just wear you thinner and thinner. You sound like you’re settling with a very one-in-the-hand mentality, and maybe you can carve out an Acceptable life that way, but honestly? You wanna bone dudes. There are decent dudes out there who will want to bone you (seriously. there are. especially if you want to keep it casual, I guarantee there are dudes out there you can do that with). Sure, you love John (apparently? it didn’t really come through in the letter tbh, but I’ll take your word for it), but you certainly don’t sound all that INTERESTED in him. You sound interested in office flings, etc., and probably it won’t just go away. Are you okay feeling this way for the rest of your life, and not ever acting on it? Keep in mind, the rest of your life is going to be a long, long time. Think of the rest of your life as “years I’ve been in my relationship with John, times X” for some perspective on how long that is going to be. If these feelings really aren’t a huge deal, you’re probably fine with that many years spent just with John and no one else. But as your feelings were big enough that you straight up wrote into an advice column about them, lets go ahead and assume that they are a pretty big thing for you, and probably not going to just disappear. I’d end it with him, or depending on his feelings, renegotiate the terms of the relationship. If you decide you want to be poly, and he is uncomfortable with being open, though, that’s the end of it. Or if he decides he wants to make his best effort to be okay with it, and it doesn’t go well for either one of you, that is also the end of it. It can be hard to remember that, when someone is willing to try really hard to make a relationship work, it doesn’t mean it WILL work or that you owe it to them to stick it out as a reward for their efforts/sacrifice/whatever. But, maybe you’ll win the dudelottery, and he will totally be into you hooking up with other dudes; sometimes things like this are the beginning of a beautiful cucklationship. More likely, he will Not Be Into It and that is pretty much the deathknell for the relationship. Either way, good luck, and also cheer up: there are lots of dudes out there, but even better than that, there are lots of ways in which life can be awesome even without any specific one of them.

    Also, I dunno where you live, but god in my area there are a lot of poly dudes on OKCupid. It is a curse to me, but if it turns out you aren’t actually that into being single and also enjoy a good casual encounter now and again, it may be a blessing for you.

    • Jolly said:

      Also, I’d like to add: This is a problem! Don’t tell yourself it isn’t a problem when your feelings are telling you it is. A little perspective is extremely valuable, but trying to talk yourself out of these feelings problems by saying they’re fake problems, or grass-is-greener problems, is no good. Just because you aren’t starving in Africa, or in an abusive relationship, doesn’t mean that you need to be happy in a situation you don’t like. Telling yourself that things that make you feel icky aren’t actually problems, and that you need to be happy with them, is a really good way to force yourself into a life you hate. Trust the nagging little voice inside of you that is telling you “hey! you are unhappy in here, deep down under all of these layers of trying-to-make-the-best-of it.”

    • stentord said:

      Having taken the mono-to-poly path, I don’t think an open relationship is the best route for LW. She may or may not be someone who would be happy with an open relationship in general, but trying to fix her relationship with John by opening it up strikes me as unlikely to work. The mono-to-poly transition works well when it grows naturally out of the strengths of the existing relationship — for example, “we’re so comfortable together and so open about everything and talk about having crushes on other people, so why not go ahead and bang them?”

      It can also work when “lack of openness” is itself the problem. If LW had written in saying “I love John and I can see being with him forever, but it’s so hard to hold back when other sexable dudes cross my path,” then looking into an open relationship would be a great idea. But in this case it seems like the attraction to other dudes is a symptom of problems in her relationship with John, not vice-versa.

      One of the best comments about polyamory I’ve heard was from my first poly girlfriend, who told me “I started to really get a crush on you when I saw how clearly and totally you were in love with your wife.” I’m not sure any of LW’s outside love interests would be likely to be able to say the same thing to her.

  25. theLaplaceDemon said:

    I want to start totally off topic and say that this blog is amazing, and the commentspace on this blog is the most amazing I have ever seen. You are all awesome, awesome people. And I’d totally buy the CA book…for me and everyone I know.

    LW, there are lots of great perspectives above. But my reading of your email is that you are not that into this guy. And even if he is totally awesome, wanting to break up and explore casual stuff is okay! LTRs aren’t just about finding the right person, they are about finding them at the right time. My current partner was a super awesome person three years ago, but we did not date three years ago, but that was not the right time in my life three years ago. At that point I wasn’t even sure I would every want a LTR with anyone, ever. Then a couple years I had warmed up to this whole relationship business, he was still in my life, mutual attraction and OMGfeelings were expressed and things are going splendidly. But I am quite certain they would not have gone splendidly if we had dated three years ago. And I’d probably be writing into advice columnists being like “I’m with this great guy, but…”

  26. The reason most people don’t marry and/or stay with the first person they ever dated is because you do so much growing up in the times when you’re not in a relationship. Or you should do, at least. I mean, that isn’t to say that you can’t grow when you’re in one, because you definitely can, and some people get to know themselves great being either in one relationship or serially monogamous without much in the way of breaks, but most of us? We find it hard to get to know ourselves when we come as part of a unit because even though you’re still two different people in the relationship, there are decisions that you have to make together, and a lot of the time when you’re doing that you skip right past the “what do I want? what would be best for me?” to “what would be best for BOTH of us?” You have so much less room to make choices and mistakes and regrets and life lessons. Don’t get me wrong, relationships can be great, but they should be really, really great to be worth never getting the chance to be single as a grown up.

    I may well be biased of course because I love being single, I need a lot of my own space, but I feel like if you were totally into John right now you wouldn’t a) write into an advice column and b) feel it so relevant that you had to convince yourself to be into him to start with. If you weren’t having doubts about your relationship, would that have been important to mention, or would it have been water under the bridge and a vague memory of how foolish you were in the past not to see how great he is?

    • Beth B said:

      The reason most people don’t marry and/or stay with the first person they ever dated is because you do so much growing up in the times when you’re not in a relationship.

      This is totally true, but I think the important flip side of it is also true: You do a lot of growing up when you’re in a relationship, too.

      For some people, the growing they do and the growing their partner(s) do meanst hey keep maturing into people who are really happy being in a relationship with each other. And that’s awesome! But sometimes, people instead grow into wanting different things out of life, or out of a relationship, or out of the next few years of their future.

      Even with the best start in the world to this relationship, sometimes you just realize that current!you doesn’t really want to be with current!John no matter what was true a few months or years ago. And that’s okay. Current!you shouldn’t have to settle for what past!you wanted if it doesn’t fit any more.

      • I feel like I do different parts of growing in vs. out of a relationship, or at least have in the past. Being in a relationship offers a lot of opportunities to collect data on what I do and don’t want from my life, whereas being single has allowed me sufficient space to synthesize those data into useful information and habits.

  27. LW – I have been single my whole life. I have had sex with several folks. I too felt really excited because OMIGERD THEY WANT SEXYTIMES WITH ME? NO ONE EVER WANTS SEXYTIMES WITH ME! Then after we had sex I realized they only wanted sexytimes with my vagina, not with me the human person, and then I realized that I wasn’t attracted to them at all, only to their apparent interest in me.

    Anyway, I’m not going to question your love for John, as only you really know what it up with your feelings. I’m just going to say: being single has its moments of shittiness, but it also has its moments of awesomeness, and I am really glad I never settled for less than complete romantic YAY for fear of being single FOREVAR (and by romantic YAY, I don’t mean MY ONE TRUE LOVE, but rather a relationship wherein I and my partner are equally enthusiastic about each other for however long it lasts). Romantic YAY looks really awesome from the outside, and I’m willing to hold out for it and enjoy my adventures alone until then (and again after it ends). I know our culture tries to tell us that we are TOTAL FAILURES OMIGERD if we are single, and it can be crushing when we feel like NO ONE IS EVER ATTRACTED TO MEEEEEEEEE GAAAAAH I MUST BE AWFUL. Therapy has been far more helpful with that feeling that any amount of fooling around, making out, flirting, or affirmation from friends has ever been. Turns out outside appreciation actually can’t fix those kinds of toxic thinking.

    If you need to talk yourself out of wanting to be single, that’s a pretty good indicator that you want to be single, even if you do love John.

  28. Doe said:

    LW, if you could put John on the back burner for the next year and live single, would you do it? It feels great to have men interested in you, that’s for sure. There’s a lot more to being a single person than just being able to have flings though, and I’m not seeing from your letter that you want more space or more independence except in this one area of sexuality. It also seems like you really do want to end up in a LTR, and are maybe scared that if you break up with John to have flings, then you will not find someone like him again? You have several options.

    Option 1: Break up with John and trust that the vast bountiful world holds both short term flings and a better long term relationship for you. Explore your sexuality, don’t get down on yourself when you don’t have a date, trust your feelings when you decide what to do with male interest (you can also pursue men too).

    Option 2: Talk to John about possibly opening your relationship. Feeling like you still want to have short term flings is a big reason people open relationships. Don’t have someone already lined up when you talk to John about it. This option requires that you a) truly don’t think sexual explorations with others will threaten your love and b) are okay with him having flings too. He may be feeling the same thing you are.

    Option 3: Stay with John and do your best to turn it into a positive for your relationship. Have some honest discussions about pantsfeelings for others and use it to fuel your own sex life. Talk about what you find sexy in each other and in other people. Pretend to be strangers and pick him up at a bar.

    In my last relationship where I felt like this, I tried 3, then we moved into 2, then finally I used 1 and I don’t really have any regrets. FWIW, my current partner and I are monogamish but if never seeing another person naked was the price of admission to be with him, I’d pay it. Sounds like you don’t have that with John, and that is completely alright.

    One more piece of advice from my younger days – do not break up with him then continue to have weepy confessions about how much you love each other on the nights you didn’t get a date. Also do not expect him to wait around for you while you figure stuff out. He will and you will both behave extremely poorly and detonate many FeelingsBombs.

  29. AR said:

    LW, the captain has some great advice, and you should probably apply the ‘taking time to figure out what you want’ to the relationship as a whole – including if you still want to be in it. Also, remember that it’s okay to want things that might seem off the beaten path as far as society is concerned, and there’s no shame in wanting those things [provided you aren't doing anything to people without their consent.]

    Also, since this reply seemed to really take the response of ‘You must already resent him!’, just because people say that you must feel a certain way doesn’t mean you do. If you read this article and decide you do resent him, great. If you read it and think ‘Well, I don’t really think I resent him’, that’s fine too. You don’t have to resent someone to feel like you’re missing out, or to not be happy with your relationship.

  30. Tosca said:

    Wow, I’m with my first guy, too, whose name happens to be John. Weird!!

    We’ve been married ten years, together for much longer. Many, many, many times I felt as LW felt. Not advising her to stay, though. Only she can make that choice.

  31. Burnt Umber Ella said:

    Hoping and praying that I’m a unicorn. I had two boyfriends before I met my current one, but current boyfriend is the first person I actually fell in love with. Current boyfriend and I are essentially endgame (we want to get married and have babies and shit when we’re out of grad school), but I’m his first everything and sometimes I worry that he’ll miss not having had any variety in his relationships. He says that he doesn’t actually want anyone else, which makes me feel better, but I know how low of a chance that high school sweethearts statistically, so.

    To the LW: I stayed in a nine-month relationship with a guy because I was terrified that I wouldn’t have another boyfriend. I was single for nine months after that and dated the first guy who flirted with me. Do not be me. If you do break up with John, be aware of who you are without him, and be confident in that person enough that you are able to not fall into the same trap you did the first time.

  32. Rowan said:

    The thing about staying in a relationship when its “oh, it’s ok, there’s nothing really wrong, I’m just not… I dunno….” is that you can find yourself slowly drowning in a sea of justifications. He loved me when I thought no one else could. He did so much for my self confidence when I was low. He stuck by me through the bad times. And yes, those things are lovely things and they made you happy at the time but they are not enough if you are not happy NOW. You don’t owe someone a relationship.

    I stuck it out in my last relationship for a lot of those reasons. I wasn’t really happy but I wasn’t miserable. And, after all, he’d stuck by me through quitting my job and losing my dad and blah blah blah. I’m pretty sure he was feeling the same “it’s not right but it’s not awful” feelings too. We both refused to admit it, but the feelings grew into a big FEELINGSCLOUD sleeping between us in the bed until, eventually, he started trawling the internet to get his jollies. I found out he was arranging to meet someone else for sex, and it FINALLY gave me the excuse to end it. Although I was gutted and felt betrayed, I also felt really relieved.

    I’ve been single for a year now, dated a little but mostly concentrated on getting my head together so that, if I start another relationship, the confidence comes from me, not from them.

  33. Buff Korra said:

    LW, if you feel like this now, maybe think about five years in the future and you still feel the same? It could be crueler to stay and prolong this, for both of you.

    I stayed in my first relationship for far too long. Only when I look back do I realise it was almost an intellectual exercise on my part, thinking that here is a boy who is really into me, so clearly I should be with him. He broke out the ‘L’ word very early on in the relationship (less than a month), and even though it made me feel uncomfortable we continued the relationship when my student exchange ended and I returned home. We were long distance for almost five years.

    I ended up cheating on him, which I will forever regret. The boy I cheated on him with, however, was (and continues to be) someone who definitely inspires pants!feelings and I’ve realised how much better it is when the attraction is mutual.

  34. Griffy Kate said:

    Oh, LW. I have all the sympathies. I am tempted to say ‘I was in your exact position at twenty’ and then wax lyrical with the big-sisterly advice from my oh-so-lofty vantage point of twenty eight, but that would be pretty condescending because after all we are different people with different lives, and I can’t presume to know that what would have been best for me will be best for you. So I’ma just take a rantspace here to tell you my own similar story and how that turned out, and you can take from it what you will, or not.

    I was eighteen when I got my first boyfriend. Before that I had identified as gay, and I’d had a couple of top-secret relationships that ended badly because a) young and b) closet. When a chef at the pub where I waited tables part-time showed an interest in me, the first male ever to do so, I was really flattered. I was also desperately scouting for someone to rescue me from my lingering hurts about past relationships, and curious to see if it was possible for me to love a man. (These days I identify as biromantic but mostly straight, so this isn’t going to be an irrelevant parable about the perils of ignoring your true romantic orientation.)

    Boyfriend didn’t make my heart beat faster or anything but he was a pleasant enough guy, and I liked him as a friend, and I wanted to see if I could make that into something more. I got to play with man-parts for the first time, and to proudly introduce him to people as ‘my boyfriend’, and I was absolutely mind-blown ecstatic to finally be in a relationship with someone who wasn’t afraid or ashamed to hold my hand in the street. I convinced myself, I think, that Holding Hands In Public and True Love could be one and the same. But the truth was, he and his housemate were both really great guys, and both potentially interested, and I would have cheerfully dated whichever one made a move first, just enormously grateful that there was a man alive who would have me. I think Boyfriend and Friend might have even come to something like a gentleman’s agreement that Boyfriend could have first dibs on asking me out because he’d been single the longest, and I just tumbled into bed at the first offer I got. I was like a soupmix sachet of Instant Relationship, Just Add Partner.

    That relationship lasted two and a half years, which was probably about two years longer than it should have.

    When we had been together for six months he moved to another city, and that really should have been the end of it, right there. But neither of us wanted to be the one to say that we should end it. Neither of us liked to be the Evil Heartless Douche who was Horribly Hurting The Person Who Loved Them Most by suggesting a breakup. We had both made a great deal of how much we loved each other because we wanted it to be true, we wanted to convince ourselves we were feeling that rush of being in love with someone, we wanted to not feel lonely and defective anymore.
    He offered that I could move to New City with him if I liked. I think he imagined that I would say no, since my family and education were both firmly rooted in Home City, but he offered anyway because he didn’t want to be the Bad Guy who was Ending Things. When he casually offered, for the sake of my self-esteem I convinced myself I was hearing ‘Let’s do whatever it takes to make this relationship work because I love you and being without you would hurt me more than anything,’ and I wanted him to love me that much, and I wanted to believe I loved him that much, so I said yes. I was in love with a fairytale idea of what our relationship was; in love with the thought of being in love. Also, I couldn’t even conteplate being the Bad Guy who was Ending Things by saying I didn’t want to go with him – it sounded too much like saying I didn’t want him, which made me feel like a horrible person who was hurting him.

    He actually looked faintly alarmed at my acceptance as I recall, but neither of us was willing to be the Less Committed Peron, so I went with him, and we moved in together, and I commuted back to Home City for my education during the week. It took more than two hours in each direction, and every day I wasn’t studying I was working to pay for the commute, I was out of bed before six-thirty seven days a week, and my health took a nose-dive as a result. All because I felt I would be a terrible human being if I said, ‘I’m not really invested enough in this relationship to move to New City to be with you, so I guess we should break up now.’

    In a perverse way, the more I suffered, the more I felt like it proved how much I loved him, how much I was prepared to sacrifice to be with him. I had become very attached to Boyfriend, sort of dependent on my relationship with him for my self-esteem I guess, and I had convinced myself that this was what it meant to have the adult kind of love that you grow into, and that it was better than the giddy swirly kind. But by the time we had been in New City for a year, I found there was a sly voice in my head that I couldn’t squash no matter how hard I tried. You don’t love Boyfriend. You don’t want to be with him. Every time you tell him you love him, it’s a lie. You’re a horrible, horrible human being and you don’t deserve to have someone as loving and devoted as him.

    I told myself it wasn’t true. That it was just a broken, neurotic part of my brain, proving to me that I was damaged goods, and that I would be a horrible person to make Boyfriend suffer for my stupid CrazyBrain, that I would be throwing away the best thing that ever happened to me and I would regret it. That I had made my choice and now I had to live with it, because that was what it meant to be an adult and be responsible for yourself. That I had encouraged his interest in me, and professed an interest in him, that I had made this happen and it was way too late to take it back now, because hurting him when he’d done nothing to deserve it would make me worse than worthless, and I would never be able to look at my own face in the mirror again.

    By the two-year mark, I was so miserable that something had to give. I was having intense fits of poor mental health such as deliberately smashing my prescription spectacles and breaking my mobile phone against the wall, forms of self-harm that wouldn’t show on my naked body at bedtime. I once faked a fainting spell at work because I simply could not stand to be there for another second or I would start screaming and never stop, and I couldn’t afford to lose my waitressing job like that because there was rent to pay. My coworkers called for an ambulance and everything; it was awful. The devoted attention I got from Boyfriend that evening was like a soothing balm, but the next day it was back to the grindstone and everything was horribly, soul-rendingly awful all over again, nothing had changed, and I knew this couldn’t be my life anymore. I told Boyfriend I was going back to Home City and resuming the education I’d dropped out of, with or without him.
    Once again we were looking at a breakup scenario, and once again we both did whatever it took to avoid being the one to say the words. I think a part of me hoped Boyfriend would be angry, as this would make for an easy breakup with a clear Good Guy and Bad Guy. He quietly chose to come back to Home City with me. A couple of days later he did suggest that maybe we should live separately when we got there. I think he was also sort-of hoping that I would pitch a fit so a breakup could happen, leaving him safely in the position of being the victim of the scenario. I didn’t pitch a fit, because I was a Nice Accomodating Person who didn’t hurt others with my own selfish needs. Trouble was, so was he. Neither of us knew how to be assertive, or how to give importance to our own individual desires. With both clung fiercely to the passive parts of our identity, as if it were a competition, as if the first person to say I think we should break up would be the deserving loser. Would be condemned to a life of being a terrible person forever, for the gross sin of being okay with hurting someone else in order to advance their own happiness.

    In the end, he was braver than me. It ground him down too; we were both unhappy for a very long time, and pretty much blind to each other’s unhappiness. He ended our relationship in a quiet public place and arranged for one of my friends to come meet me directly afterwards, so I wouldn’t have to face the bus journey home alone. We both cried, and it was pretty horrible, but not nearly as horrible as another two and a half years would have been. Boyfriend had told me, when we first became a couple, that he’d had nine girlfriends before me and that he’d always been the one to get dumped every time. He said it as though he were a poor ill-used victim who needed comforting, but also with a kind of perverse pride, that he was such a nice person that he would never dump anybody. But in the end, I won. I trumped him; I was better at clinging on in the face of misery than he was. It was a sick competition and I’m grateful to him, now, for having the courage that I didn’t; for effectively falling on his sword to bring it to an end. I imagine it must have profoundly shaken his sense of identity to leave me. I hope he took a good lesson from it once he’d healed up. I know I did.

    So there you have it. That’s my story, and I think it’s pretty similar to yours, LW, and I can vouch for how much happier I was after my mourning period for the relationship was over, and how much happier my boyfriend was too. He lives in another country now and has a gorgeous daughter. I cracked on with the education that I returned to Home City for, and am now enjoying a well-paid professional career. We are both so much happier for not feeling trapped in a relationship that made neither of us happy by our own fears of being horrible people. Whatever you choose, LW, I wish you all the health, happiness and adventure in your life that I have found in mine.

    ***jedi hugs***

  35. I was with a Darth Vader boyfriend and then met someone who was kind and I did have pants feelings with but ultimately wasn’t giving me any WOWTHISISAMAZING. I stayed with him because I had begun to associate the WOWTHISISAMAZING with Darth Vader traits and thought you couldn’t have both the WOWTHISISAMAZING and the good, healthy, strong relationship with the trustworthy kind man. I know this isn’t your problem LW as you haven’t had a Darth Vader boyfriend but the point is that this kind guy who I am still friends with taught me lots and lots of things and I was a better me after the relationship because of the things I had learnt from him. If you do break up with John you will have gained so much from that relationship and it will not be a waste to either of you. You will not have failed. You will have grown.

    Whatever you do, don’t stay with him resenting him a little bit because that can lead to arguments over small things that aren’t really about those small things but the fact you are resenting him. I know, because I stayed with the kind guy for too long and that wasn’t fair to him.

    Do whatever will make you both happiest. Good luck and hugs to you whatever you decide.

  36. Jake said:

    LW, I want to give you the perspective from the other side of this. When I was 20/21 I dated this amazing woman, and I was crazy into her. She was hot and smart and we shared values and we had had mutual crushes for quite a while, so everything was great. I wasn’t her first girlfriend and I don’t actually think she was at all dissatisfied with me or our relationship, but at some point she realized that there were a number of other people in our social group, including some of the very cool folks, were into her and hitting on her. She had always had low body confidence and felt like she was unattractive, so for her this felt like a brand new experience, to be all hot shit and wanted by people, and she wanted to explore it. So, even though there was nothing actually wrong with our relationship, she dumped me.

    Now, I won’t pretend it didn’t hurt or that I wasn’t upset. Getting to see your ex mack on your friends every time you go out with the group is a pretty shitty experience, but even at the time I had to admit that in her shoes I would have done the same thing. And now, with several years hindsight, I have to say that she absolutely did the right thing for both of us. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay with someone who was just with me out of obligation, or just because she couldn’t find anything wrong with me.

    Not everyone needs those experiences of playing the field, enjoying being wanted by multiple people at once, but if you feel like you do, you should go get it.

  37. clodia said:

    I married my first partner, and reader, I am still married to him. We’ve both put in a lot of work and our relationship is a good one. That being said, if I were to go back in time 10 years, I would advise myself to break up with him when I was pondering it. I did not make the smartest decision in staying with him. I did not make it for the right reasons. It’s paid off, but I’m very lucky in that regard.

    Those doubts are there for a reason. If you’re not 100% behind this relationship, then you should explore them, talk to your partner about them, figure out if you are actually happy or if you’re just settling. If you decide to go or to stay, commit to it.

    Good luck, LW. My advice is to go, but that’s a highly personalized opinion. Figure out what you really want, and why you want it.

  38. Being in a long term relationship doesn’t make you blind. Of course you’ll get attracted to other people now and again. It’s what you make of those feelings that make the difference. Flirting is fun and doesn’t mean you have to sleep with that person. Just know, LW, that that part is perfectly normal.

    The part of your letter that worries me are your attempts to shame yourself. It seems like you don’t have the best self-confidence in the world. That’s okay, you can work on that! Lots of us do. And you can work on finding your value as a person. Your market price is the same whether zero or twenty people like how you look. You’re already great.

    If you could keep your relationship with John minus the sex, would you? Does that idea make you feel relieved?

  39. Is there any way to learn the identity of the LW? Because she sounds like this girl I know.

    • I know it’s anonymous for a reason, but I feel like I know the LW, and if she is who I’m thinking, her boyfriend wasn’t always the best.

    • I’m not The Captain, but I’m going to answer anyway. Yes, LWs are anonymous for a reason: to make this a safe space for people to ask questions and reveal personal information they maybe don’t want to reveal to the world as having to do with them. After all, that’s a big part of why you ask a stranger instead of your mum, or your BFF. (Along with the Captain’s unparalleled wisdom, of course).

      It would be a huge breach of trust, and of site policies, to change that deal on people after they’ve made themselves vulnerable, which is why the Captain would never, ever do it. As she says:

      I do not share your personal email address or identity, with one exception: People who threaten or harass me or other posters will have their names, emails, and IP addresses shared with their internet service providers and, if necessary, law enforcement.

      If she won’t release the e-mail address of an Internet troll (and she has made clear she won’t), do you really think she’d release the identity of a letter writer who trusted her with their story, just because you think you recognize someone’s fact pattern and are kinda curious? No.

      Your casual desire to know is nothing compared to the importance of honoring that trust.

      • I’m so so sorry for imposing my curiosity and violating the importance of anonymity. I just reacted really strongly, out of sadness, and out of guilt. If LW is who I thought she was, I helped her boyfriend cover up his infidelities, and I’m absolutely ashamed of it. If she was wavering, I just thought she should know.

        I’m sorry for breaking the rules of the space, and I’m sorry for what I did. I was out of line and I humbly retract my inquiry.

        • And I’m sorry if I came on too strong and made you feel smacked. Asking didn’t hurt anyone, I just thought it seemed appropriate to reiterate the why (and the policy), so nobody wonders for a millisecond whether their privacy is sacrosanct.

          (And like I said, I’m not speaking officially, I’m just pretty sure I know the Captain well enough by now to speak to the issue).

          • No, I was out of line by violating the rules of the space. I only intended to send a message to LW through the Captain if I could. Regardless, intent to help does not excuse me for being rude.

            I appreciate your honest comment; I wasn’t offended at all. I’m grateful for the second chance, and I promise to follow the rules of the space. I just wish to continue reading here.

        • caryatid said:

          hey cafeaulait – if you really want to make this right, maybe you could go the boyfriend and tell him out of line you both were and that you will never cover for him or lie for him again.

          i don’t suggest throwing this bomb at the poor girlfriend out of nowhere.

          • Yeah – I considered saying “If you have amends you need to make to someone in your life, no reason to go via Captain Awkward, because you KNOW them.”

            But then I thought about cafeaulait popping up in someone’s life and saying “BTW, your BF cheated on you and I helped cover that up and now I’m ashamed of that, so I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

            And that would clearly be one of those apologies for the sake of the apologizer (seeking absolution), not to make the apologizees’s life better. And you just don’t have the right to rake up more pain in your past victim’s life by prioritizing your desire to clear your conscience over their need to move on from those painful events (to which, from their perspective, you and your actions would have been peripheral) in whatever way works best for them. You atone by sucking up your guilt and making sure you don’t do that shit again, not by picking at your victim’s partially healed scabs.

          • Thanks for the advice. He and I already have agreed to this, but if I knew that LW was debating her relationship, I thought it would be appropriate and not “out of nowhere.”

            It was one of those things that just should die, (it was a stupid, drunken mistake over a year ago) and I guess that I should just forgive myself and move on. Because I have no evidence that I actually know LW, and no evidence that she is unhappy, it would be out of nowhere. You’re right.

      • JenniferP said:

        I agree 100% with alphakitty – what a strange, uncool request!

        • Really sorry everyone. I only meant to help, but it was out of line and inappropriate. I recognize what I did was completely wrong, and sincerely apologize to the community.

          It’s not right for me to ask the community to break a rule just because I have a guilty conscience. I’m sorry, everyone, and won’t be commenting again here until I fully understand the rules.

          • JenniferP said:

            Okay, one favor you could do for me right now is to stop posting in this thread. And everyone else can please stop replying to you, and we’ll start over on another day in another thread.

            As more and more people read this space, it’s not crazy that you might recognize a situation that sounds familiar, but (if you can’t tell from the large amount of responses that say “OMG, I could have written this!”) it may just be a similar situation since the same issues crop up over and over in your relationship. This whole place functions on questioners having some reasonable expectation of anonymity. Hopefully you get it now.

  40. I have found that when a relationship starts out poly, it does make working through difficulties easier in the sense that you can focus on how to make things work without worrying how your emotional needs will get met tomorrow. However, this is only the case if both people are already on board with the system and used to the poly dynamic. It’s not really a good way to just “shop around.”

    The question that you should ask yourself is, “If I break up with John and ask someone else out, will I feel trapped with them too?” If the answer to that question is ‘yes’ then polyamory may be your solution. Otherwise, the problem is with the people (read John) and not with your chosen relationship structure. If you consider poly, I would almost be tempted to tell you to break up with John and then do poly with future partners. If you still wanted John after you got used to the poly thing with a new person, ask him if he wanted to try things again in a poly context.

    • Polyglot said:

      I’d be rather wary of suggesting rules and structures about how opening up would or would not work… these tend to be highly specific of people and situations. And there are people who find themselves happily monogamous with one person, and happily nonmonogamous with another person. The bottom line is that LW needs to think about what she wants and then have a sincere conversation with her boyfriend, rather than bind herself to some course of action or other.

  41. popesuburban said:

    Oh, hey, Past Self! Except not really, but I’ll get to that. I hadn’t had any serious relationships until my current one. Just a few short-term things, some party makeouts, the usual. Then I met this dude, and he wanted to be A Thing, and I had Issues that made me do that really, really slowly. Then, suddenly, from nowehere, other boys started popping up! Suddenly, boys– thousands of them! And they were nice and cute too, and I started wondering if I should cut my ropes and go on a casual-dating spree. I asked myself all the same questions you are asking yourself. I agonized a little bit, I felt a wee bit shamed, I tried heroically to separate cultural expectations from what I needed to be happy.

    We already know how the story ends, what with the spoiler right up top, but I wanted to get to why I don’t think your situation is quite mine. See, I had the same questions, but they resolved themselves really fast every time I thought them. Sure, these other boys were cute, but I had a lot of fun with this guy. We could talk about anything. We had, by this point, an awesome cat. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing, because it was fun as hell and really good for me as a person. The possibility of endless hook-ups was alluring, but it ended up not holding a candle to the life I already had. Makeouts and sex are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I had all that and then a bunch of other stuff.

    I don’t really see the same outcome or process with you. You seem not to have a huge list of enthusiastic reasons why you actually do want to stay (even if it means passing up hot classmates or waiters). You’re not grappling with “I’m in a relationship, I’m not dead– I’m still going to PANTSLIKE other dudes,” as far as I can tell. You’re grappling with feeling like you need a good/serious reason to leave a relationship, because oh, people would kill for blah blah blah. Cultural expectations are that you don’t leave someone unless they are horrible. You can’t make this guy horrible, so you can’t leave. Except that you can, because you know what? “I don’t want to do this anymore” is all the reason anyone needs. If you are sitting there trying to gnaw your arm off, stop. You’re not actually trapped. You can (and maybe should) break this off and take some time for yourself. There is nothing wrong with that, and anyone saying otherwise should be forced to walk barefoot through a minefield of cat puke. You should not have to settle in a situation that is making you feel a bit dead inside. If you want to go, then go– it’s okay.

  42. Hadar said:

    I don’t usually comment, but on this one I’d like to offer my two cents. I part ways with the Captain at the point at which she confesses a bias against monogamous relationships that open over time. I’ve done research on the polyamorous community and interviewed dozens of people in poly relationships. Many of the more successful ones started with people who were monogamous for years and decided to open up when they felt solid and confident with each other. If that is something you are both on board with and feel comfortable with this idea, I would set bias aside and have a good conversation about this.

    • I was thinking that too – the Captain’s mailbox is probably weighted toward the cases where it DIDN’T go well. (Speaking as one in a 20+ year relationship that’s gone from monogamous to monogamish to happily-poly-for-years.)

    • JenniferP said:

      I believe you about your experiences and interviews!

      In my personal experience, it was a terrible idea (that ended up being kind of a good idea in the long run because it was the catalyst to actually breaking up with an incompatible partner.) The words were “I love you so much, but I also want to maybe be with other people, let’s do this so we can preserve our precious, amazing love!” The facts were “We are not attracted to each other and this is one last desperate attempt to shore up something that is not working.” If I could go back in time knowing what I know, I would say: “That will not work for me, so maybe we should break up now and skip to the part where we’re friends,” and based on the people who write in to me, I think more people should do that because many people squeeze themselves into painful shapes to preserve bad relationships because they think that breaking up with people is the worst thing in the world.

      In my inbox, this has almost always been a TERRIBLE idea, like, “I know we have three kids and a mortgage, but I’m going to start fucking this other lady, and because I’ve decided that I’m poly you’re going to pretend to be okay with it, cool? Or else I’ll leave you alone to parent three kids and fuck my way merrily across the land. By the way, my new girlfriend wants to meet you, she’ll be over tomorrow. I’m sure you’ll be friends.”

      The people who are happy with their poly arrangements (however they arrived at them) read the site but usually don’t send in their questions, so I get the horror stories. I totally admit I have a bias, but I came by it as honestly as you did your opposite opinion. I see a bias in the poly questions I get against breaking up, or in support of a fallacy that all pantsfeelings should be acted upon or consumated or meaningful, and all breakups should be avoided as long as possible because some poly solution will save the day.

      I definitely don’t want to turn this thread into “Polyamory: How it is Great.” There are other sites that do that, right? Books, communities, blogs totally devoted to how it is great? I may bring in Cliff Pervocracy to answer some poly-related questions from time to time, but I’d prefer not to have guest posts from someone who does not comment regularly at this time. My advice to the LW is the same: Tread cautiously with this, don’t expect your partner to be totally & immediately excited about it, and often when this comes up (especially in a new relationship, or one that you’re seriously reconsidering), it’s a sign that the relationship is about to be/should be over).

      • Polyglot said:

        May I humbly suggest that one reason poly people do not bring their problems here might be that they feel the negative slant against poly? There was a response here a few weeks ago, regarding a LW who caught her husband receiving naked pictures from someone online. The commentator made the mistake of mentioning she was poly, and even though what she said (beyond the empathy to the LW, perhaps it might not be a bad idea to admit that monogamy is hard and reconsider whether this incident is a dealbreaker) was respectfully said and eminently sensible, she was immediately silenced by people who just would not hear anything about poly LALALALALA. I’ve certainly felt it and have therefore taken my relationship issues elsewhere.

        Moreover: The reason happy poly people – or happy monogamous people, for that matter – might not bring relationship problems to this inbox is because they might not have relationship problems worth bringing here.

        • I remember that exchange — and without going back to re-read, it was a LW who was upset because her SO (husband) looked at naked pics of an old school chum and then pretended he hadn’t known she meant she was going to send NAKED pics while also claiming he hadn’t looked. All highly implausible. And the LW was feeling betrayed/devastated because his behavior felt like a breach of the terms of their relationship.

          The poly person chimed in with something to the effect that from his/her perspective as a poly person, he/she wanted to point out that what the husband had done didn’t need to be a deal breaker. And what you’re portraying as the poly person being “Silenced” was just people saying “Not helpful! LW gets to decide what constitutes cheating/a deal breaker for her relationship; the fact that other people might configure their relationships in such a way that it wouldn’t be cheating at all is irrelevant to this LW’s pain.” Not LALALA unwilling to hear about poly at all, just “ahem, not now!”

        • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

          What alphakitty said. My own suspicion is that the situations that turn up here are less often about someone genuinely polyamorous than someone who simply uses the term to justify cheating on a partner or pressuring them into accepting something they don’t want.

        • JenniferP said:

          “May I humbly suggest that one reason poly people do not bring their problems here might be that they feel the negative slant against poly?”

          That sounds great to me! I’ve answered questions from poly people trying to do the best I can to answer as I would about any other relationship. I take a pass the ones that I don’t think I have anything to say about. I make my biases explicit so that people can judge whether they want me to weigh in on their questions in the first place. I do delete polyvangelism when it derails a discussion. I also am not that into re-opening discussions on two-month old comment moderation, so consider that subject a permanently closed one.

          People who feel slighted by that should take those issues to other sites.

          “The reason happy poly people – or happy monogamous people, for that matter – might not bring relationship problems to this inbox is because they might not have relationship problems worth bringing here.”

          That is not in any way a problem. That is a thing to be celebrated! People without problems NOT sending me NOT-PROBLEMS.

          Listen, I believe that there are happy poly people! I’m not interested in reading your extensive research and/or anecdata. Take it to a blogger who is super-interested in it. In my experience, poly people LOVE talking about poly dynamics. I’m not that blogger.

        • JenniferP said:

          Also, can you please use a consistent identity when commenting here? Polyglot = Hadar. Thank you.

        • elodierose said:

          No one blogger is going to be an expert on every possible relationship dynamic there could be. This one happens to be pretty damn awesome at most of them, and has a whole lot of excellent advise about plenty of them.
          I actually found the Captain through reading Cliff Pervocracy, who I stumbled upon when I was struggling with some poly dynamic issues. If the LW wants to explore that as a possible option, the Captain has already flagged Cliff Pervocracy as a good resource for the poly or poly-curious, and I can heartily concur. Poly love isn’t for everyone, and it honestly does take a lot more work, and a very evolved level of communication.
          There’s nothing wrong with advising the LW to proceed with caution, and sending them to a blog with more poly related posts to read.

        • Manatee said:

          Actually one of the (many) reasons I love this blog is because of the stance the Captain takes on poly which I find to be respectful but not slavishly enamoured or unquestioning as is too often the case on the interwebs. The main theme of the advice on this site seems to be about boundaries and the fact that the people involved in any given situation get to set and preserve their own boundaries. Therefore the distinctions between different relationships here aren’t poly/mono, gay/straight, kink/vanilla etc, but about respectful of boundaries/not respectful of boundaries which cuts across all of those other categories in a way that is actually about the relationship dynamics and not lifestyle choices and which actually often reveals the specifics of those lifestyle choices to be fairly irrelevant to the real root problems.

          • Griffy Kate said:

            ALL THE THIS. <3

          • Well said!

    • Many of the more successful [poly relationships] started with people who were monogamous for years and decided to open up when they felt solid and confident with each other.

      Right, and the LW seems neither confident nor solid in her relationship, ergo opening it up is not the best idea.

      And anyone else who writes to CA about their relationship troubles is, well, having relationship troubles, and therefore going poly is probably not a fantastic idea for them either. So I’m firmly behind The Captain in her bias – and I say this as someone who did open up a monogamous relationship successfully*.

      *We are now broken up, but the openness wasn’t the reason.

      • As a poly person, it’s not very nice from the our side either if you open up and it’s a bad idea. I don’t particularly want more people being poly who shouldn’t be, just for the sake of having more people out there.

        I’d much rather date happy, secure people in happy relationships. I’d be very upset if I got suckered into something bad.

  43. FlyBy said:

    Another “I married my first boyfriend!” unicorn here. Seven years together and counting. There were a lot of things that allowed that to happen, though. I completely understand why most people don’t stay with their first, and I’m kind of surprised that it’s worked out this way for me.

    I still daydream sometimes about what I might be doing if I were single. Not because I’m unhappy here, but because choosing this path meant forgoing some others that also could have been fun. So I imagine living downtown in a cool old apartment for a while, and ways I might meet other guys, and what other guys might be like, and so forth. But when I step back and ask myself, “Self, would you really trade what you’ve got now for that?” the answer is a resounding NO.

    Daydreaming about other good things is normal, and I’d actually be kind of worried if I couldn’t imagine being happy anywhere else. They can be a warning sign that you’re not happy with your current relationship, but they aren’t necessarily. If it’s bothering you, it’s worth stepping back and evaluating whether what you have is really what you want. As others have said, “I’m not feeling it” is a valid reason to end a relationship. It’s better to end it when you realize you’re not feeling it than to spend years doing relationship CPR and eventually having to admit you’re working on a corpse, and it’s starting to smell bad.

    I don’t think there’s a wrong choice here, and it’s not a choice that has to be made permanently, now. If you evaluate your relationship and decide you want to stay with John, you’re always free to reevaluate further down the line. You’ve got time to think it over.

    • Badger Rose said:

      Daydreaming about other good things is normal, and I’d actually be kind of worried if I couldn’t imagine being happy anywhere else. They can be a warning sign that you’re not happy with your current relationship, but they aren’t necessarily. If it’s bothering you, it’s worth stepping back and evaluating whether what you have is really what you want.

      This is really true. I think in a lot of ways it’s like anything else. To use an inherently imperfect metaphor… right now I’m quite happy with my job, but I still occasionally daydream about “what if I’d decided to become a teacher/lawyer/jeweler/harpist/marine biologist instead?” and see how that plays out in my head. It’s not dissatisfaction, it’s just… well, daydreaming, and as you say, acknowledging that there is more than one potential life I could have lead, and some of the other ones can be happy too.

      By contrast, when I was in a job I hated, it wasn’t so much “daydreaming and wondering” as “hungrily fantasizing about”–and that was a sign that I needed out. It’s hard to exactly quantify the difference, but it’s definitely a different feeling.

      I think the same thing can be true of partners. There’s a difference between idly daydreaming about something new, and thinking about it with a real hunger or desperation, and it can be really useful to evaluate which is going on.

      • elodierose said:

        The best way I’ve found to try and figure out if I’m just fondly reminiscing about the good ol’ single days, or if it’s a more significant dissatisfaction is to ask myself “If this situation didn’t change at all in the next 12 months, would I be content, or does that thought make me cringe a bit?”
        When I’ve really needed to leave a job, or a relationship, mentally picturing myself still being there in a years time gave me this weird jolt of anxiety. If it was just a daydream, mentally picturing myself there in a years time didn’t have that same stomach-knot effect.

        • espritdecorps said:

          Occasionally I get truly good and riled up at Mr. Corps, and the D-word comes to mind. I think of all the logistics of actually doing that and starting to date again, and being with someone else, and it feels terrible and lonely.
          I like your way better. It would be warm and comforting while still putting things into perspective.

          • elodierose said:

            Yeah, its maybe softer than “how can I get out if I choose to?” because leaving a relationship can be tricky logistically, especially if you’ve combined house/money/children/pets. So instead of thinking “but where would I live, who would get the cat?” I try and think about being on the other side of the immediate fallout…with a new apartment, kitten safely rehoused there, and open to dating again…if I feel that sense of relief picturing that, then there’s my answer. If it feels sad and like it’s missing something, then either I’m just daydreaming, or I’m not quite ready to let this one go.

  44. Vee said:

    I’m a unicorn (married to my first serious partner, my only other relationship being one guy for three weeks when I was 15). It doesn’t sound like you are happy, but I am a good example of people being able to grow and develop while in a relationship.

    Being with one partner doesn’t necessarily mean that you are tied to one place – my relationship has switched between us living in the same place and living long distance (including different countries and continents). I have recently taken a job in a different city to my husband and am very happy, both in my relationship and my career progression. Long distance relationships won’t be for everyone, but meeting the love of your life early on doesn’t mean that you can’t move around and have these time of huge growth.

  45. sp4rema said:

    I’d just like to chime in with everyone saying “this sounds like me!”

    Mine was complicated by the fact that it was high school I still had feelings for my ex girlfriend who my parents disapproved of (largely for reasons of adjusting to the idea of their daughter being queer) while I was going out with this guy. He was a really fantastic guy and I liked him a lot at first, but I ended up resenting the fact that my parents liked him and not the girl I maybe liked more, and then I spent a good few months being utterly miserable and hating myself for not liking him as much as I should and thinking maybe if I stayed with him things would get better and also freaking out because what if I broke up with him and then realised it was a huge mistake?

    I can’t promise this will be true for you, but when I eventually did break up with him it was like a huge weight off my shoulders and I was SO MUCH HAPPIER. I felt so ridiculous for waiting so long and worrying so much about it being a mistake because at the time it felt like the best decision I’d ever made. If you do break up and feel sad for a bit, that’s totally normal and doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake, but take it from me – sometimes breaking up is so unquestionably the right thing to do that your happiness levels increase more or less right away.

    But yeah if it’s the “but what if breaking up turns out to be a huge mistake?” thing that’s holding you back… even if you really do end up regretting it, things will still be okay in the end. Whether you get back together with him after being single for a while/dating other people, or whether you meet someone else, or whether you decide you actually like being single, your life will not be over because of one bad romantic decision about your first boyfriend. And that’s if it even is a bad decision, which I honestly do not think it would be.

    • Mostly Lurking said:

      If you do break up and feel sad for a bit, that’s totally normal and doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake

      Heck, I felt sad after managing to disentangle from a Darth Vader, because we *had* had good times and common hobbies, but I missed the person I had once upon a time been doing interesting things with more than the not-good-for-me partner that I actually had been living with.

      And even breaking up a relationship with someone who is treating you badly isn’t easy. In a way I was lucky that ‘is this the right thing to do’ got resounding confirmations all of the time, because no, I didn’t regret breaking up at all… but I still felt sad from time to time.

  46. Leonine said:

    I can’t really do much besides add to what others in this thread have already said: this sounds frighteningly like my experience in my last two serious relationships, both of which continued long after they had really run their course. The first was three years with a Darth Vader. The second was seven years with a lovely, kind, clever, loving man. There was nothing “wrong”. We weren’t miserable. Our friends would tell us how much they admired and envied our relationship. But for about the last three or so years (!), I was constantly having to push down niggling doubts. Fantasies about packing a bag and getting on a boat. Wondering what if, where else I could be, what could have been. Thinking about being here ten, twenty years in the future and then quickly stopping because I didn’t know what to do with the mild panic that would start to surface. And, just like the LW, feeling guilty – believing I was a horrible, selfish person for feeling like this, not knowing how to justify what I felt, developing stupid crushes on other people and being riddled with more guilt, telling myself the grass isn’t really greener and I should stop being silly and behave like a grownup.

    Then, guess what? He left me. (I know, right?! How rude!) It was painful and terrible and confusing and awful and took me a long time to recover fully from. But even while I was recovering and hurting in shock – there was also an undercurrent of relief. And possibility. The first thing I did when I could get out of bed and function again was I bought a plane ticket to spend a month somewhere I’d always wanted to go but that my ex wasn’t interested in. A year later I moved continents to pursue a crazy dream that I’d always wanted to pursue but that he’d always thought of in terms of the obstacles. And, right now, I feel more comfortable in my skin than I have ever done before. My life outside is starting to resemble my life inside. I’ve turned down several potential relationships because I’ve learnt that good enough isn’t good enough, even in my darkest moments of loneliness and anxiety and fear of the future. If I’m ever in a relationship again, it will be with someone with whom I feel as much of a sense of possibility and adventure and slight craziness that I feel by myself.

    If my 30-year-self was going to go back in time and tell my 20-year-old self anything, it would be: don’t stay in a relationship (of any kind, not just romantic/sexual) that makes you feel smaller rather than bigger. And: that little voice in the back of your head? The one that you keep telling to stop being silly? The one that would make your life really difficult and complicated if you ever followed any of its suggestions? It’s always, without fail, right.

  47. espritdecorps said:

    Because the subject of polyamory has come up here, I want to put out there that one can be monogamous within relationships, but date multiple people outside of them. It worked well for me, as someone who kept getting trapped in bad relationships because of serial monogamy.
    I spent a couple of years dating multiple people without being committed to any of them, and it was a great way to explore what I wanted out of a relationship without getting trapped by any specific one. My future husband was in the mix for a while, and I knew it was love when I would be having a good time with another man, and spending the whole time wishing it was him. I ended my other relationships and we’ve been exclusive for 8 years now.
    Back in the days before birth control a woman was expected to have multiple suitors. When sex before marriage became the default, women were scared to be labeled sluts, and serial monogamy was born. But nowadays there’s no reason for a woman not to date around if she is so inclined.

  48. Cautious Zebra said:

    Dear LW, like many others commenting here, I can totally empathize with your situation, and I understand the whole “feeling trapped” thing. And Captain Akward’s response is pretty spot on.

    At 21 I got involved in a relationship with a guy at University who’d been a friend of mine for a few years. He wasn’t my first anything except for first serious boyfriend, and at the time there was definite attraction and pantsfeelings and excitement. He was the first guy to show an interest in being with me longer term, and after the few crappy dudes I’d been involved with/slept with he was a revelation. The ‘being friends first’ thing also really helped – I knew I could trust him not to use me.

    We went through so many things together – travel, discovering new ideas, new cuisines, meeting new couples – it was all great. My entire family loved him, and his family loved me. But gradually, as we got older, it became clear that he was much more into me than I was into him, and I started to realize that a lot of my identity had been compromised to fit in with him. We saw movies he liked, had discussions about things he was into, hung out with people he liked. We did almost everything together, and I would bring him to things my friends had invited me alone to, not recognizing the benefits of alone time in a relationship. Ultimately I realized that I wasn’t sexually attracted to him anymore, but I didn’t know how to express that, because I loved him – he was my best friend – and didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

    We ended up staying together 8 years, but the last few were full of awkward, and eventually awful, moments that took years to get over.

    I can’t presume to know your exact situation, but if I could spare you from awful moments like the ones below I would do it in a heartbeat:
    -feeling like there’s no way out
    -feeling like you “owe” him cos he’s a good guy and you’re being irrational and stupid, and your family loves him and he’s the best guy you’ve been with.
    -feeling disgusted when he touches you, but not being able to explain why – leading to no sex for months
    -eventually giving in and having bad sex that feels wrong and uncomfortable
    -getting things together enough to get more back on track, but then to completely freak out and experience a semi-panic attack when he proposes and you don’t know what to say, because you don’t want to hurt his feelings
    -still staying together after the rejection of the proposal in the hope that it can ‘just go back to how it was’
    -terrible nights of awfulness and silences and distrust
    -eventually dealing with betrayal when he cheats, although looking back, you can understand a little better where it came from
    -neither one of you being brave enough to end it, even though you’re both miserable.

    Fast forward almost 10 years and I’m in a much better place. No, I haven’t met Mr Right yet, but ending that relationship was the right thing to do. I saw a therapist for the counselling I needed (that he had refused to go to with me to try and work it out) – yay therapy! I began to re-learn who I was, I dated, I met great new people, I grew in ways I didn’t even know were possible. I felt brave enough to go traveling around the world on my own, and eventually I moved to NYC. I’ve had some good relationships since, dated a whole bunch, changed careers and I’m much clearer about who I am and what I want in a relationship.

    I don’t regret being with him – I really did love him – it’s just that I was too young to know how to say “it’s not working anymore” and to bow out gracefully. He and I still have a lot in common, and a friendship between us still exists, although living in different countries means we don’t see each other, but we have facebook and email occasionally. He also moved on, traveled, changed direction in his career and eventually married someone else.

    He’ll still be the person I shared many special moments with, but when you know in your heart of hearts that it isn’t the right person for you for the rest of your life, you have to brave enough to move on.

    One part of the fallout was our “couple friends”. Some picked sides, which made me really sad. Some of those people are lost to me, but I’m not sad to see them go. Some were totally impartial, or at least kept up with both of us while being supportive, and I still love them. As well as wonderful old friends, I met new amazing people to surround myself with, and they were the cheer squad who helped me get back on my feet.

    If you read about my experiences and think “woah – this isn’t what I’m going through at all!” then more power to you! Maybe you’re just questioning things and not heading downwards in a spiral that can be so hard to drag yourself out of. But just know that if you decide that you need to leave and explore who you are and what you want, you have so much to look forward to.

    Stay strong and trust your gut instincts.

  49. anon said:

    There isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t already been said, so I’m just going to add this: LW, if you’re not happy in that relationship, please get out of it before something happens that makes it even more difficult to leave. Examples of something happening are:

    -Pregnancy
    -Marriage (if you have a hard time saying no)
    -Buying a house together (again, if you have a hard time saying no)

    And then are things that are a lot less obvious, which brings me to my own story. After spending my childhood, adolescence, and twenties in a state of lovelessness, I was blown away when a guy actually fell in love with me. I convinced myself that I loved him back, even though the attraction was mostly intellectual, and I felt no physical attraction to him at all. And yes, because of my past I have a hard time saying no to anyone. I married him, even though I knew it was a mistake. But I am not going to leave him, because two things happened:

    -I got myself in a heap of trouble, and he got me out of it, at great cost to himself.
    -I got myself in another heap of trouble (related to the first) and again he got me out of it, again at great cost to himself.

    Now he’s partially disabled, and I absolutely will NOT leave him to fend for himself, no matter how unfulfilled I feel in this relationship. Because I would literally be unable to live with myself if I did. But if I could go back in time to talk to my younger self, I would tell myself to not get involved with him in the first place, or if I did anyway, to get out while I had the chance to do so with a clear conscience.

    I’m only putting this out there for information’s sake, not to ask for advice or sympathy. I would appreciate if nobody answers this comment with “you should leave him anyway” type comments, because I’ve made my decision and I’m sticking with it.

    • Leela said:

      Excellent point. It’s easier to end things when there aren’t legal ties involved.

      And I know you didn’t ask for them, but I’m sending Jedi hugs if you’d like them.

  50. Mostly Lurking said:

    Not in a relationship… but I realise that the general setup describes my life situation pretty well. I moved to a different country sixteen years ago because it was the right thing to do. And I had some awesome times, and made some really good friends, and had some great jobs (and some not-so-great ones) and lived in some great places (and some not-so-great ones).

    And then circumstances changed, and things that tied me to this place (like job/home, family obligations) went away, so that I am now drifting a little. There are many things I like about living here (like speaking my first language daily and with almost everybody I meet) and things I am becoming disillusioned with.

    I’ve already taken steps to leave temporarily, but I’ve been extremely unwilling to say that maybe this relationship is over, that maybe I should look to put down roots elsewhere, even if it’s not going to be my forever and ever home.

    I am currently freelancing, and struggling, but thanks to the almighty internet I could be freelancing-and-struggling almost anywhere.

    Maybe it’s time for me to pack up and go for real. The fact that nobody in this thread has said ‘no, just work at this relationship, even if it doesn’t fulfill you, everything else will be worse’ should be a hint.

    ‘Good enough’ isn’t.

    Best of luck, LW.

  51. emmych said:

    Aaaaaaaagh, LW, are you me? Because WOW I THINK YOU LIVE IN MY LIFE.

    I have the same feels and started a relationship in the same sort of situation (started dating, diagnosed with clinical depression about a month later, spent next year getting better), only…I do see a future? I want to have kids with her and buy a house together and go to Europe and shit, and the sex is AMAZING (I still don’t really know what I like, but I know what she likes and hnnnngh do I ever live giving her that <3), and she's my best friend.

    But I can't shake my adulterous feelings! Honestly, I wish they would leave me in peace so I could be in lesbians with my darling everywhere, but I can't help constantly imagining going out with my post-relationship-starting sexy confidence and exploring my sexual side with other people. But, in these fantasies, I always go back to my darling, not some faceless, future person.

    I want to be with her. I want to stay with her. I just wish we'd met when I was 25 instead of 19, and I'd had the chance to explore sex with more people before her.

    Anyone have any ideas on how to squash the sexy-itch feels, if that isn't too much of a derail? I just want these feelings to leave me and ma cherie alone. :(

    • J. Preposterice said:

      Masturbation. Sex toys. Active fantasy life. Erotica. Reading sex manuals and trying things out with your partner.

      No, really. I’ve been with my spouse since we were 19 (we’re 35 now) and all those things have been sexy-itch-feels, pants-on-fire squashers. They’re very helpful! Being with the person you love but feel like you met too young takes ALL kinds of work, and one of the kinds of work it takes is this sort.

  52. OhMyLanta said:

    Sorry to be crazily off-topic, but am I the only one reading the comments and singing “I’m a Christmas Unicorn”?

  53. SisterChromatid said:

    Can I just echo this part?

    “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?”

    LW, I was in a really similar situation a few years ago. Despite my lackluster feelings, I desperately tried to make it work. I made a lot of compromises in my life for him. Past me felt that I owed it to him, since he was amazing (no seriously) and because he wanted me when nobody else did. I was in college, so for me that meant things like weekends at his place instead of studying or hanging out with my friends, and looking for job somewhere that met both our needs when I graduated from college.

    The kicker is that I was pre-med at the time. I honestly don’t know what your situation is – maybe you’re already established and this isn’t hugely relevant. But in my experience, if you’re not at that place, making huge life choices around things like location, job, and family because you’re in a relationship with someone you’re “eh” about – well, it made me miserable and pretty resentful of this great guy. Depending on your job and situation, it’s harder to have certain kinds of flexibility – move across the country for graduate school! fly to Taiwan for 10 months! volunteer for the Peace Corps! – if you’re trying to maintain a relationship. It can be done! Plenty of people do it! But if you feel hampered and you’re not that into the guy? Much potential for pain and regrets. Possibly (honestly, probably) on both sides. So maybe something to consider is – do you want that unfettered freedom? Is that important to you, or might it be someday?

    Ultimately, it came down to a decision between staying with him or having the career I wanted because of some seriously clashing goals on both sides. And I picked career, and THANK GOD. I had so many adventures, and now I’m off to med school. I’m actually still friends with my ex, and he’s dating someone who is SO much better for him and he couldn’t be happier. And a funny irony (maybe? is this irony? someone help me, Alanis seriously confused me years ago): I actually did end up delaying med school this past year because I’m in a relationship with someone that I’m crazy about. It was totally the right decision for me and I have no regrets whatsoever. So the point of this way-too-long post is just to reiterate that staying with someone you’re not happy with can affect you in ways outside of your love life, and to think about what you might (or might not! I don’t know!) regret later by staying in this relationship.

    • A. This is an excellent post.
      B. You have an awesome username.

      That is all.

  54. Leela said:

    Ask yourself this- How would you feel if you were John? Would you want your partner to stay out of obligation, with resentment building? Is that fair to either of you?

    Will the breakup hurt him? Yes. Would both of you moving on to meet someone(s) who thinks you’re awesomesauce and have mad pantsfeelings for you be a good thing? Also yes.

    • Leela said:

      This is not meant to be guilt-trippy, BTW. I hope it doesn’t sound like that. Just something to consider.

  55. I feel like a bit of a fraud for trying to add my two cents considering my almost total lack of experience, at least in the last decade, but here I go anyway:

    LW, go with your gut feeling. I too feel concern for you for the same reasons that the Captain outlined in her answer. And as someone who was very prepared to long term date, sex, and maybe even marry a person I went on six dates with who was TOTALLY wrong for me simply because he was a man with a pulse, a job, and a few things in common with me, his not liking me romantically even though he was “supposed” to turned out to be a lifesaver. I would have gone along with pretending to like and/or love him if he had liked me romantically, all the while hoping that my “love” and comparative hotness would ultimately influence him to change all the things about him that I didn’t like and were, in actuality, deal breakers. I would have gone along because I have also spent a lot of my life feeling ugly and unwanted and unlovable and I figured that the six date ding dong was “better than nothin'”.

    Despite his wrongness, his “rejection” of me hurt, it did. I won’t pretend that breaking up with John probably won’t hurt him or you, but even though I still have prickly feelings about the ding dong and my ability to find, keep, and deserve romantic love, I KNOW deep down in the part of my heart that isn’t ridiculous that he did me a HUGE favor.

    I say end things with John. Explore your sexy bits and if allowed, the sexy bits belonging to others. See what it feels like to be interested in someone you don’t have to force or pretend to have feelings for. And that way, John can find his own happiness, whatever that is, and find it with someone who isn’t as conflicted about him as you seem to be. If it turns out that after exploring you realize that John WAS the peanut butter to your jelly, you can see if he’d be willing to give things another go. If he’s unwilling, he probably was not peanut butter after all, and probably just the Target-store brand almond butter you decided you’d try that one time.

    Anyway, best of luck to you. You sound interesting, thoughtful, and lovely. And if your male co-workers are to be believed, pretty smoking hot, too. You deserve real happiness. I hope you get it.

    (And TOTALLY read “What you really, really want”. It’s GREAT. I’m so glad that I took the Captain’s recommendation on that one even though it looks like it’ll be another decade before I get to do anything with a wiener. :-))

  56. Julie said:

    I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I was in a relationship with a guy for 4 years. We were living together, and I had followed him 1,000 miles when he got into grad school. Eventually, I began to question our relationship. Ultimately, we broke up.

    After our breakup, things were horrible. I hated myself. I missed him. I wanted him back. I went on dates with guys who treated me horribly, and then I missed him more. I was lonely.

    Fast forward to 3 years later, I am in a relationship with someone else. I love him. My ex is now engaged. Sometimes I wonder what could have been. However, I think of the things that I did for myself when we broke up and I think of what I have now. We are not friends because I think it would be weird and I also think it would be unfair to our current partners. I still think he is a good guy and I am happy for how his life has turned out now. Sometimes I wish I could have been a part of it.

    So just know, it will probably suck after the breakup. Be ready to accept that he is going to be with someone else. You might be alone for a long time. You might be lonely. Hopefully things will work out the way you want them to, but it will probably take some time.

  57. Elle said:

    Captain? Is all well?

    • JenniferP said:

      Sick & trying to get my grades in, but there is a new post up today. :)

      • Elle said:

        Oh, well hopefully you are feeling a bit better in time for Christmas! Have some Mince Pies and mulled wine and put your feet up!

        • JenniferP said:

          Thanks! I went to lunch and a pedicure with Commander Logic today, and we ate pie, and then I went grocery shopping for hot toddy supplies. :)

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