#383 & #384: Ladyboners

Count Rugen from The Princess Bride looking saturnine.
We are men of action, and lies like “It just happened!” do not become us.

Dear Team Awwkard,

Ok so here it is: I’m back at university after having to take time out due to depression and a very bad reaction to meds last year. I have a feeling that the depression was in a large part due to the relationship I was in at the time where my partner had Major Depression and Other Issues which meant I spent a lot of time trying to manage his crises, get him to seek help etc and deal with the emotional abuse that he threw at me when he had an ‘episode’. That relationship ended in February and I am much happier now, breaking up with him was a bit like stopping banging my head against a wall. I made the decision that since this is my last year of university and I am going to be thinking about jobs/a career/relocating that a serious relationship isn’t something I am looking for, because I want my decisions to be focused on what I want.  My family have been wonderful and supportive throughout everything and I am happy to be back at university although I still worry about things like work habits and slipping back into how I was behaving this time last year.

Over the summer I got a job at a pub to try to pay off my overdraft and met J. J, who has a girlfriend, worked in the kitchen and as most of the staff who worked at the pub tended to socialise after work together, we became friends, then good friends. He has just started university and I went to visit him during his freshers week because we enjoy going out together and he is fun to hang out with. Well the first night he explained that him and his girlfriend had decided that they were allowed to sleep with other people that they thought might be good relationship material. Their relationship is iffy, something I see as a combination of going off to university, the two year itch and probably other factors as well although we don’t tend to discuss it very often. Long story short, we wound up getting drunk that night and having sex. Very good sex. That happened again the next night and the morning after too.

Then I returned to university and since then he’s come up to see me twice, we text constantly (something which happened before the sex) and I enjoy hanging out with, and having sex with him. We’ve discussed me seeing/sleeping with other people (he minds but it’s fine as long as I am honest with him) but he’s recently told me he has romantic feelings for me and is considering breaking up with his girlfriend. Right now I’m confused because I don’t know if I have romantic feelings as well as pants feelings and friend feelings for this guy. I don’t know if I want a full blown romantic thing or things to continue as they are or what. I’m also dealing with fitting back into university after nearly a whole year of being away. The channels for communication are pretty open and we are planning on having a proper chat about this eventually because feelingstexts keep happening when one of us is drunk but I don’t know what to say or how to approach it.

Basically I feel like I need some guidance and perspective on the whole situation. It’s difficult to decipher in my head and my friends normally make generic noises about things like this so I’m reluctant to talk to them.

Please help!

Dazed & Confused 

Dear Dazed and Confused:

My inbox is FLOODED right now so thanks for something I feel like I can answer quickly.

1. As for whether to be serious with this guy, you don’t have to decide right now. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing and unsure about getting closer, that is a totally valid decision and you don’t have to lock shit down just because he’s making vague noises about feelings. Casual relationships are real relationships that can incorporate feelings and require good manners and consideration. There is no pressure for you to make it “more”, so only make it more if you want more with this particular guy. Also, you get to try out an actual boyfriend/girlfriend scenario if you want and then bail if it’s not working.

2. GIANT MASSIVE SIDE-EYE to someone who has a girlfriend but “minds” you seeing other people and who offers “breaking up with his girlfriend” as some kind of incentive. I mean, if he wants to have a real serious relationship with you, then breaking up with is girlfriend should probably happen, but it’s not something he needs your permission for or for you to make a decision about or should dangle out there like some special awesome carrot, and I’d be wary of anyone who needs that much of a safety net that he can’t risk being single for even one second before lining up the next person.

3. If you do become boyfriend & girlfriend would it be an open relationship or would you decide to be monogamous? Some soul-searching on your part about whether you are non-monogamous and what you want out of a relationship is in order. Make sure that what you decide is what you want vs. what you think will make you a Chill Girl. Only be cool/chill about him seeing other people if you are actually cool with it, not because you feel pressure.

4. Put your phone away (and turn it all the way off) when you’re drunk for the next couple of weeks and see what happens without those little FEELINGSPELLETS of attention.

5. Is this guy a welcome stress-relieving outlet from university life or a distraction/excuse to not fully embrace friendships/classes after a time away? Hot people who live far away are an EXCELLENT distraction from messy daily life.

No clarity, I’m afraid. But some topics for you to journal or think about while you decide. In the meantime, enjoy yourself.

Hi Captain Awkward,

I hope you can help. I’m about to hit my mid-thirties, and I’ve been in a relationship for just over 10 years. My partner is 4 years younger than me. It’s had its strains, but has been very happy, with us having mainly the same interests and friends. The last 4 years has seen a lot of upheaval for us. My remaining parent, my mother, who I was caring for, died, and the eventual upshot was that we moved to a major city and started to buy a house. This also meant that my partner was finally able to start a career that he really wanted, rather than muddling along because he wanted to be with me, even if it meant being in a place with few suitable jobs. 

Career-wise, it’s been a positive move for both of us, and even the redundancy I experienced 2 years down the line wasn’t a disaster, as the payoff meant that I could start a new career in the same field as my partner. Which is where the trouble started. My partner got me a job with the same employer, and although it’s been fine, it would have been a lot easier if I hadn’t fallen immediately in lust (from first sight; that’s never happened to me before) with another colleague (we’ll call him Mr X). You’ll probably think I’m silly, because absolutely nothing has happened between me and Mr X, save friendly chats, and some socialising. He’s dropped a few hints that he likes me (he’s single), but clearly has no desire to come on strong to someone who’s already attached. 

That hasn’t really helped me, though, as I’ve been a bit obsessed with him for a year now, and I can’t figure out whether my lack of sexual interest in my partner is due to Mr X being all new and exciting (I’ve never been this keen on someone for this period of time without having a relationship with them; and I’ve only had two of those), or whether I now love my partner more as a brother, as I do love him very much, and I’ve always looked after him. This is probably part of the problem as well, as although he holds down a very capable job, I’m still very much the ‘responsible adult’ outside of work. My partner also has some mental health issues which do make life more difficult, and which I’m now trying to get him to take responsibility for. I know he isn’t keen to do this, and I’m angry about it, but can’t fully express that without really upsetting him, which makes me feel awful. 

Being shift workers, we do have trouble finding time for sex, but the real problem from my point of view is that I’m beginning to feel like a performance artist. It’s fun to do things that satisfy him (apart from one fetish that I’ve tried and have difficulty with, so we’ve stopped), and I do end up satisfied too, but it’s not nearly as fun for me as it used to be. I’d love to tell him what I’d like, but I’m not totally sure of that myself, and in the meanwhile my partner spends an awful lot of time talking in sexual cliches, making me feel that it’s the idea of sex with me that turns him on, rather than actually being with me, if that makes sense.

I’ve read most of this site, which makes me suspect you’ll tell me that my relationship is over, but I enjoy being with my partner most of the time, and I’m not totally sure that I have the right to turn his life upside down just because my clit won’t shut up about a man that I don’t know THAT well. I’m looking for other jobs, but have mixed feelings about whether to cut ties with Mr X, as part of the social circle at work includes a long-standing friend who I’d be happy to keep in regular contact with. I’m also feeling a little selfish, and not really seeing WHY I should be the one to stop seeing someone I get on well with. I’m aware that I haven’t helped myself by keeping this in my head for a year (I do have a couple of friends I could talk to, but I just have no idea how to bring the matter up), so it could be that I’ve wasted your time a bit. If you or your readers have any advice on getting my clit to calm the fuck down about Mr X, I’d be grateful, as I do love my partner, and feel that I do at least owe him some effort to keep us together.

My very best wishes,

Confused of Crazy Clitshire

Dear Confused:

Your letter made me invent some categories of crushes.

1. Unattainable Work Crush: Makes you put on lipstick and pay a little more attention at work. You feel energized and alert and pretty. Generally good for you, unless acted upon, because this person makes you into a better version of yourself.

2. Attainable/Mutual Work Crush: It starts in the above way, then progresses to mentionitis and paranoia that everyone knows.

3. Aspirational Crush: This person has attributes you desire for yourself or reflects things that you like about yourself. You think you want to sleep with them, but mostly you want to BE them. Harmless and invigorating. Turns you into a better version of yourself.

4. Differential Crush: This person somehow magically checks every box that your partner does not about what you thought you wanted out of a romantic relationship, and shows up in your life right when things with your partner are at their rockiest and least secure. Suddenly everything you’ve been missing is thrown into sharp, painful relief. Bonus if your partner notices this and becomes extra-insecure around this person.

An Unattainable/Aspirational crush is awesome and totally harmless. It passes in time, and sometimes helps you level up to the next stage of who you want to be. Whatever makes your day go by faster and more pleasantly!

A Mutual/Differential crush often spells you looking for your underwear under someone’s couch or back seat and using the words “It just happened.” The person’s hotness feels like an excuse to be shitty to your partner and your partner’s deficiencies seem like a good reason to sleep with the hot person.

In my opinion, “It just happened” describes a situation where people who were flirting heavily and considering sleeping together steer themselves into a situation where there is enough alcohol to create a sheen of plausible deniability. “You’re too drunk to drive home, why don’t you crash here” and “You can’t stay in those wet clothes, let me find you something to change into” lead to one person’s face accidentally mashing against the other person’s face in an event that is usually a surprise only to them. See also “Hahaha…everyone always mistakes us for a couple, even though we’re totally not! Hahahaha, what a funny joke!

I don’t mean to sound all finger-pointy and judgmental, because I generally don’t care if people sleep with each other, but I am totally skeptical of the “It just happened, I swear!” defense. We are men of action, and lies do not become us. There are a lot of steps involved in getting drunk, going to a secondary location, taking off all of your clothes, and putting your bits on or in someone else’s bits. It’s never an inevitability.

I bring this up in the case of your letter because I think your ladyboner for Mr. X is of that volatile Mutual/Differential variety, so there are two questions/problems here.

1) How do you fix things with your current partner? Answer: Couple’s therapy, maybe. Individual therapy to get your own head straight, maybe. Asking him to deal with his mental health issues head-on and giving him some time to really change bad patterns. Looking for a different job. Having some difficult, serious talks about what you want out of life and where you’re going with this and should you keep going on together. What are you going to do about kids? Career? Extended family? Dreams deferred? Staying sober around Mr. X, watching your mentionitis, and not sleeping with him while you all work at the same place. Training yourself to stop comparing your partner to Mr. X. You mention that you feel like a performance artist who is doing a lot of work to try to please your partner sexually and stay connected. What is your partner doing to impress and please you and stay connected with you? Is it time to ask straight up for more of what you want?

2) How do you get your mind off Mr. X and not sleep with him while partnered with someone else? Staying sober, watching mentionitis, not putting yourself in compromising situations, not indulging flirtations. Training yourself to not compare your partner to him or consider him a viable alternative to your partner. Picture him doing gross things like pooping or clipping his toenails. Maybe finding a new job.

That doesn’t totally solve the issue. If you were single, would you want to date Mr. X? Or sleep with him to get it out of your system?

Do you want to be single?

It’s good to be loyal to your relationships and understand that attraction ebbs and flows and changes with time, but time poured into a relationship that isn’t working now and doesn’t seem like it will get better in the future isn’t a reason on its own to stay. If things were still exactly like they are now in 1 year, would you want to stay? 5 years? Forever?  If the answer is no, and you don’t see things really changing, have courage and be done. If you still want to try to work things out, give yourself a time table and start having those difficult conversations and doing the work.

You have a lot of choices about this,  including the choice NOT to eff up your personal and professional karma by using a hot coworker to get you to “done” in a way that humiliates your partner. Maybe treat Mr. X like the distraction he is (even if he is a welcome one) until you’ve sorted out old business, ok?

80 thoughts on “#383 & #384: Ladyboners

  1. LW1, do you know J’s girlfriend? Because this seems pretty uncool to me, on his part. Side eye, indeed. And giving you permission to boink other gentlemen when he’s got a girlfriend? Oh, that is just not on.

    You get to decide that you just have pants and friends feelings for him, if you want. Even if he gets All Romantic, even if he dumps the girlfriend to Be With You, etc etc. Whatever he does, you still get to decide what feelings you have.

    I have found that when I’m around someone, or in contact with someone, I have a really hard time figuring out how I feel about them. Especially if I’m impaired in any way, like overtired or drinking or anything. Even when a person isn’t trying to pressure me, when they’re in my vicinity (or on my phone or chat window), I am just really aware of them and what they want of me.

    So whatever happens, I’d say, make sure you’ve got some quiet space all by yourself, far away from this guy or that guy or any guy, and where you’re sober and awake and calm. Maybe a nice bath? Maybe a walk in the woods? Whatever works for you. Then think about what you want and really notice how you react.

    Also, remember, you are ALL THAT and MORE. You are the sun and the moon. If you find yourself feeling “well kinda” or “like maybe but he really wants to” or anything like that, remember how completely you rule and how you deserve to have exactly what you want — and to want exactly what you have.

    1. I love this comment. And thanks for the backup on the “I give you permission to see other people….Pay no attention to the GIRLFRIEND behind the curtain” nonsense. Malarkey!

      1. I just kind of wonder if he’s cheating on the girlfriend in the first place, you know? It feels controlling and icky to me….

        ….but I’m a lady on the internet whose pantsfeelings are pretty much in line with other feelings these days. So I’m coming from the lucky place on this one.

        I want people to feel awesome and lifted up and (if applicable) beloved by the people they share their pants with!

        1. Yes, my cheating sense is tingling as well. My general rule is, unless I get to find out from the girlfriend herself that it’s not a cheating situation, I always treat it like it is. I don’t trust people to not attempt to take advantage of the hot poly chik by saying they’ve got a Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell relationship, sleeping with me, then claiming *I* was the homewrecking whore who seduced him from his Twoo Lurve with the evidence that obviously I sleep around (BTW, you can replace “poly” with “not looking for something serious” in that scenario). I really, really hope he doesn’t do that to you if you don’t give him FEELINGSREASONS to dump his girlfriend, LW#383!

        2. Ditto. This is how my first boyfriend cheated on me without the other woman knowing it was cheating (though in the end, he chose her and broke up with me, many months later. It was a shitty and dishonest and cowardly way to handle that, though). Though I suppose interpreting his reasons doesn’t matter much–major side-eye either way on his behavior.

          1. LW#383 here! Thank you for all the advice, although I realise now that I didn’t make it clear in the original email that I was the one who brought up the fact that I was going to be seeing other people and possibly sleeping with them and what level of information did he want on what was happening. And I do trust him to be honest about him and his girlfriend although I will bear in mind that you guys see it as a red flag since I think this site is awesome and you are cool people who Know What Is Up.

            Also we’ve had a feelingschat and nothing is going to change until I’ve finished university which gives me plenty of time to get my shit together and decide all the stuff I need to decide about career and relationships and life in general, which is good because he is fun to be around and to talk to about random things even if we don’t ride off into the sunset together.
            But thank you again for the words of wisdom because sometimes I find it difficult to see things like this objectively!

          2. Honestly, LW, the biggest thing [to me] that raises the red flag about him and his girlfriend is the fact he specified ‘sleeping with other *relationship material people*’. That’s not quite the same thing as sleeping with someone because you in general want to sleep with them, since that phrasing seems to imply they’re looking at the person’s potential for a relationship. It’s possible that wasn’t meant in a skeevy way, but considering the fact that they aren’t poly [the fact he’s talking about leaving his gf for you kind of proves that] strikes me as a bit shady at best.

            Also, I’m a little puzzled by why you’d be offering more information than ‘I’m also seeing/boning other people.’ I’m sorry if I’m coming off mean but…that really seems like it’s just asking for drama, on top of anything more than that not being his business in the first place*. It’s part of the reason most of the people I know don’t kiss and tell when it comes to that type of relationship, so…yeah. I’m just a little confused at your logic there.

            *I’ll join the choir on the fact he’s not okay with you doing that while he’s seeing someone else.

          3. My alarm bells went off about cheating, too, because that’s often what cheaters say. On the other hand, it’s possible his gf is only slightly more than friends-with-benefits. In other words, they’ve decided that while they’re not long term relationship material together, they’re enjoying what they have for now, and the only reason to break up would be the “opportunity cost” of not being free to pursue actual relationship people, and they’ve decided to resolve that by saying “we’re together, we don’t sleep around generally, but if either of us meets someone who we think might be ‘that special someone’ we’re free to pursue that person.”

            That being said, it’s STILL possible that even if he says that’s true, or he THINKS that’s true, it’s not as tidy as that. How mutual was that decision, really? His gf may have agreed to that because it was the only option he offered that allowed her to keep him in her life at all, but she really is hoping he will realize there is no one out there better for him than her. Not necessarily your problem; it doesn’t sound as if he’s a long-term candidate for her no matter what their story is. But don’t kid yourself that there’s no potential hurt-and-mess factor here, or potential dishonesty/inconsideration going on.

            More to the point, it is worth finding out exactly how things stand with his current gf, and what the gf knows about you for the simple reason that a guy who will lie to and hurt one gf because he’s found someone who makes him happier may very well lie to and hurt that someone else down the line, once the shiny wears off her and he sees someone newer and shinier over there. It’s just the way he rolls. Make sure he’s behaving honorably and above board, because if he isn’t deserving her trust he doesn’t deserve yours.

            Lastly, one thing that comes through pretty clearly is that this guy is comfortable with deciding what he wants and going after it. People like this often wind up getting what they want at the expense of what other people want, simply by force of personality and their guiltlessness about going after what they want despite collateral damage to others — particularly if other people are being conscientiously solicitous of everyone’s needs, while that person is focused entirely on their own. Not well said, but you know what I mean? If you are considering both his wishes and your own wishes, while he’s considering only his, figuring it’s your responsibility to look after yours, his wishes are going to get double weighted in any decision-making process. And then you may wake up a couple of years down the line going “wait, this isn’t what I wanted…. why did I go along with this?” So just beware of that dynamic.

        3. He is absolutely cheating.

          “My girlfriend, who you don’t know and don’t talk to, says I can sex you” + jealousy of LW1 seeing anyone else? That alone is 99.99% chance of cheater with light showers over the weekend.

          Then let’s add in that he can’t keep his stories straight: girlfriend is fine with them seeing other people who might be ‘relationship material’, but he needs to dump her in order to have a relationship with LW1? Huh. Plus the iffy relationship status, plus the two-year-itch which…wouldn’t exist if they really were happily polyamorous. Right?

          LW1, I suspect you know all this on some level, but he’s fun and the sex is great, and of course he’s doing things to play you like telling you he’s thinking of dumping the girlfriend. So it’s confusing.

          Whatever you do, btw, any time he starts in with how he ‘minds’ you seeing others or is OK with it if you’re ‘honest’, cut him off at the knees, recommended script: “Who else I see is not something you have any right to control.” (Also, the ‘if you’re honest’ thing? Is a head game. He can define ‘honest’ retroactively however he wants to play gotcha with you)

          1. Speaking as a polyamorous person in a (three!) year relationship — ohgod does the two-year-itch happen anyways. It’s entirely possible for a poly couple to be mostly seeing each other for a long period of time, especially when the NRE pantsfeelings sparklefairy comes to town, and then all of a sudden it’s been two years and hello, that person over there looks really good. The benefit of poly is mostly that you don’t have to choose partners, so as long as you control mentionitis and are proactive and respectful about scheduling dates, you have enough space to get the perspective that just because you suddenly have a massive ladyboner for this person over here, it doesn’t mean you don’t love or aren’t attracted to your long-term partner over there.

            THAT SAID, the whole ‘you can see other people!’ + ‘I’m about to break up with my girlfriend!’ = either cheating or doing poly Really Wrong.

    2. Whatever he does, you still get to decide what feelings you have.

      So much this. It’s really easy to fall into feeling like, “But he did X for me! So now I have to do Y.”

      But you don’t! You get to choose. You aren’t obligated by the things other people do. You’re only obligated by the promises you freely and consciously make. (And even there, there’s wiggle room–I mean, “I promise to be with you forever” is definitely not a promise I think people can be held to indefinitely. But if you haven’t made a promise at all, then you’re definitely free and clear.)

      1. So much this. It’s really easy to fall into feeling like, “But he did X for me! So now I have to do Y.”

        And creepy people DO take advantage of this obligation myth. Expensive gifts inappropriate to level of relationship? Run fast.

        1. Absolutely — and “I broke up with my girlfriend to be with you” is one of the worst, and would be all the more so in this case since he supposedly doesn’t have to break with the gf to be with you the way you’re currently enjoying, you didn’t ask him to “take the relationship to the next level” (in this case adding romance to the sex) or make things exclusive and you actually actively don’t want him to (and have said so) because you’re happy with the uncomplicated (it seemed) friendship and sex he supposedly is free to share with you according to the relationship he has with the gf. But I would not be at all surprised if he trots that out. So much for uncomplicated, eh?

        2. OH MY GOD! THIS! “Expensive gifts inappropriate to level of relationship”
          That is totally my last relationship in a nutshell.
          Still makes me feel skeevy.

    3. Agree! A relative gave me a book once called “The Surrendered Single”. It was pretty terrible in many, many ways. But it did have one pretty good piece of advice: sex clouds your judgement. Somehow having sexy times with someone puts you in “linked together” mental space, even if you don’t know them very well.

      If you really want to think about whether or not you want a relationship, then put a (possibly temporary) hold on sex (and sexting) with J, so you have the space to think about him in other contexts, or whether you want something more with him, or anyone.

      I second the cautions of the people below as well. Is this really someone who is a good candidate for a relationship anyway? He may or may not have told his girlfriend about you, but he expects you to keep him informed about other partners? Really?

      1. Wow, that’s a TERRIBLE book title that lends itself to many staged readings. And a terrible gift. I love this story, though. Tell it far and wide!

        1. I’m guessing it’s related to The Surrendered Wife. That book’s major thesis is that men are emasculated when women have thoughts and feelings different from the man’s, so women should just shut up.

          I bought said book at the library sale for a buck and read bits aloud to my husband. The part that has us laughing until we cried was where she talks about how, even if your husband takes a wrong turn, you shouldn’t say anything and just “trust” him to get you where you’re going. No matter how important it is that you be on time. And whenever he DOES ask for your input, you just say “Whatever you think, dear.”

          “Whatever you think, dear” still reduces me to helpless giggles when my husband says it to me. Now I may have to look for The Surrendered Single…..

      2. He may or may not have told his girlfriend about you, but he expects you to keep him informed about other partners? Really?

        Yeah, that stood out to me in a big way, too.

  2. Ok, second letter writer. I am a lady with a tendency to have extra-marital pantsfeelings that pose problems. The following will be a super stretched metaphor that works for me to get the happy sexy crush vs. loving lont-time partner dynamic straight in my head. Hope it helps:

    Imagine that you are in a sailboat happily bopping along in a sea. There’s a gust propelling you to one shore. Behind you, against the wind, is an equally far away is another shore. Suckily for you, the shore that the breeze is propelling you to is filled with velocoraptors, or whatever you find particularly sucky. The other shore is filled with amazing boots and really cool art prints and wine, or whatever you find particularly great. So. One way will require a ton of work and paddling and whatnot, but is full of things you like! The other way is super easy but the payoff is shitty. Most folks would paddle their hearts out to get away from the velocoraptors!

    This works really great being with your partner long-term is an idea you find wonderful and not being with them is something you find sucky. If not, well, I hope you figure out what you want and that you get it.

    1. This metaphor doesn’t really work in my eyes, because there is no good pay-off guaranteed with the long-term partner even if the work is put in. He has some habits that seem super shitty to me, so if those don’t get resolved? There are no paintings or wines or whatever else. The paintings and wins are a lie.

      1. I think it was more of a ‘what are you working towards/who is the paintings and wine’ rather than ‘your current partner is fo sho paintings and wine’.

      2. There’s an “if” I totally left out of that last paragraph “this works great IF…”.

  3. No useful advice from me seeing as my usual course of action in these situations is to sleep with the Distraction. Oops?

    I’d advise against it though. Probably.

    Captain, your definitions of the types of crush and the take-down of the ‘It just happened!’ defense clarifies a whole lot. Thank you.

    As for feeling like a performance artiste, LW2, an honest, vulnerable conversation can go a long way to solving things. Even if it starts at, “I feel like something’s missing and like I’m putting on an act. Help?!”. Between you, where you both care enough to want to fix things, it opens a door to change. Tell him how you feel about him talking in cliches, too. It really sucks to have to say to someone, ‘I love you but the sex isn’t working for me right now. What can we do to fix it?’ but it’s usually worth it.

    Also, being resentful of/angry with someone who you feel is not taking responsibility for themselves is exhausting and makes sex that much harder work because there’s a bit of your brain that’s grinding away on its metaphorical axe about all the things he won’t do. Even if you know there’s *reasons* why he finds it hard to do anything about them.
    Also, the part about you feeling awful for upsetting him with your anger with him shows that you’re a decent human being but, you have needs too, and how he feels about your anger is not your burden to carry. The risk of him being upset* does not outweigh how upset, frustrated, pissed off and tired you are already. It’s the risk you take to look after yourself as well as him.

    So, yeah, couples’ therapy, and therapy for you.

    PS. I may be projecting here, so forgive me if it’s not quite what’s going on. I’ve been with too many guys who refuse to behave like adults. 😦

    *was going to say ‘risk of making him upset’ but that language implies that it’s your fault you made him upset, when it’s not.

    1. The end of that paragraph really stood out to me as showing the imbalance of (negative) emotion here.

      His side: maybe being upset if you bring up your problems.
      Your side: ALL the emotions!

      Why should you have to handle all the emotions just so he doesn’t have to maybe be upset? You deserve not to be upset too.

  4. Yeah, I raise my eyebrows pretty fucking high when I hear of *anyone* who thinks it’s ok for them to be seeing multiple partners at once but wants all those partners to be with only them. I realize that you don’t have to have relationship-feelings about someone to want to have sex with them, but that sticks out as a big red flag that this dude may not be great to have a relationship with at all.

  5. 383: I am with the Captain on the Good Ship Side-Eye here. I was once in a situation a lot like yours: classes to worry about, fresh out of an intense and bad-for-me relationship, and not at all sure what to do with this guy who had PANTSFEELINGS for me. So I asked if we could just keep on keeping on while I got the last of my shit together, and he said okay (It would have also been okay if he had not said okay; I knew that getting my shit together was what I needed to do and now, and “I feel weird about that” wouldn’t have changed my plans). Like you and this guy, we lived fairly far apart, so I had a good amount of time to think about my feelings and have a conversation with my ex that left me disgusted enough that I could never even think of him “that way” again. So, shit gathered, I rang the guy up and we had a FEELINGSSUMMIT and we agreed to go out. At no point did he emotionally bait me, or try to get me to do something I did not want to do, or express that I should magically not have hang-ups anymore, or impose rules on me that he wasn’t going to follow too. That is, ideally, how these things work. You take some time to sort your wants out, the other person is decent to you, and then you talk it out and decide how to proceed. If this is not happening, or if he resists it, beware. Hook-ups are great and all, but some people make them weird and this guy might be one of them. So go sort your shit out and godspeed with whatever it is you want to do.

    384: What happens if I subtract Mr. X from the picture? Are you happy with your relationship? Are you mostly happy and could fix some things to be happier? Are you pretty seriously unhappy? I ask because sometimes, especially after living with someone and their dirty socks and horrible favorite TV show and obnoxious cousin who likes to visit, we meet some new hottie and imagine that they have none of these flaws. Which might be true, but they do have other ones and they will become annoying, should you hook up. It seems like you are frustrated with your partner and using Mr. X as a mental Band-Aid. Which would be fine if it helped, but it seems to be hurting, and that is not fine. If you, independent of Mr. X, have relationship issues, this is time to Use Your Words and make plans about how to patch things up. If that doesn’t work, well, then maybe it is time to call it quits– not because of or for Mr. X, but because your relationship is over in and of itself. You don’t want to let someone who is too new to be annoying conspiring with your Jerkbrain to ruin a good thing that just needed some talking-out.

    1. “Good Ship Side-Eye”


      1. When we find our billionaire backer that allows to to have AwkwardCon, we shall persuade him to purchase The Good Ship Side-Eye and we will sail it everywhere, drinking rum and yelling at creepers.

  6. LW #1, I think the Captain’s answer is excellent and that you should definitely listen to your own feelings on this. But you wanted perspective and said that your friends just make generic noises when you ask about stuff like this, so I’m going to go ahead and tell you what I’d tell a good friend who asked me what to do in this situation: cut off contact with this boy, and spend some time being single.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with casually hooking up with someone even if you’re not sure you want to date them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with flirty sexy friendships that make you feel good. But in this specific situation (based on my admittedly extremely limited knowledge of things)? It is probably bad news, and the trade off isn’t worth it.

    You specifically said that you wanted to be single and focus on yourself and have a Year Of You because it’s your last year of school and you’re still recovering from some major stuff you went through last year and your last relationship involved you spending a lot of time focusing on your partner and having your own needs denied. That is a REALLY EXCELLENT list of reasons for why you want to have a Year Of You and not get all entangled in new relationship drama.

    But before school had gotten past the first week, you were… entangled in new relationship drama. (Which I really, really don’t mean to sound blame-y, because trust me, I am not entitled to judge.) This guy has a girlfriend and only told you they were thinking of sleeping with other people when you were already there for an overnight stay at his place and then said things like “I would mind if you slept with other people… pay no attention to MY GIRLFRIEND over there.” Now he’s visiting you and telling you that he has romantic feelings for you and will maybe break things off with his girlfriend at some unspecified future date (but not now, even though he is texting you constantly and telling you he wants to date you and having lots of sex with you).

    That, right there? Is not a recipe for a drama-free casual thing that you do for fun during the Year Of You. That is a big drama-filled pit that will get deeper and more drama filled the longer this goes on, until it is April and you find yourself standing in the bottom staring up at a tiny square of sky wondering why you’re down there by yourself and why you wasted so much energy helping him dig you into that hole and also why are your shoes wet and yikes, it’s almost graduation what happened to your last year of university?

    That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy! (Though serious, SERIOUS side-eye to him “minding” that you would possibly look at other men when he is DATING SOMEONE ELSE.) He might be a totally great guy who’s a little confused and having some trouble disentangling himself from his own relationship drama, but who sincerely likes you and is fun and nice. But this guy at this time is not what you said you were looking for.

    And even leaving aside his drama, even if there was no girlfriend and no side-eye comments: LW, look back at your first paragraph. Think about what you imagined for yourself this year. Then look at how you’ve described this situation. You “wound up getting drunk that night and having sex”. Then “it happened” again. Feelingstexts “keep happening” when one of you is drunk. That is a whole lot of passive language. None of those things are just happening; you (and he) are choosing to do them. I know you know that, but I think it’s telling that you’re describing them that way. I’ve also been in boy!situations where “we wound up” getting drunk and hooking up, or where we decide to just be friends and then it “just keeps happening” that we have long emotional talks about Our Status. And most of the time? I really did feel like I was a little out of control, that I would tell myself “seriously, tonight is about having a good time with your friends and not thinking about boys” and then at 2:00 am I’d somehow be kissing that dude. And usually when that happened, it was because there was other shit going on in my life that I didn’t want to deal with, and a boy was a good distraction and a good self-esteem boost. Completely unsurprisingly, the boy drama never fixed the other things I was avoiding, it just delayed me dealing with them and wasted a lot of energy. And I see a similar dynamic here, where you started the year wanting to focus on yourself but now it’s a month into school and there have been three overnight visits and constant texting and not a whole lot of time to sit with yourself and focus on you.

    LW, if this guy didn’t have big giant red flags and if you seemed super into him, maybe it would make sense to give things a shot even though the timing isn’t ideal because sometimes love happens at inopportune moments. But he does have big giant red flags, and you do not seem super into him (as a romantic partner), and the timing is really not ideal. I think you were absolutely right to want a Year Of You. University can be an amazing time, and you’ve got one last year to get everything out of it that you want. You’ve also got some healing to do, and some putting yourself first to do. I feel a little bit sad when I think about you walking across campus reading drama!texts from this guy when you could instead be thinking about just about anything else — your thesis topic, the trip you and your friends are planning, what to make for the potluck that club you joined is having, what your therapist said in your last session, what you want to do next in life, etc.

    Like I said, what matters here is what YOU want. But if I was your friend and you asked for candid advice, I would tell you to fucking REVEL in being single and awesome and having a phenomenal last year of school.

    1. Thank you. We had finally managed to leave FeelingsTown behind but he did a U-turn right back there again (after I had spent a happy evening with minimal contact, genuinely enjoying myself and ending the week on a high note) and your comment made me realise that yes I need and want to focus on myself for now. So I’ve spelled it out to him and now I’m going to sleep because this whole thing is already more exhausting than its worth. And yes, right now school/career is more important than some guy I’ve known for a few months. The fact he keeps bringing up romantic possibilities is making me run for the hills! I value my freedom right now and I’m hoping I’ve communicated that to him.
      Thank you everyone for the straight talking, I hold LW#834 finds you advice as useful as I have.

  7. LW2, this is coming from the perspective of someone whose general relationship feelings are all sideways to cultural norms, but it seems like you have at least three separate issues in your letter that don’t seem as entwined to me as they appear to seem to you.

    One, perhaps the least important (as these things go), is your feelings about Mr. X. You don’t mention anything about Mr. X apart from your pantsfeelings for him, which gives me the impression that you may not be super-attracted to him in any other ways (romantic, intellectual, etc.) YMMV, but I’ve found that sexual attraction often doesn’t stand up to the test of getting involved with somebody in some fashion if that’s all there is, and somehow the interpersonal drama/angst associated with sleeping with somebody I’m not already good friends with has always been way more trouble than it’s worth in the long term. In the cost-benefit analysis of sleeping with Mr. X, is it at all likely that the potential reward outweighs the potential shitty things?

    Two is your lack of pantsfeelings for your partner. There is a multitude of ways to approach that (some are definitely better than others) and you get to pick which works for you and your relationship. A note I feel is important to hit is that you are allowed not to want to sleep with anyone, for any reason: if you don’t feel like getting it on with your partner, you don’t owe it to him! And if he doesn’t respect that you don’t want to, he is being kind of a douchecanoe! Not having sex for a while, however long a while is, doesn’t inherently have to spell the death of your relationship. If it does for either of you, that doesn’t mean your in some way deficient, but it’s not a given. When you think about just not having sex with your partner for a while, how do you feel? When you think about breaking up with him, how does that feel? (Protip: if the answer to either is “relieved”, THAT IS A SIGN.)

    Three is whether it’s a good idea to stay in your current relationship at all. See above; if thinking about splitting up seems to lift a huge weight off your shoulders, that might be an indicator of a down-and-out relationship. If the idea seems awful sad, this might be something you can fix. Etc. Your letter comes off as very in-your-head, and while it’s a very good idea to let logic and analysis help with your decisionmaking process, it’s also important to at least pay attention to what your gut has to say.

    1. Wow, I didn’t expect my letter to be answered so soon, so massive thanks to the Captain! Massive thanks to ALL of the commenters, too (I’ll try and answer as many as I can), as you’ve all helped me a lot.

      Another thing that has helped so much since I emailed is that I got a new job! Horrah! It’s in my current industry (which I enjoy and which I’ve always had an interest in, but couldn’t enter until recently, mainly due to my mum’s illness), and it’s a great move. My boyfriend, who I forgot to mention moved on from my current company a few months ago, is also over the moon for me. He’s been a lot happier in his new job; the stress of his last one was one of the factors in me developing a ladyboner for Mr X, as it was turning my boyfriend into someone difficult to be with.

      So; my reaction to the new job made me realise that although I like Mr X a lot, I don’t like him so much that leaving the company upsets me. To be honest, I wasn’t really planning to start anything with him whilst still working there, and certainly not when my boyfriend was still there; that would have been VERY awkward, even if the sex was good, and I also know there’s no guarantee of that with Mr X.

      We still have major issues to work on, and I’ve made it clear that my boyfriend needs to get therapy for his most debilitating issue, because it affects both of us, and arguably affects me more than him. I’ll continue to encourage him to do this.

      BUT: I’m a lot happier, and have far more clarity about where I go from here! I am so grateful to everyone here.

  8. LW1, I do not like this guy. First, I doubt very much that he and his GF have an understanding. Second, he needs to stop whining about you seeing other people when HE HAS A GIRLFRIEND. Would he also like a fucking pony? FFS. You promised yourself nothing serious because you want to focus on school, career, etc. Right now he’s fun but I have the feeling he’s going to generate a metric fuck-ton of stress and dramz (see:he has girlfriend and his pissiness over you seeing other people). Orgasms are wonderful things, but he is not the sole source of orgasms.

    LW2, I’m not sure what to say about this besides this: stay away from work crush. Decide if you want to work on your relationship or if you want to end it. If you want to work on it, I second the suggestion of couples counselling. You’ve been together a long time and you seem really confused, so I’d actually say to give it a chance and see if you can salvage something.

    If, for whatever reason, you decide you’re done (with or without the counselling), I’d still steer clear of the work crush dude. First, he may be someone your mind glommed onto as a way to distract you from whatever things in your relationship have been making you unhappy. Second, crushes do tend to involve a lot of projection–you may find he’s not all that if you get with him, and you’ll have two colleagues with an awkward history with you. That’s great on shows like Gray’s Anatomy but not so good in real life. Third, if you decide to end it, you’re ending a 10 year relationship. It may be a good time to just be single for a while.

  9. LW 1, it’s cool if J and his girlfriend decided to be poly because that’s what they want to do. But that isn’t what it sounds like. It sounds like if they’ve talked about it at all, J’s girlfriend is maybe trying to be the Chill Girl and telling him, sure, it’s okay if you bone someone else, we’re still together though right? But I don’t get the impression that that actually happened.

    It is creepy and controlling and SUPER sketch that he ‘minds’ you boning or dating other people while he still has his girlfriend, regardless of “it’s okay if you’re honest with me” because you guys should ALWAYS be honest with each other about that sort of thing. Being poly should theoretically mean that he can still be with his girlfriend and also date you*. His having romantic feelings instead of just pants feelings and telling you he’s going to break up with the girlfriend because he has romantic feelings for you even though they have this “boning other people who might make good relationship material”? Weird weird weird. (Also, that phrasing is incredibly awkward.)

    *not always the case, I know a few people who do polyfuckery but actually date only their primary partner and maybe one other person

    If you feel like any part of what’s going on is shading, there’s a huge change that it IS shady. Honesty is a huge part of what makes relationships work, and if it’s lacking, there are going to be issues. Maybe ones like you’re dealing with right now.

    Definitely consider the things Captain suggests. I strongly second the suggestion to turn off your phone when you’re drunk to prevent FEELINGSPELLETS of attention.

    Take time to yourself to think about what you want from what you have going on with J. It’s not your fault he has romantic feelings for you while you have pants feelings and friend feelings for him. Sometimes that’s how life works. But don’t think that BECAUSE he has romantic feelings that you should have them too, or anything like that.

    I’m putting this forth both as someone who has been in a somewhat similar situation with the Ex-Fiancée (and that sucked a LOT, but there were a lot of other problems in that relationship, too), AND as someone who typically only has poly relationships.

    1. LW1 – I have friends who are poly, and I’ve seen how several poly relationships have started and ended. And the big thing that really isn’t there for me in your story is the part where there is a break while J whizzes off to confirm with existing partner that it really is happening, having told her before that it’s a possibility, or the part where he tells you that he wants the sexytimes, but needs to check in with partner and can you wait until he’s had The Talk about possible new partner?

      Where these breaks in the natural development of sexytime do not happen, there is generally drama in the primary or other relationship. Good poly partners then settle that relationship before getting back to New Person, but again, pants-led decisionmaking odes happen.

      I also generally see the existing partners check in and confirm that this really is kosher, and that even if their agreement doesn’t involve knowing details of the secondary relationship, they are there and they know you are there. Most of the primary partners I know FB friend the secondaries, for example. Actually, most of the time, they socialise together at least sometimes, and there is ganging up on partners who need a cluebat, or a mass hug. But I mostly know poly groups where they live fairly close together.

      I understand that poly means that romantic relationships may develop with multiple partners, while open is more likely to mean that they have agreed sex only, with limits. Has he ever talked about the limits his partner set on him? Because being told sex only, followed by FEELINGSTALK would be the flag for a broken rule for me.

      I’m with the others in saying that I would be taking a break just now, but if you choose not to, then I would strongly advise you to work out some way to contact the girlfriend and make sure she is cool with things, before you mess up your Year Of You with more relationship drama, with bonus “you are the bad person” guilt from the girlfriend if her boyfriend turns out to be a liar.


  10. I’d love to tell him what I’d like, but I’m not totally sure of that myself, and in the meanwhile my partner spends an awful lot of time talking in sexual cliches, making me feel that it’s the idea of sex with me that turns him on, rather than actually being with me, if that makes sense.

    If you are not honestly communicating your desires, and if you are mainly working off suppositions about what the other person thinks, then yeah, you’re self-sabotaging your own sex life. In fact, it’s a way of self-sabotaging both on the side of Stay and the side of Go. By remaining unfulfilled and out of communication with your partner, you make things with Mr. X seem more attractive. On the other hand, if you really did sit down with your partner and figure out what the hell you want and he thinks, and it doesn’t fulfill you, then you know you have to either accept that, or cut your losses and leave. So by not asking, you keep the idea that things might improve in your back pocket, which lets you justify not going after Mr. X.

    Doing everything you can to fix your current relationship is calling your own bluff. It will work, or it won’t. Then you’ll know if you genuinely want out, or if Mr. X is just the kind of happy fantasy you need to take refuge in when things are sucky and not a real option.

    1. I totally agree with this. Part (but certainly not all) of the problem between LW and Long Term Dude seems to be LW’s unwillingness to communicate her sexual wants. (Clearly there are issues LTD needs to address too, but I am just going to look at this one thing that is the definitely LW’s responsibility for the purposes of this post.)

      So, say LW puts effort into communicating about her sex life with LTD, but things still don’t work out due to LTD not putting in effort regarding his own issues, and LW decides it’s time to walk away from the relationship. LW will be sad for a while, but will work to reacquaint herself with her own awesomeness, and will recover. Sooner or later the next relationship will materialise, whether that be with Professor, ah, I mean Mr X, or somebody else entirely, and LW now has a wealth of Communicating About Sex skills under her belt. Fade to GLORIOUS SEXY SEX with SEXY McSEXORPANTS.

      Or, say the LW decides ‘To heck with this!’ regarding LTD, and skips off into the sunset with a Charles Xavier lookalike [select Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy version according to your personal preference]. And it’s all going to be great because Professor X is a MIND READER! He’s going to do ALL the sexy things LW wants, and LW isn’t going to have to Use Her Words because the Awesome Mind Reading Skills will automatically make it the BESTEST SEXIEST SEX EVOR!

      Except wait, because Mr X isn’t actually Professor X, and he can’t read LW’s mind any better than LTD can, and after the initial crush-rush wears off the sexual dynamic is likely to be, well, exactly the same as with LTD. 😦

      Great Big Giant +1 to Use Your Sexwords, LW. You can do it!

      1. Part of the problem was not that the LW was unwilling to communicate her sexual preferences (she actually said she’d love to) but that she was unsure what those even were. I think in this instance that it might be worth the LW hearing that boring, vanilla sex is in fact a preference (and not even necessarily boring). Not wanting to feel like a performance artist during sex is a preference.

        This isn’t to say that she should stop indulging your partner altogether, especially not if she enjoys satisfying him, but it shouldn’t be the only thing she does. She doesn’t have to have a specific ‘fetish’ to communicate to him what she enjoys, she can simply tell him that she doesn’t feel like doing thing Y he likes tonight and instead she’d like to do thing Z she likes. Thing Z doesn’t have to be something she likes above all other things, it should just be something she kinda enjoys which doesn’t put any pressure on her.

        1. Maybe part of it is not feeling like her current sexual preferences are okay? If you spend months or years squishing down what you want just to make somebody else feel better or to keep the peace, you lose touch with that. Or it turns into, “I really like X in theory, but when I do X with my partner he/she gets huffy and ungracious and it really isn’t fun, so maybe I don’t like X after all…” So then sometimes it leads into, “Maybe if I find NEW sexual preferences, then THOSE will work!”

          When really, sometimes it’s not the sex act that’s the problem. Sometimes it’s the partner.

          1. Yeah, it’s my vanilla preferences vs his fetish, which is very difficult for me to do, and although it doesn’t disturb me, doesn’t have any erotic effect on me at all. I don’t have any clear requirements for him other than what I’m trying to tell him already; I’d like more romance, which I think he finds difficult; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said that I’d like a cuddle, and it’s turned into him trying to tickle me, or he’s spoilt a romantic moment by silly innuendo or jokes. I enjoy jokes like anyone else, and a sense of humour with sex IS important, but there are certain kinds of intimacy that he obviously has trouble with, which is frustrating.

          2. I think that’s about respect. When you tell him what you would like to do in bed and he agrees, then he should accept it’s not a game for you and that you feel hurt when he doesn’t take it seriously. I’m pretty sure you don’t make jokes or roll your eyes when you (plural) are indulging his kink(s), so he shouldn’t either when you (plural) are doing what you (singular 😉 like. Just basic respect.

          3. Yes, I think this may be the key; I’m really unwilling to put in the effort for his fetish because he’s not really respecting what I want. At the moment, I’ve ruled it out completely, which was a difficult conversation because I’d ‘done it before’, despite saying clearly that it wasn’t easy for me. He’s absolutely fine with respecting when I don’t want sex, but obviously a really fulfilling sex life at this point in our relationship takes a bit more than basic acknowledgement of consent!

          4. You are totally right that consent can (and should) only be the starting point. Sex cannot be fulfilling if you don’t show respect for your partner by showing respect for their wishes.

          5. OK this is seriously even more weird, because it’s like I wrote in except just enough is different that I totally didn’t. And I don’t know if this will help you or someone else but it made me think.

            Underlying for me in a lot of the “fetish vs vanilla” is that I have a minor physical disability in combination with being well over “socially accepted” weight. And having to go through and admit that I used to be neutral about some fetishes that I am now between “meh” and “NONONONONO” about because they are likely to lead to impairment-related severe pain, and occasionally the jerkbrain that comes with all this will pipe up that this wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t so fattyfatfat. NOT SEXY. And not something I really feel like talking about that much either, especially with someone who does see me as sexy.

            This all escalated to a loud argument while driving to visit my family (who had our kids for a visit) followed by me bawling my head off (glad he was driving!) but managing to use a few actual words in there to explain the problem and that, y’know, it’s hard for me to find BDSM-related pain a turn-on anymore when I’ve had to deal with a lot of pain that isn’t the fun kind at all over the last two years or so.

            There is a particular fetish he has, probably the most important to him, that he thought I had developed a moral objection to and I clarified I had a “my body doesn’t always bend that way!” objection to it. More talking through led to a way to adapt it so that it happens less often but is even more fun for him than it was before, AND actually enjoyable for me, instead of only of interest because he likes it, which is awesome.

            And we’ve agreed to put some other stuff aside, and when we try it again, to try it very carefully and with the understanding that “ow” has to be a temporary “yellow” equivalent just in case I get in that particular nasty headspace where admitting I have a disability is too much to handle so I’ll endure something that is hurting me a lot and then be angry for having endured it. I still feel epic amounts of meh to the whole concept but I know that this is one more thing I actually used to like before my particular disability got worse, and I’d like more of that back, too.

            Blah. Bodies are complicated!

  11. LW #384, the first thing that resonated for me was how you read through the archives and feeling like you would be told you should leave your long-term relationship–I basically spent September reading the archives, and I was so where you were at the end of the month: “if I submitted my life to a question, they would tell me to leave! Vey is mir!” I think reading the archives in any kind of a sustained way can leave you with the cumulative feeling that leaving is the gold-standard solution to romantic problems. I don’t think this is the Captain’s intention, but if you think about it, who writes to advice columnists? Not people who are making it work on their own.

    So, anyway, on to the second thing that resonated for me, which was pretty much everything. I was in a situation that was emotionally similar to yours, minus the workplace complication (but substituting in a long distance complication of its very own knottiness), and with a different arrangement of mental health questions, but the theme of emotional and professional upheaval followed by enticing crush during relationship low point? All that, except in my case I pursued my crush, which was the most massive obsession of my life and also, under the Captain’s categories, both semi-Differential and Unattainable. That is, by rights it should have been Unattainable, but it turned out to be Attainable largely because I pursued my crush *hard.* What happened didn’t even a tiny eensy little bit “just” happen, and it was massively destructive and it’s a wonder that my marriage survived. Well, it survived because we were incredibly committed to making it survive, and we got ourselves to couples therapy right away–and I agreed I would not see my crush again unless/until I had permission from my spouse to do so.

    I’m cutting out the non-monogamous happy/unhappy ending to the story, because I don’t think non-monogamy is so relevant to you–as you present it, this is very much about the “either-or” and not about the “both-and” (but I would still SO VERYVERYVERY MUCH advise against pursuing your crush before working everything possible thing out with your partner if you were feeling the “both-and:” I am the poster child of what not to do!), but on the way to my different happy ending (happy, if emotionally costly), I needed to do so many of the things the Captain says. Above all, stop comparing!!!!! Focus on what you actually have with your partner as though the two of you existed in a crush-free zone, and fix those things that are fixable. For what is not fixable, talk to yourself hard about expectations and boundaries. And give yourself permission to figure out what you want sexually without anyone else’s desire impinging. The internet is full of opportunities to do that! Not all of them gross!

    As to how to not think about your crush, gah, just reverse everything I did? No, there’s one thing that I did that was helpful: I did not kid myself about the ruin that would follow if I left my spouse for my girlfriend. I didn’t ever want to leave my spouse, but in the times when I was shaky on that, the scenes that would follow that decision were clear and bright in my mind, and that was instructive. I didn’t see freedom and joy, I saw loss and desolation because I still wanted what I had. The idea of splitting up our kitchenware made me so, so sad because I wanted to keep cooking in that kitchen with my spouse.

    (Switching to a pseudonym from an initial that felt both not distinct enough and too identifiable. Sticking to this from here on.)

    1. The idea of splitting up our kitchenware made me so, so sad because I wanted to keep cooking in that kitchen with my spouse.

      Tears in eyes, tightness in throat. YES.

      The thing above all others that keeps me from leaving my marriage, even the times I’ve been pissed enough to seriously consider it, is thinking through the actual logistics of unmaking the life we’ve built together. And to this day, there’s no outside temptation and no anger or disagreement between us that has ever been worth that. Two I can think of over the last five years that have come DAMN close. But in the end – no.

      1. Yes, I’ve found it hard to think about splitting up in a really practical way (although I’ve come close). I can’t rule it out, though.

  12. LW#2 (But #1 in our hearts!*),

    I have some concerns. So over the last phase of your relationship, you:

    -cared for a dying parent
    -became an orphan
    -grieved for death of said parent
    -moved to a brand new Big City, when it seems like before you were not in Big Cities, so maybe you moved there for partner?
    -presumably lost a bunch of your support network
    -lost your career?
    -took a job in partner’s field because..he could get you a job?
    -your partner unfairly burdens you with the work of living, refuses to take responsibility for his illness(es), is incredibly selfish in the bedroom, and makes you feel you cannot talk about these problems because he’ll get really upset**

    This is a whole lot of dangerous territory. Like, any one of these would be a lot. And then you say:

    I’ve always looked after him.

    Oh, girl. That just breaks my heart.

    You have had a shit-show of a half-decade. That list, up there? That list means that you have needed to be looked after. During that time when your mom was dying and your boyfriend was working nothing jobs he didn’t care about, did he step up and become the responsible adult while you dealt with this incredibly hard thing? It seems like no! During this house-buying process, in a new, different place that was better for him, did he step up and become the responsible adult***? It seems like no! When you lost your career, he got you a job****. Did he talk to you about what you wanted, not what you needed to pay the bills? Did you discuss you moving somewhere better for your career, like a responsible adult should? It seems like…well, that one’s unclear.

    I do at least owe him some effort to keep us together

    You have made an effort. You have been making an effort during a time when you should have been supported in every way possible. And, even more importantly, you never, ever owe anyone your life.

    I’m not totally sure that I have the right to turn his life upside down just because

    There is literally no end to that sentence that means you have to – or even should – stay.

    I apologize for the length of this comment.

    *As is true for every single LW in the moment in which I am considering hir letter, except some of them.

    **This is emotional abuse. You may not be comfortable with that term, and that’s ok. From my perspective, this is a pretty text-book example.

    ***Who…paid for this house, I’m wondering? Whose credit report was the one the bank found a good indicator of a low risk investment? Is his name on the mortgage if your money/inheritance is how it happened?

    ****EXCEPT: it is rare that someone new to new-ish at a company can ‘get someone a job’. So it is more likely that he got you an interview, and you got that job your own damn self.

    1. This. Relationships end and . . . reading that letter, to me, it seems like this relationship is over. You can go to counseling. You definitely can. It might work. He might take responsibility and stop being kind of a stressful douchecanoe. But it also might not and there is nothing wrong with deciding you want to be done. You owe him nothing.

    2. I love your comment. Its length is just right.

      LW, I would steer clear of dating this Mr X, because all three of you work together, and even when you get another job they still will — but as far as staying in the relationship? Don’t do it just because you think you owe something, and don’t do it for the time already invested. Stay with your partner if you want to stay. It sounds like maybe you don’t, and your clit may be telling you useful information here, but only you can really know. Good luck.

    3. So, uh, what’s the emoji for jumping up and down and pointing at a comment and saying YES YES THIS PLEASE READ THIS RIGHT NOW LW#2.

      Your boyfriend is not automatically on Team You merely because he is your boyfriend. He is definitely on Team You when he has put you in a box: you’re not allowed to do anything but take care of him, and if you try to help him get on his feet so you don’t have to take care of him, he will punish you. He has pulled emotional tactics so that your view of the relationship is not “Is this working for me?” but “I am in his debt.” (A debt which, of course, there is no way to pay off; there is nothing you can ever do to stop “owing” him.)

      Your year-long crush on Mr. X is indeed a signal. It is not a signal that you should throw yourself at Mr. X. It is a signal that you are deeply unhappy in your relationship and are only staying because Boyfriend has convinced you that you are a bad person if you leave. THAT IS NOT SOMETHING A PERSON ON TEAM YOU WOULD EVER, EVER DO TO YOU.

      1. I agree with much of this. LW2, I was in a very similar situation for a few years. Relationship that felt comfortable suddenly derailed by massive lustful crush? Check. Closer examination of “comfortable” relationship revealed communication problems, emotional manipulation, unsatisfying sex life (and more!) that I was just putting up with because it was easier? Check. Mr X himself is almost irrelevant at this point; first you need to figure out if Current Gentleman is really a positive thing to have in your life, and make your decision based on THAT, rather than some hypothetical future with a guy you don’t even really know that well.

        My own Mr X, for the record, turned out to only be flirting for the fun of it, not because he particularly wanted a relationship. If I’d left my husband FOR HIM then I would have been gutted. Instead, I left FOR ME.

        1. This is exactly what happened to me, and Min is absolutely right. You’ve been unselfish and self-sacrificing for a very long time. Now might be a good time to consider looking after yourself.

    4. LW2, there’s much good advice for you here, and much for you to think about. Which I’m sure in the end will result in your figuring things out for the best. But meanwhile, let me just chime in to urge you to look for another job right away. I think duck-billed makes an excellent point here, unless bf is running the company you got the job by your own self. So a couple years later it’d be very reasonable for you to get another one somewhere, and most likely it’d be way easier than last time.

      One big reason it’s not OK to work with a lover is the breakup. It’s messy, it never stays within the bounds of the relationship. Don’t mess up your career along with your relationship! If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re having all those doubts about bf, it’s time to stop working together. Maybe you should talk to him about whether he wants another job himself, but in any case you should be looking. And it’s much worse when there’s a 3rd person involved. Bf isn’t going to like it if you leave him for a coworker and he gets to see you happy together every day. X may not be so attractive when he’s not under your nose everyday. Or he may well not work out, leaving you with TWO work exes on your hands. It boggles the mind to think of the unhappiness of it all. Run! Now!

    5. *takes big breath* This comment made me cry a little. Thank you so much for your empathy, as it meant a lot. I often refrain from telling people about the last 5 years in detail because, taken as a whole, it IS a little overwhelming. I’m also aware that, for the sake of clarity, I’ve done my boyfriend a bit of a disservice. He was very supportive, to the point of gently suggesting that I talk to someone when, looking back, I was on the point of a nervous breakdown. I didn’t have much of a support network; my family are pretty selfish and saw my mother’s illness as primarily my responsibility. Our friends are mainly all in the Big City, so I’ve actually got more support now.

      However, it is true that, through all this, I was still the ‘responsible adult’, which, to be fair, he’s acknowledged, and feels better about himself now he’s earning a good wage and has an actual career. He’s often defensive because he has low self-esteem, and has a worrying tendency to make me the only person in his life, something which I need to talk to him about, as it does actually put pressure on me, even when he means it as a compliment. I’m his first girlfriend (he was my second boyfriend) and I’m aware that our lack of relationship experience has probably not helped. It may well help both of us to move on if we can’t sort these issues out.

  13. LW2:

    A couple of questions:

    1. What has your partner done for you? Have they put any effort into the relationship [recently] or have you been the one to do all the work? Also, do you love your partner, or are you *in* love with your partner?

    2. Have you taken time to yourself to honestly think about if you want to keep fighting for this relationship or not, *and* if Mr. X is just a case of a work distraction, or is it something you’d actually like to pursue [either romantically or as a strictly sexual thing] more than keeping your current relationship?

    These aren’t always easy questions to answer, but they’re things that you really *should* figure out. If nothing else, it will help you figure out what you *want*, instead of going by what you feel you ‘owe’ anyone*.

    If you do decide that you’d like to keep trying in your relationship then you really need to have an open, honest conversation with your partner, even if you think it will upset him*. It’s possible they don’t know what they’re doing, or how much it’s effecting you. I’ve been in that situation – my partner and I are in a ldr that has a killer time difference, so when she’s doing something that upsets me she generally doesn’t know unless I take the time to say ‘Hey, we really need to talk. X/y/z bugs/upsets/hurts me when you do it.’ and letting the talk roll from there. [This also works in reverse too.]

    The thing is? If you decide that you want to stay with him more than you want whatever with Mr. X? Then…you really do need to keep yourself out of situations that could easily lead to something happening. What you’d do to avoid those, and how far you want to take it are up to you – but like the Cap’n said: It takes a lot of steps for something to ‘just happen’.

    If you decide you no longer want to be with him, you know what? That’s totally okay. You don’t owe it to him, or anyone, to stay in a relationship that you’re no longer invested in. You deserve to be happy, and if staying with them doesn’t do that? You’re allowed to leave. You could also say that staying with someone you no longer want to be with is a disservice to your partner, as much as it is to yourself since it really kind of both leads them on, and takes time away from finding who does want to be with them – but that’s only my opinion.

    1. At the moment, the effect of the new job has made me realise that I still want to be in this relationship, but that it needs a lot of effort from my boyfriend to make me feel like we’re equals, rather than me being his mother, because I’m tired of that, and shift work makes me even less fond of that idea. Mr X is someone I enjoy chatting to, but I’m not so deluded that I imagine he’s the solution to my relationship problems; that wouldn’t be fair on him, for a start.

  14. “Make sure that what you decide is what you want vs. what you think will make you a Chill Girl.”

    DOINK is the sound of me getting a clue. I’ve been trying to decide what I *really* want in a situation, and I just realised my Chill Girl Wannabe-ism has totally clouded my judgment. Why didn’t I notice it before?

  15. LW2.

    Oh, LW2.. you sound sad. You’re supposed to be his partner, not his mother or his therapist. You also sound to me like you are asking permission to break up with him.

    “I’ve read most of this site, which makes me suspect you’ll tell me that my relationship is over,”

    I think maybe that is why you wrote. You do say several times that there are things about your relationship that you like, but also reference multiple times the idea of whether you are allowed to break up with him – because you feel you owe him something, because you don’t know if it is okay to disrupt his life.

    LW, it is okay. You don’t need permission, but if it helps to hear it: Here is the Offical Seal of Permission to Break Up with This Dude.

    You can break up with anyone, under any circumstances, for no more detailed a reason than you want to break up with them. You never owe anyone more time in the relationship if it’s not what you want. You never, ever have to stay with someone because you feel guilty about the impact breaking up would have on them.

    Now, whether it is the right decision for you to break up with him, I don’t know. I don’t know you or your relationship and I can’t tell whether this is a bad patch that could be fixed with communication and therapy, or whether it is worth being fixed, or whether even fixing the problems would make this the right relationship for you. Obviously there are good things, and maybe it would! Maybe it wouldn’t. That’s for you to decide.

    All I wanted to say was that whatever you decide is totally fine, and everyone automatically gets given the Official Seal of Permission to Break Up as soon as they enter a relationship.

  16. LW2’s situation is amazingly close to my own. Except my Mr. X is married and after a work reorganization he became my immediate supervisor – I know for a fact that he specifically requested me for his team, partially because I have a skill set that is fairly unique in my department yet desperately needed for the work he does, and partially because, well, we have this chemistry thing that we have. AWKWARD CITY. I’ve been dealing with this for a multiple of years now. And I see aspects of us being Aspirational AND Differential crushes for each other. (That was helpful, thanks!)

    I seem to deal with it by a lot of come here no go away. And he knows more about my personal life than I’d otherwise be comfortable with because my spouse had a severe mental health crisis last year that caused me to request a lot of time off of work for a “family emergency” that I really wasn’t comfortable discussing with most people. And well, we’re a natural fit friendship wise due to similar interests and life outlooks, and even our respective spouses like us and each other.

    The intensity comes and goes. Sometimes it backs down to a nice functional big brother/kid sister thing. Sometimes I live in fear of disappointing my Mr. X and I get ridiculously shy and jittery around him, which makes him sad and worried. Sometimes I half-wish I was married to him instead of to my actual spouse, but I don’t think that would actually fix anything in the end. It’d just be different problems.

    It’s weird. Anything actually “happening” with Mr. X is a total non-option for a thousand reasons but sometimes it does shine a bright glaring light on everything that is wrong in my marriage. And then I remember everything that is right in my marriage, which there is also a considerable lot of. And yes, of course I’d rather stay in the marriage I’m in but that doesn’t mean the person I’m married to doesn’t occasionally frustrate the holy living HELL out of me. And vice-versa, to be fair. A decade and more together with both of us having our own mental health stuff will do that.

    I can see in Mr. X a lot of the things I wish my spouse was. But I can also see in Mr. X a lot of things that would annoy me in ways my spouse doesn’t. Reminding myself of that is helpful when the bright shiny chemistry threatens to overwhelm everything.

    tl;dr – Intense work crushes are rough a lot of the time, but don’t have to be destructive. It takes a lot of self-awareness and self-control and all that “self” stuff, but sometimes what we see in others is what we’re missing in ourselves as well as in our partners and the best way through it is to focus on that.

  17. LW1… I don’t think I can add any advice, because everyone else got here first and is, as always, amazing. But I can tell you, I have some personal experience with this… don’t get involved with the guy who has a girlfriend. Maybe it’s true and they’re really in an open thing. Probably, they’re not and he was just saying that.

    I was there. I did this. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. At all. It was gross and ugly and all together, A Very Bad Experience. I would not in good conscience recommend that course of action.

    Although now I cannot really tell you what you SHOULD do. Figure out your feels. Do you want to be single and focused on you and your schooling, do you want to wait for this guy to maybe, possibly, someday eventually break up with this girl for you?

    To me it sounds like you’re working to get into a good place (mentally and emotionally and school-wise) and I’m not entirely certain if this guy is going to help you get there, in any way shape or form.

    That is all. I wish you the greatest amount of luck.

  18. LW2: My best advice is that you try hard to behave in a way that lets you keep your self respect. Self respect is your most important “possession,” totally not worth sacrificing for temporary gratification. That’s one of life’s painful lessons: your conscience has certain ideas about how you should behave, and when you act in ways you would totally not respect in someone else, it *will* rake you over the coals for it. Strangely enough, shame and self loathing are *not* fun, life-affirming, happiness-engendering emotions.

    Which is not to say you should stay with your current partner if that relationship has run its course. It is simply to recommend that you deal with that partner honorably. If you think the relationship could be all you need/want if only X, Y, and Z, and those things seem attainable and worth the effort to get there, have some open conversation with your partner about how your needs have evolved and how you would like your relationship to evolve accordingly, and see where that takes you. If you realize that the things that need fixing are too big, or that your heart just isn’t in it and you don’t want to invest what it would take to do that, or if you have the conversation and your partner says “sorry, those changes you want/need aren’t things I can do” (or your partner shows willingness to try but just can’t pull it off) and you feel a need to move on, that’s absolutely your right. As always, you have the right to leave a relationship just because it isn’t working for you anymore and you choose to leave it rather than try and fix it.

    It is possible (albeit remotely so) that you could break up with your partner in some honorable fashion, move on to a new job, and after a little time has passed contact Mr. X again, learn that Mr. X really does reciprocate something more than flirting, and start up a relationship, and that people in your work community would not judge you for your new relationship because you didn’t do anything about the attraction while you were colleagues and while you were with your current partner (or you might not care about their judgment, because you were square with your own conscience).

    Just don’t move on by starting something up with Mr. X while you’re still in a relationship with your current long-term partner and y’all are all working together. That is soap-opera-worthy pissing in your own pool, and it is almost certainly NOT going to work out with you and Mr. X in a healthy, happy relationship together with no workplace repercussions and people in your community not thinking y’all are unprincipled scumbags. Chances are you’d lose a lot of respect, including your own.

    1. Good, level-headed words, which were useful to read, and which I knew myself, deep down. Thanks!

  19. LW2:

    “You mention that you feel like a performance artist who is doing a lot of work to try to please your partner sexually and stay connected. What is your partner doing to impress and please you and stay connected with you?”

    Exactly. When I read that you do a lot of work to satisfy him, and “usually end up satisfied” as well, I cringed. Usually end up satisfied? That implies absolutely no effort on his part. It’s like an unimportant side-effect. When I see that along with all the “I know it’ll really bug him to have to work on his mental issues” stuff, I just get the impression that you’ve got a setup with your partner in which you are customarily accommodating to his needs… like he kind of sets the pace of the relationship, you know?

    That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over, but you sure don’t seem satisfied any longer with the status quo which you both created. Or maybe I’m projecting; I have often entered relationships with the best of intentions, being accommodating, eager-to-please, wanting to make him happy. Sounds great, but after a while I eventually realize that either I’m the only one doing this or that I overestimated the amount of accommodating I could keep going long-term. Or both. Usually my partner, who I’ve not let seen (or has deliberately blinded himself to) how the sausage gets made, is blind-sided when I’ve had enough and announce I’m no longer happy.

    Does this sound like you? Cause your letter sounded like me. Based on my own experience, I don’t think this situation is going to just go away without some big change in the status quo. My advice would be to have the uncomfortable talks with him. Ask for what you want, even if you’re not entirely sure yet. If the focus is on you, you’ll figure it out and have a lot of fun on the way. 😉 It’s ok to be inconsistent. At least, it should be. You’re human. You’re really stretching yourself thin trying to make this relationship work; I don’t think it’s too much to ask for him to have to accommodate YOUR weirdness every now and then too.

    1. Part of the problem with my boyfriend is that he KNOWS that he has shortcomings, but I think his lack of self-esteem means that he finds the guilt so overwhelming that he can’t find small ways to make this better. People, including our friends, and Mr X himself, have asked me why I’m with him (mainly in jest, but always with a concerned look in the eyes), in his presence, and it’s sort of a joke; but it’s not really funny anymore. The sex is possibly the least important part, as he’s always willing to help me be satisfied; he makes very little effort in terms of housework, which I’ve mentioned repeatedly to him, and leaves most big decisions to me.

      Our mortgage is in my name; he signed a document explictly waiving all rights to the property, should I ask him to leave, and that was really for practical reasons, as I had the job in the Big City at the time, and have the bulk of money in the relationship, thanks to my inheritance. So, perhaps part of my reticence is the awareness, that, actually, he probably needs me more than I need him.

      But you, and everyone else, is correct; we need some honest, uncomfortable conversations, and this discussion has helped me get over some of the fear I have of upsetting him.

      1. To bolster your gumption, if you haven’t already done it, picture yourself a year from now, or five, or ten, in the same situation you’re in now.

        If you focus on today, it’s easy to think “This is not so bad, I can handle it. So it isn’t ideal, life rarely is! Whereas if I force that conversation, the immediate future will be filled with drama and pain. Drama and pain are way more intensely unpleasant than day-to-day life is now. So I’ll just let it ride unless/until something happens to make my current situation worse than the drama and pain I would cause trying to change things.”

        But when you project out a ways, you realize that some relatively short-term drama and pain, even months of intense drama and pain, is far better than living out your whole life in a way you find so unsatisfactory. And if you’re going to have to cause drama and pain eventually — whether to try and fix the relationship or to exit it — you may as well get on with it so you can get to the happier afterwards part sooner.

  20. “We’ve discussed me seeing/sleeping with other people (he minds but it’s fine as long as I am honest with him) but he’s recently told me he has romantic feelings for me and is considering breaking up with his girlfriend.”

    NOPE. nope. nope. For the love of God, no. People who pretend they are okay with something when they aren’t, especially where monogamy is concerned, already are showing that they have bad relationship skills right out of the gate. He is not being honest, with you or himself. When you tell someone that if they do X it will hurt you, but that you are okay with it, you will still resent the everloving shit out of them when they do X. It will not be fine. Saying it is fine will not make it fine. Do not enter into anything serious with this person. It isn’t just about him not wanting you to get with people on the side: sometimes people want multiple partners and are not comfortable with their partner doing that, and that is fine, as long as they find someone who is legitimately okay with that situation without any kind of coercion (though that is an exquisitely rare bird). It is his willingness to fudge the truth about what he wants right out of the gate. All of the silent words that live in what he is saying that should have you slamming the breaks on this relationship before it passes friends with benefits. He might sound like he is trying to respect you and give you space, but what he is actually saying is “well, I don’t want you to sleep with other people, and it would really hurt me, but I will pretend to give you ‘permission’ because I logically know I can’t bend you to my will (but I CAN get moody and whiny and probably guilt you and try to coerce to into doing what I want afterward, because you did something that you knew would hurt me and now I have the high ground).” Half a point to him for knowing he can’t control you and accepting that, to most people, his desires seem self-absorbed and unfair. Minus 50 points for being dumb enough to set up a scenario that will so obviously lead to drama and hurt feelings for everyone involved. Any time someone says “I would hate for you to do this, but you can do it” it is an invitation to a really fucking awful party that you do not want to go to. That, plus the fact that, while it sounds like you may WANT to want to date him, you don’t sound like you actually DO want to date him (I kind of feel like, if you have to debate yourself on whether you really want to be with someone, laying out arguments of why you should want to do it, the answer was always “no, this relationship is over before it started, put it out of your mind”)… it all makes me think you will regret the fuck out dating him. Especially since you got hot and heavy really fast already, it sounds like the relationship will end up really intense, really quickly, and that really doesn’t sound like what you are looking for. My script: “hey, I am interested in staying friends with benefits, but I need you to accept that I do not want a relationship, obligation, or commitment of any kind with you. If you want to break up with your girlfriend, that is entirely for you to decide, and it has nothing to do with me or anything you think is between us. I can offer you friendship, and sex, but nothing else for the foreseeable future.” Don’t say “right now,” because even if you think in a year you might want to reexamine your feelings, that is a conversation for a year from now. For now, the answer is “No.” Then keep him at arms length. Do not treat him like your boyfriend, do not text constantly, do not give him any reason to hope you are going to date. If you decide you do want to date in a year when you have your ducks in a row and he has sorted out what he actually wants and how to communicate that like an adult in order to build a relationship with a steady foundation, bring it up with him again if he is single. In the meantime, try to meet other sexy dudes who aren’t busily laying down a minefield for you to skip through.

    …or don’t. I’m sure it totally doesn’t show at all that in the past I have wound up both involved in, and witness to, a few really horrible open relationships that should never have been. This guy raises some serious red flags for me, but if you DO go for him, discuss VERY CLEARLY IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS WHAT YOU ARE BOTH OKAY WITH UP FRONT. If you really need X from him, and you tell him you want that and he says he “minds, but it is okay,” say “no. I’m sorry. We are looking for different things, I don’t think we are compatible in a relationship.” Don’t let him lie to you and himself about what he wants to try and get you. If there is something he wants that you are not comfortable with, don’t pull his shit back out and let it go in order to smooth things over. +500million on the soul-searching. Use your imagination, feel it out, and if something sounds like it will be hurtful to you, trust your instincts. If you do date, and it starts hurting, do not justify it with all of the good things about him. Lots of people have equally good things to offer and will want the same things out of a relationship that you do. Basically just, be very careful with this person, and if he becomes a source of drama and stress in your life, do not ever feel guilty for dropping him.

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