#603: “I can’t stop cheating on my perfect boyfriend.”

Willow and Evil Willow from Buffy Season 2
Willow, talking about Evil Willow: “That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil, and skanky…and I think I’m kinda gay.” 1) How has this image never come up at the blog before? 2) Don’t marry off just one of the sides of yourself and kill off the other. They’re both you.

Hi Captain:

I have been in a relationship with  my boyfriend now for 5 years. I met Leigh when I was 19, fell in love, grew up together, and last year bought a house together; we even had an engagement ceremony so our family would feel more at ease with us living together. Even though it was just a front, Leigh already sees me as his fiancé. I think you know where this is going. 

Last year shortly after we purchased our first home, I met a guy through an online game. Jack fell in love with me even though we have never met each other in person. We texted each other day and night for months and eventually things got progressively worse. We started “sexting” and it was then that I started living in guilt, every living moment. I sleep talk when I go to bed at night, and it didn’t take long until Leigh found out that I was cheating on him emotionally. I knew what a horrible person I have been and hated myself for enjoying having intimate conversations with Jack. Most of the time, I felt downright disgusted about myself. I stopped talking to Jack, and he continued reaching out to me telling me he needed me and can’t live without me. Jack texts me every 2 weeks to tell me that he trusts me and will always be there for me but I’ve ignored them all, as I believed he was a temptation I have to stay away from. In order for me to salvage my relationship with Leigh I need to fully devote myself him and one day we will get married and have kids and live our lives like all the loving couple in the world. Leigh being the perfect man that loves me more than anyone in the world, he forgave me and decided to trust me again. 

I travelled solo as a backpacker just last week and made out with a girl and a guy that I met at  a bar. I almost had sex with a guy I met at the hostel but I didn’t for I know I am in a relationship. I despise myself for even having the horrible thought and genuinely enjoyed being hit on by them, having them telling me how beautiful and sexy I am. I had the time of my life when I was there, for once feeling as though I am single.  I thought I could just forget all about it once I get home, and concentrate on being the perfect girl friend again and wait for the feeling of wanting to be single to go away. Sleep talking didn’t help, as Leigh found out in my sleep that I have been apologising “for being a whore” and that “I’m sorry, I’m wrong”. He also managed to find a conversation of me and a friend regarding this situation. The guilt is eating me alive but I didn’t know what else to do. Leigh left me this morning, to travel by himself and to give me time to figure out what is it that I really wanted. He is willing to put a hold on this relationship and let me leave and “find myself” and “do whatever I want” as long as I don’t tell him any of that when I come home. I am with a man that loves me so much, enough to forgive me from cheating on him and would sacrifice everything in his power to make me happy. What more do I want? Am I really willing to let a man like this go just to fuel my desire of being single?


Dear Lost:

I realize this is probably terrifying, but what if you were single for a while? Deliciously, purely, awesomely single? Free to make out with anyone on the entire planet without it being at the expense of someone else? Without the guilt?

Either you are not wired for monogamy, or this role of Perfect Girlfriend to a Perfect Man with a Perfect Happy Life thing isn’t so perfect, at least for you right now. What you have is what you think you should want, and maybe it’s what you ultimately want five years from now or ten or twenty, but right now isn’t suiting you deep down in your bones. There is a part of you, a big part, that wants to be a solo backpacker and make out with the world.

If Leigh wants a monogamous relationship, and you don’t, then it’s maybe time to fess up to that and see where it leads you. Maybe it leads you to having to do a lot of paperwork as you disentangle yourself from home ownership, but maybe it also leads you to the love(s) of your life, out there in the world. Just because something is perfect on paper, or you can’t think of a good reason to leave it behind, or it really wants to forgive you and execute the plan you had for your lives doesn’t mean it’s right for you. It’s time to be really, really honest with yourself about what you want, and one of those things you might want to be honest about is whether Leigh does it for you in the pants/sexy/romantic/hot connection department.

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about an attempt to have kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” experiment with non-monogamy you and Leigh are flirting with. After a few years together, an ex-boyfriend and I had such an arrangement, his idea, and I went along with it because I wanted to be cool, I didn’t want to lose him, and why the hell not? We were so in love and so emotionally evolved and cool that we could handle a “monogamish” sort of thing!, was his/our reasoning. (Note: I realize now that this was an example of extreme wishful thinking, thanks!) He actively pursued other partners, I did not. One night, however, I invited my boyfriend over to hang out  – maybe watch movies, definitely do it – and he said he’d rather fly solo that night, so I decided to finally jump into finding another partner. (Acting out of spite is totally healthy, right? So evolved. So loving. So cool.) Anyway, I placed an ad online looking for a make-out friend and got the usual inundation of dick pics and misspellings, but also a smattering of replies from cool witty geeky dudes who wanted to hang out in my blanket fort. Including one from, you guessed it, my boyfriend.


I was…I need a fake or real German word for a cross between amused and furious…because that’s what I was. I wrote back, hahahaha, you’re busted (and sent a link to the above song) and then he was like “Ok, want to get together after all?” and I said “no, and also, eff you, you had your chance” and went and had a fun adventure with a visiting jazz musician and it was amazeballs. Just the perfect mix of sexy and hilarious and safe and kind.

That night should have been the end. The end of “the experiment.” The end of the relationship. I didn’t seek outside partners often, but every time I did I would get a little glimmer of, wait, THIS is what I’ve needed. THIS is what it’s like when someone is excited to be with me. I’m sure he had the same sort of glimmers. I loved my ex-boyfriend, he was hilarious and kind and a great friend and we got on well together, but That Thing was never, ever present for us, no matter how much we tried. We limped along for another year or so, but the only way things worked is if we got our sexy excitement needs met outside the relationship. I wish I’d had the courage after that night to say, you know what? I love you and it’s been a great run but let’s stop doing this to each other and just find someone who fascinates us and get on with being friends. It turns out in the end, I’m not poly-, or whatever. I’m not cut out for it. When my heart-needs and my pants-needs are congruent, I’m happy as a clam. I just hadn’t met the right person yet, and I didn’t trust the universe or myself enough to believe that I could. When I did, I felt it right down to the marrow of my bones. This is IT. I am HOME. This person is here with me. I don’t need an escape route, or a distraction, or a security blanket of casual attention to remind me of my worth. And I met that person in the middle of a period of being gloriously, happily single. My own place. My own bed. My own food in the fridge. My own time, my own priorities, my own music, my own dance parties. My own sadness, sometimes. My own living on crackers and things that spread on crackers. I was my own safety net, and my friends were there to remind me what love was. Single is great.

I tell you this because, you might just be someone who wants a lot of variety in sexual partners and who thrives on flirting and hooking up for a while. Or you might be someone who can love and be loved by more than one person. Or you might be a monogamous person who hasn’t found the right person to settle down with yet (and you still have miles hooking up to do before you sleep). Not wanting to be in an exclusive relationship with Leigh might be the start of you coming to terms with a different sexual identity than you thought you had, or it might just be a “Good Person, Wrong Time, Wrong For You” sort of thing. Do some reading and some thinking about that while Leigh is out of town, and think hard about the kind of life and the kind of love that you want, and then be honest with Leigh about what you want and see if it matches what he wants. It has to match what he wants, not what he is willing to put up with for the sake of a mortgage or a fairytale wedding or a terminal case of The Shoulds. That thing, where he can “forgive” you, as long as he doesn’t know about any of it? That self-sacrifice? That’s a trap, for both of you. You talk in your sleep. He will always find out about it. You will always be hiding a part of yourself, a vital, alive (& bisexual!!!!????) part of yourself. You will always be apologizing, on the verge of apologizing. He will always feel owed an apology. You will become “the bad one” and he will be “the good one” and every time you have an argument he’ll be there on some moral high ground looking down at you, and you’ll feel like you have to give him his way because after all he forgave you for sleeping with people. If this is how things are when you first move in together, before you get married, what will it be like 5, 10, 20 years in the future? I know it’s hard to imagine breaking up, but isn’t it easier to contemplate the idea that he’s just not the guy for you?

People survive divorces and breakups of serious relationships, the selling/reapportioning of the house, the dismantling of the books and the separation of the record collection. It’s expensive, but you figure it out. It’s logistics, and you can handle logistics. You break the lease or sell the house. You buy new kitchen towels. You find thrift store plates in every shade of blue. Someone gives you a replacement microwave. Your family, who could sorta kinda stomach the idea of you living together “in sin” if it meant you were going to get married someday? I have that sort of family, too. They just deal. Even my very conservative mom was like “Well, don’t marry the wrong person just to make me happy!” You will survive, Leigh will survive, if that’s what you decide to do. What’s harder to survive is feeling trapped, and guilty, and bored (you) or feeling unwanted, lied to, and unappreciated (Leigh). That kind of thing can eat years of your life away, so please don’t hide from it and hope that things will magically get better.

I wish you luck whatever you decide.


124 thoughts on “#603: “I can’t stop cheating on my perfect boyfriend.”

  1. Goodness, how many times have I heard ‘this is absolutely perfect, it’s everything I wanted, so why am I not happy’? People get this image in their heads about what happiness SHOULD look like – whether an image they themselves create or that is imposed on them by family/friends/society, and if they have that, then they believe they should be happy, even when they’re not.

    Hon, if you’re not happy, you’re not happy and that ‘perfect’ picture may not be for you. Experiment, discover new things, make new friends, try to see things from a new perspective – a fresh one, one where you’re not painting a smile on your face because you’ve been told it should be there, even if the one telling you is yourself.

  2. “Am I really willing to let a man like this go just to fuel my desire of being single?”

    I haven’t read the good captain’s reply yet because I have to say this at once:
    If you want to be single, then the SHEER GLORIOUSNESS of being single is more sweet and beautiful than the affection of any person in the ENTIRE WORLD.

    You are allowed to want that, Letter Writer! You don’t have to be ashamed or second guess yourself or apologize!

    1. Yes. Wanting to be single is a good enough reason to let him go. Maybe in the end you are monogamous and want to be with one person, but deep down you need to have that wild sexually alive period of freedom before you can have the pleasant forever. Having those adventures now is better than getting married and having kids and then discovering that you can’t live without those experiences.

      When my college boyfriend and I decided to get married we also both decided we wanted to have more wild sexual adventures before “settling down” (we were 19)…and that evolved into an open relationship that lasted a decade. And I’ve had my chance to make out with hot people and discover all the things I didn’t want to miss about being young and sexy and free and now I don’t much want to make out with strangers anymore, but I am SO GLAD that I did it then.

    2. The ability to have ice cream for dinner and wear nothing but underpants while sitting on the couch and controlling the remote and be generally just as gross as possible with nobody to object is unbearably wonderful. Yeah, realizing your potential and expanding your soul and yada yada yada, I PICK MY NOSE WITH IMPUNITY AND SPEND ALL WEEKEND READING.

      1. I am happily partnered. I adore my SO, he is a wonderful person and our relationship is lovely and positive.

        And sometimes I still miss those times when I am answerable to no one and no one moves my stuff. When I go on business trips there’s always that one night where I order Pizza Hut and watch four hours of Law and Order because I CAN and NO ONE IS LOOKING it is GLORIOUS.

        There is a lot to be said for doing whatever the hell you want.

        1. I agree so hard with this comment. I am in a stable, loving, happy relationship with the bestest for-me lady ever BUT I do sometimes miss living in my shitty converted apartment alone. Being able to do whatever the fuck you want when you want it is super-powerful. It’s too bad that (especially in certain locations) long-term partnering up is considered part of being a Real Adult(tm). I wish so much that I’d not married my shitheel ex and that I’d flown solo years before I did just that.
          YMMV, obviously, but I think that sharing homespace, emotionspace and sexyspace with any intimate partner is so much Stuff that I would absolutely never live with/be monocommitted to someone else unless I loved the fuck out of them. I wish more people could experience the glory of steering their own battleship.

          I saw this documentary about asexuals where one woman married herself – I love the idea of a ceremony/vows stating commitment to honour, love, and utterly care for yourself.

          1. OH MAN. There are moments when I miss the little box of an apartment I had before I bought the condo my husband and I live in now. Mostly what I miss is that independence of living alone.

            And, that was a place I lived shortly AFTER divorcing the husband I married when I was too young and hadn’t done any of that single business, so I FEEL YA.

        2. Agreed! I think for the LW, the trick is finding (maybe, when LW is ready) a balance between the freedom and the guilt. I go out of town a lot, as does my SO, and I love my time by myself, pantsless and eating ice cream by the pint, and I also enjoy flirting with people at bars when I’m the one out of town (and I’m sure my SO does as well), but in a relationship where all is generally well, and both partners feel good about their SO/themselves/being monogamous, things tend to end at the flirtation, and there’s a nice balance of feeling free (I COULD have sex with this cute bartender who clearly thinks I’m foxy) without the constant cycle of guilt.

  3. LW, is it possible that you aren’t worried about losing Leigh, so much as losing the relationship with Leigh? The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and being in a relationship that seems rock-solid, to the point that you’re buying a house together, can seem pretty darn “perfect” even if in your heart of hearts you just aren’t feeling it. There’s love and comfort and a place where you belong. That can feel a lot like true, ride into the sunset, love. And for some, with the right person, it is! The thing you have to ask yourself, LW – Is Leigh the RIGHT person for you? Could even the smallest bits and pieces of you maybe want someone(s) else?

    Be true and honest with yourself, but also compassionate. Shame about this situation won’t help anyone, least of all yourself. Hugs to you, LW, and best of luck in figuring this out.

  4. Agreed. You don’t want to be in a relationship where you’re the fuckup always doing “wrong” stuff and he generously tolerates it.

  5. LW, this is exceedingly familiar to me. I did a lot of cheating on my SO in late high school, even though I thought he was perfect – we lived in different states, didn’t get to see each other that often, and there were several situations similar to your solo backpacking adventures. I actually told him outright each time it happened – that’s how I dealt with the guilt. But he was very patient with me (I did mention perfect, right?), and I managed to stop doing so. I was so goddamn proud of myself.

    And then he dumped me when we found out we were going to the same college.

    He didn’t dump me for the cheating, not even as a lingering-guilt/dread kinda thing. Frankly, the break-up had nothing to do with me at all – it was simply because he knew the relationship wasn’t what he really wanted at that point in his life. Not gonna lie, getting dumped hurt like hell, but ultimately it was very good for both of us – he ended up marrying someone who lived on his floor his freshman year, and I’ve got a partner I’ve been with for over a decade who is entirely on board with the open relationship style that ended up being the best fit for my particular brand of being polyamorous and bisexual.

    So yea, I am such a huge fan of taking the time to dig into what you really want our of not just this relationship, but *any* relationship. So very very worth it.

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been wrestling with “am I possibly non-monogamous, or just really, really single right now?” for awhile, and this made me feel better about it.

  7. So, I could be letting my personal experience color how I read this, but here’s my gut reaction –

    1) Leigh sounds like he’s a really sweet guy who’s genuinely trying. Unfortunately, that is manifesting itself in some controlling behavior.
    2) LW, you sound like you are feeling trapped, and as a result are acting out by cheating. You may be reacting to some fundamental incompatibility that you’re not consciously aware of, or you may just not be in a position to appreciate the nice guy you’ve found (assuming he really is the great guy you say he is). Maybe you just need to play the field a bit or whatever (hopefully you won’t have to go through the marriage from hell that I did) before you can truly appreciate a nice guy, but the bottom line is it’s not working NOW.

    I think, regardless of your and Leigh’s respective good traits and however compatible you may have been when you got together, you need to consider the possibility that this relationship is irreparably broken because of the way things are right now. Get some space and take the pressure off. If you decide to reconnect, do it after allowing enough space and time that you can start fresh; understand that this may not be possible and you both may have to go your separate ways permanently.

    1. I genuinely don’t see how Leigh appears to be controlling here. As I star reading the letter, I brace myself thinking “Urgh, yelling and guilting and low accusations of being a whore are going to happen soon” – in fact, I thing Leigh did the only honorable, respectul possible thing : not shaming LW, leaving her space and time alone to figure out what she wants. I wish I could have reacted so rationally.

      I’ve been in Leigh’s situation, and I have to admit I didn’t react as respectfully as I could have : when my GF at the time admitted to have repeatedly cheated on me since the beginning of our four-years relationship (same-sex couple), I screamed at her and ordered her to leave the appartement (I was paying for it), even if she begged me to let her find another place first. It’s one of the moment of my life I’m not proud of ; but it would have taken her at least one or two months before finding another place, and I honestly couldn’t bear to be close to her after that.

      My GF tried to come back with me after a few months, saying she had made a mistake and hadn’t understand how great our relationship was before ending it. If I can give one single advice, LW, do not do that to our partner. I still loved her somehow, was still raw from the betrayal, and it took a lot of energy and soul-tearing to tell her I couldn’t come back, because I knew in a few months she would be unsatisfed again and probably cheat again. Do some soul-searching, as advised by the Captain, but do not foul yourself (and your partner) if after your time experimenting, you realize the pros of a safe relationship and decide to resume it. If your ex still loves you, chances are he will agree, even if it may not be the best thing for him.

      1. “He also managed to find a conversation of me and a friend regarding this situation.”

        I don’t know what this means, but it sounds kind of controlling to me.

          1. According to him she was sleep talking. And apologizing for being a whore? He may have made it up as a passive-aggressive way to bring up the topic.

            The “managing to find a conversation” sounds like he’s searching.

          2. According to him she was sleep talking. And conveniently saying the very things that he might like to say. Combined with the conversation “finding”, which sounds like searching her messages, I think it may be a passive-aggressive way of confronting her.

          3. I can attest that sleep talking is a thing. So are partners that exploit that. I had a boyfriend who thought it was hilarious to engage me in conversation while I was asleep. He didn’t get why I felt really violated by that.

            Yeah… that one didn’t last.

        1. I’m usually not a fan of prying into your partners private emails, chats, what-have-you. But when someone has a reasonable suspicion that their partner is cheating, they often do that. I’ve done it, because I knew simply asking would net me a lie. He SHOULD have confronted her about it first, but I don’t think that given the circumstances (sleep talk that had already revealed a cheating incident in the past) he was being controlling in snooping.

          1. See, I think if you’re convinced that you’re going to get a lie just by asking, you’ve got a big enough trust problem that it’s time to seriously consider just ending it, with or without the proof. Or at least letting them know that’s what you’re going to have to do if you can’t resolve the trust problem and see if it prompts any “nothing left to lose” confessions.

  8. This reminds me very much of an episode of “This American Life”. LR, if you get a chance listen to act 1 of “486: Valentine’s Day
    Feb 8, 2013”. Its not a perfect replica of your situation but it talks about going out and finding what is right for you.

  9. Having been the one that someone cheated on repeatedly in order to stampede me into breaking up with him (so he didn’t have to be the bad guy), I know it’s a really awful situation in general. But I really wish that dude had just broken up with me instead of letting me discover him cheating on me 3 times with the same woman til I finally stopped forgiving him. I was happier without him! But I have also had a really difficult time with trust since that happened.

    Just a thought.

    1. Yes. Unfortunately, I was the other side of this equation. I really wish I had known before I checked out that that’s what I was doing — driving him away so HE would leave and I wouldn’t have to be the bad guy. I still was (and am) so it didn’t really do much other than mature me a bit. I advise all in a similar place to explore this because my ex didn’t deserve that. I should’ve just been like, “I want out. Bye.” instead of dragging it on with the other BS.

  10. Yep, this sounds very, very familiar to me. My first boyfriend was a great guy, but I cheated on him 3 times in 3 years. Eventually I decided that monogamy really wasn’t for me and we tried to hammer out an agreement for an open-ish relationship. There was a lot of unhealthy back-and-forthing, with me blaming him for not satisfying me, and him trying to control me and force me to be monogamous. Also all those feelings of guilt, boredom, inadequacy and mistrust that the Captain spoke of. When we finally broke up, I remember crying at a friends house and not knowing whether I was more sad or relieved.

    After that, I spent a few years reveling in sexual freedom. Not gonna lie, that feeling, the feeling of being wanted and having total control over who I bestowed my favors on, it really went to my head sometimes. Then, at the very height of that period, I met my now husband and suddenly discovered that I didn’t want to screw anyone else anymore. But I’m a firm believer that happy monogamy cannot be forced and that the best way to prevent yourself from cheating on someone who you consistently find yourself wanting to cheat on is by breaking up with them. (Or, alternatively, trying to negotiate an open relationship — but, I gotta warn you, I have never heard a story about a relationship that started out monogamous, where one person cheated on the other and then asked for non-monogamy, ending up well)

    1. Regarding monogamous relationship becoming open in some way, I have actually heard of a few that worked out just fine, but they were all BDSM relationships, so it probably doesn’t apply here. But just thought it was interesting.

      1. I’m in a poly relationship that started out monogamous. When I met Mr Theorem, I was in a poly relationship. He’d never even considered it and did not at all understand that it could be possible to be romantically/sexually interested in more than one person. We were deeply in love, and I broke up with my other partners to be with him. We talked from the start about my being poly and that if I felt that being monogamous wasn’t working for me, that we would talk about it. And that cheating was right out, for both of us.

        The first thing that happened was the Unicorn – a woman we were both friends with, who propositioned us both. She was in the situation where here partner had said it was OK for her to see other people as long as she didn’t tell him about it. However, after a while it turned out that he really wasn’t OK, so the three of us stopped being involved (while still remaining friends). This experience, BTW, is the reason that I don’t at all trust the “it’s OK as long as I don’t have to know about it” – I don’t see how you can have a good relationship while hiding parts of your life from the partner. I don’t mean that you have to go into detail, but at least knowing the broad strokes, what people you’re seeing – hiding that feels like cheating to me.

        The second thing that changed our relationship was that he fell in love with another woman. And he realised that this didn’t change his feelings for me. He still wanted to spend his life with me, but he wanted C to be part of it too. We talked about it, all three of us, and the two of them started an LDR. It lasted until she met a guy living in her own country, who wanted a monogamous relationship, and she wanted someone who would be there always, not just the odd weekend. We’re still friends, all four of us.

        Currently, I have a girlfriend but he doesn’t. This may or may not change in the future.

        I believe that the main reason this works for us is that we both know that we share a deep and abiding love. What we feel for other people doesn’t change what we feel for one another. That’s something that he needed to experience for himself before he could understand what I meant when I said so.

        1. That’s wonderful! I’m actually really glad to hear an experience like this. I personally had only (as stated in my last comment) heard about these relationships working in BDSM settings, so it’s great to see it works outside of the BDSM community too.

          And I agree with you, the idea of “it’s okay as long as I don’t have to know about it” when it comes to an open relationship is murky at best. It kind of shows that the speaker actually ISN’T really okay with it even thought they’re trying to be.

          Congrats on how well your relationship is going, by the way!

          1. ” It kind of shows that the speaker actually ISN’T really okay with it even thought they’re trying to be.”

            UGH YES. I really really advise people against the whole “don’t ask/don’t tell” format. It’s not really sustainable and really just has so much potential to lead to hurt feelings and anger and resentment. You don’t have to like, give a detailed play-by-play, but honesty and communication are the keys.

          2. Thank you!

            I just had a talk with my husband about how he feels about my sleeping over at my girlfriend’s place. I love how we can be open and honest about what it is that’s a problem without any of us getting upset or feeling that the other one doesn’t listen and/or care. It makes me feel very safe and loved. (And we realized that he and I agree on one issue with my staying there and I’ll talk to her about it and see what we can figure out to make all of us happy.)

            I think it helps that we’ve all been in relationships before that didn’t work, and we tend to be very analytical (sometimes too much so). This means that we’ve actually thought a great deal about what we want and what we don’t want, and by now we’re mostly able to say it out loud. We’re both in our early 40’s now.

      2. My partner and I are non-monogamous and our relationship is just your basic relationship (we are kinky but do not have a “BDSM relationship,” whatever that means), and we are just fine. I think the key is what thebearpelt may have missed in what Professor Mew said — monogamous relationships where one person cheats and then they decide to open the relationship are probably not a super good idea (based on what I have seen in my friends’ relationships). There is already broken trust there. My partner and I discussed potentially opening our relationship for years before we made it “official,” and even then it was a while before either of us found anyone to hook up with.

        1. I guess by BDSM relationship I meant people who identify with the BDSM community and participate in kink-style relationships of some kind. (Since some, of course, feel that they are kinky but don’t really identify with BDSM as a whole. Which is totally cool too. Basically whatever makes people comfortable.) But I was using the term in a more general or vague sort of way.

          I had been under the impression that Professor Mew was referring to a monogamous relationship that then opens up; I hadn’t considered that cheating would be involved in the hypothetical. I would agree that if cheating occurs first in the relationship then it’s going to be a rocky road, but I think that generally applies regardless of whether or not a couple decides to have some sort of open relationship afterward.

          Also, congrats on your relationship! I didn’t mean to imply that non-BDSM relationships couldn’t survive becoming open; I meant only that BDSM relationships were the examples I’d seen of that succeeding, since I’d thought Professor Mew was referring to monogamous-becoming-open not work in general. But anyways, it’s great to see other examples of that working out for people.

  11. LW: I’m getting a spidey-sense from your letter that you’re trying to convince yourself there’s One True Way regarding love and relationships–quite possibly, as a result of others and/or society convincing you there’s only One True Way regarding love and relationships.

    For example: “In order for me to salvage my relationship with Leigh I need to fully devote myself him and one day we will get married and have kids and live our lives like all the loving couple in the world.” Is “being like all* the loving couples in the world” your definition of happiness? Or is that what society/family/Leigh/etc. is telling you, to the point you’ve internalized it as the ONLY possible source of happiness? I’m not accusing anyone of malicious intent, even if you say yes to that last question. However, NOBODY ELSE can define happiness for you. Those who try are either looking to control you or to sell you something.

    * HECK NO do all the loving couples in the world follow the same formula. Not even close. There are plenty who don’t get married, who don’t get kids (or CAN’T have kids), who have fun outside the relationship, and even some who don’t fit the quantity required for ‘couple.’

    Another part that popped out at me was how you “genuinely enjoyed being hit on by [the people met while backpacking], having them telling me how beautiful and sexy I am.” It sounds like you’re trying to fill a void.

    I’d recommend finding a good therapist, because at the very least you owe it to yourself to unpack the guilt, the shame, the expectations on yourself, and the feelings you’re fighting against. You are not horrible, you are not broken. You are a human being. You just have to focus on yourself and figure out what human-ing means for you. However everything turns out, these experiences should be lessons, not punishments.

  12. Thank you so much everyone, I really appreciate this. To be honest I was preparing to be yelled at for being an unappreciative bitch and taking my bf for advantage. I didn’t know what else to do other than to “fix” myself and I didn’t even know where to start.. Trust me when I said all of you here have helped me tremendously. I may not have decided what to do yet or know what my future holds but I will remember what all of you said and I will try to work things out. Love, lost.

    1. Oh, Lost. I’m glad you came here and not to another advice blog where someone MIGHT start from the premise that you are broken and wrong. You’re not broken. You and Leigh are just in different places right now and you’re hurting each other with your incompatibility. He could be perfect and wonderful and you could be perfect and wonderful, but not for each other, or not right now.

      It’s ok to break up. It’s ok to renegotiate. It’s ok to be single or non-monogamous or a serial monogamist or whatever other kind of relationship style you want. It is NOT ok to break agreements again and again while trying to fit yourself into the mold you think you need to fit.

      Talk honestly and openly with Leigh about what you want. Ask him what he wants. Listen to his answers. In all of this, be compassionate and kind, both with yourself and with him. You did a bunch of wrong things when you broke your agreements with Leigh, but that doesn’t make you a bad person who needs to constantly seek forgiveness, so when you do talk it out with Leigh don’t start with that premise and don’t act the part of the supplicant.

      Good luck, and lots of Jedi hugs for both of you.

    2. To add onto what Puck said, you are definitely not broken! I am all about improving oneself, but that’s from a focus of being the best you possible. “Fixing” kind of implies that who you are in general is the problem and I don’t think it is.

      It’s okay to want different things from life! Someone doesn’t have to be a bad person for you to break up with them.

    3. You know that thing about how it takes a hell of a good boyfriend to beat no boyfriend at all? Usually I hear that when someone is telling another person that their partner isn’t very nice to them, and that you don’t need to be treated poorly.

      But! It’s true when you’re with a good person who wants to treat you well… but it just isn’t what you want or need.

      It takes a hell of a good boyfriend to beat no boyfriend at all. That means your lovely supposedly perfect partner? Is not a hell of a good boyfriend for you. He’s someone else’s hell of a good boyfriend. For you, he’s the partner that “should” be a hell of a good boyfriend, but isn’t.

      The person/people you are with, that bar? That bar can be really, really high. It’s okay for it to be a really high bar to get over. It’s okay to leave.

  13. I feel like I am in the opposite position but the same headspace. I’ve been agonizing for weeks about whether I should leave my partner who I love and who loves me because I want MORE from the relationship. We’re happily poly (they have other partners, I am not dating anyone else but looking), but they don’t view me or any of their current partners as their primary partner (a lot of poly people distinguish between a primary partner who is usually one person that they are a committed couple with, like most monogamous people would expect in their relationships, and then “non-primary” partners who they love also but don’t necessarily expect to live with as a committed couple). I knew that when we started dating and wasn’t sure how it would play out, but I keep finding myself getting super sad and lonely whenever something interrupts our ability to spend time with each other (which is a lot of things–we’re long distance and both busy, though we usually chat every day. Lately they’ve been ill and dealing with personal stuff though, and I struggled a lot to keep it together) and like what I really want right now is a primary partner instead. I feel like if I /had/ a primary partner, I’d be much more satisfied in my relationship with this person I love because I wouldn’t want so much more than is available. It took me a long time to even find one person to date though (I’m in my late twenties and this is my first serious relationship ever, for bonus frustration, and it’s less than a year old) that I’d hate to let something go that I wouldn’t even have to if I could just meet more people. But being poly and gay (and an introvert with social anxiety) in a very small city is pretty isolating.

    Most dating/advice sites I’ve looked at are hetero & monoamorous-centric and I find a lot of the offical “poly” community stuff to be heterocentric as well and alienating for other reasons (elitist culture, etc.), so I’m at a loss for advice on this. (Partner and I do talk about it, but neither of us really knows exactly what to do. Long-distance relationships alone are the pits and adding all this is extra confusing.)

    I keep telling myself that if I’m not happy, I should move on until I find a relationship where I AM happy, just like the advice to the LW. But it seems like such a terrible waste and the odds are stacked against me in the first place to meet people I can build a relationship with. I know I’ll survive–I’ve survived a lot already–but I want to aim for a higher standard than that. I just don’t know when to say it’s not worth it, because one day I’ll feel like it’s the end of the world and the next everything will feel solid and bearable again. I’m also about to move about 4 hours closer to them in a few months and that might change everything for the better. I have no idea how much of this is even just first-relationship jitters.

    LW I have nothing to add to the advice–I just felt so strongly connected to the emotions in your letter even though our situations are so different and I hope that you can find yourself in a happier place soon, wherever that is.

    1. Hey, I can’t comment specifically on your situation (neither poly nor gay) but I can say that you are likely way more desirable a partner than you think you are. Try to judge your relationship based on its own merits and not based on the fear that you’ll never have another one – our brains really like lying to us about that. I know this is easier said than done, though, especially when you are new to relationships.

      1. thank you. It’s not really a desirability issue (I feel reasonably desirable to a subset of people) so much as an opportunity issue–I tried dating a couple people who liked me when I didn’t feel the same way back as a teen and learned how terribly that works out. I only meet maybe 1-2 new gay poly people a year (or mono people who would be cool with a poly partner), even using dating sites, and I just haven’t liked anyone mutually until this person and they live in a whole different country. I know brains can lie and play on our insecurities, but sometimes the options really are limited. I’m being kind of negative in response to a sweet comment though–thank you for that, I mean it.

        1. I think what you’re doing makes sense – looking for someone else while keeping the connection with your other partner. But maybe there is a mental shift needed, in that this person is not a great primary partner for you? They are behaving in ways which make you unhappy. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, that seems to be the reality. So would it help to demote them in your head from primary to secondary, and leave a space for your new primary that will be coming along some day – at least for the moment? (Apologies for any clunkingly poor understanding of how poly works.)

          1. Replying mainly to say that *yes you can have a “secondary” to an as-yet-non-existent primary* People do this. I’ve *been* secondary to nobody-in-particular before and it definitely can work.

          2. Dittoes to yetanotherlefty. I’m 4 years into a relationship in which we’re clearly each other’s secondaries. We framed it that way from the first, and it has stayed true when one or both of us isn’t dating anyone else. Yes, it can work.

    2. I think it’s important to consciously take care of one’s needs and especially hold oneself to high standards, but it does all seem a little one sided. Maybe think of what you bring to a relationship, and look t the view from there.

    3. I think poly people often tell themselves that it’s okay to stay in a relationship that doesn’t suit their needs because, after all, it’s not like they can’t date someone else in some unknowable future situation, which will somehow make this present situation perfect. I really think that’s super common among the poly community, so you’re not alone.

    4. I wish I could give better advice, but I’ve always been monogamous and I probably can’t add much to the situation. But if it helps at all, this tumblr, while looking at social issues, also posts about poly relationships and maybe something there could help you? You could maybe even send the author a message and see if they have any good resources. http://brutereason.tumblr.com/

    5. JD, I wonder if you might want to try…..regular old dating? I mean, particularly as this is your first serious relationship, and you’ve found it’s not making you happy, what would happen if you tried just dating people for a while? I mean, at the beginning of dating, regular dating is pretty indistinguishable from poly dating (date more than one person with an eye to compatibility and future increase of intimacy and intensity), so you don’t even have to change a thing for a while, but particularly in a limited dating pool, you could maybe meet more people that you might be compatible with. And then, you know, if you meet a person who you would consider a primary partnership with….you can see how you feel about it then. Maybe you could try out just dating her/him for a while, see how that goes. Maybe it goes great, maybe you still want to see other people and then you have that talk. Maybe you decide that no, you don’t want to even try monogamy. Still ok! But you should definitely be focusing on something other than a relationship that, in the good times, feels ‘bearable’.

      Out of 100% curiosity, can I ask what drew you to polyamory if this is your first relationship? Like, how did you know that was a thing that was important to you?

      1. :/

        I was trying not to reply anymore so as not to derail a post that’s about LW, not me, but this comment really bothered me and I feel misrepresented by it in every single aspect. My identity as poly is not up for debate. You just asked the equivalent of, “How do you know you’re gay if you’ve never dated anyone? How do you know you’re bi if you’ve never dated anyone of your same gender?” Don’t do that to someone. It’s mean.

        I also said that this was my first /serious/ relationship, not my first relationship. AND that my major problem is that I can’t “just date” because I keep trying and never actually meet anyone I can date (beyond the first coffee meet-up) in my current living situation. If I could “just date” that would help a bunch, but that’s exactly what I said I’m not able to do. (This one frustrates me so much because so many people seem to not understand that for some groups of people, the dating pool isn’t just small it’s almost literally non-existent. The idea that I’d have a choice to be single and not be in enforced singleness no matter what I “choose” is… anyway. I get that it’s hard to imagine experiences that are different from your own, but this is life for a lot of people who live with restricted access to a compatible dating pool.)

        (Also, dating someone who expects me to be monogamous and building a relationship on that assumption is a hugely bad idea and I don’t think I need to spell out why. Then again you are assuming that maybe I’m “not really poly” so.)

        And I /am/ regular dating anyway. As in I met someone I liked, told them I liked them, and then they asked if I wanted to date and I said yes. I’m not sure what part of that is “irregular”. The only hitches are that it’s long distance, and that sucks, and that if it were a mono relationship, I’d be more in a position to say, “I know I want a committed relationship right now and I can’t have that /and/ this, so this has to go”. I /do/ want a committed relationship, but this other relationship isn’t a barrier to that–it’s just taking the brunt of my dissatisfaction with other life circumstances. And without a lot of good role models and advice for how to do poly relationships out (on top of all the dysfunctional norms for relationships in general), it’s hard to know where to draw the line, and other advice always seems to be aimed at people whose life situations are drastically different than mine.

        I’ll figure it out though. Thank you to everyone who replied and offered resources but I think this is a derail and I don’t want to take away from LW’s concerns.

        1. Wow, I think you SERIOUSLY misread duck-billed intentions there, and you sound super defensive about things that were brought up by no one but you. NO ONE said anything about you not being poly. No one but you, that is. You were asked a question out of “100% curiousity” about how you came to identify as poly, and this diatribe was your response. When you’re feeling less angry and defensive, you may want to re-read what you have said here. You have constructed quite the Sad Box for yourself to live in, and no one but you is making you live there. You sound like you could seriously use a therapist to unpack some of the hostility and the walls you have built around your life to ensure that you are never happy.

          1. Actually, I can see why JD read duck-billed placelot’s comment the way they did. I think the advice was apt and kindly meant (maybe date people without slotting them into secondary/primary partners, maybe don’t be in a relationship that’s just ‘bearable’ for the sake of being somewhere) but I can see how the questioning of why/how they know they identify as poly stung. Since you are not duck-billed placelot, please dis-insert yourself from this back and forth. Thank you.

  14. (1) There doesn’t have to be a Big Wrong Thing about a relationship (or a partner) to make it wrong FOR YOU. Leigh may indeed be a lovely guy and perfect on paper. You probably love him to bits. But this obviously isn’t enough for you. While that’s a scary thing to realise, it’s also absolutely ok and doesn’t make you a horrible person.

    (2) It shouldn’t be about you trying to make yourself into the Perfect Girlfriend (TM) for someone. It’s about finding the person, or people, for whom you are ALREADY the perfect (or nearly perfect) girlfriend. That may take some time but you’re young and adventurous. The world is full of possibilities.

  15. I basically want to say that this sounds a lot like me in my first relationship. I don’t know if this is LW’s first relationship or not, but I can hear that deep fear of breaking up and then NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU AGAIN because THIS IS YOUR ONE AND ONLY CHANCE because WHO ELSE WILL LOVE YOU THIS WAY?!?!?!

    The thing is, when I finally broke up with my first boyfriend, I cried for an hour or two on the phone with him (it was a mutual break-up) and then I went to sleep because it was like 2 am. Then the next day I woke up and guess what.

    I didn’t have leprosy.
    I didn’t have cancer.
    I didn’t die.

    I was totally fine.

    Seriously, breaking up is terrifying, especially if it’s the first time it happens, but trust me: YOU WILL BE OKAY. You will be totally okay.

    The first time I knew that I was thinking of doing sexy time things with other people than my boyfriend was when I knew we had to break up finally (I should have known earlier but that’s a whole other story). I’m a monogamous person so thinking of other men that way was definitely a sign to leave. If Leigh isn’t willing to be anything other than monogamous, then I think the fact that you’re wanting to be sexual/romantic with other people is a pretty good sign that this relationship just isn’t working.

    LW, believe me: if you break up with him, you will be fine. The days will keep turning, the Earth will continue spinning, the sun will keep shining, and air will still be in your lungs. You’ll be okay.

  16. My first response to this is that it seems like you could deal with being in an ethically non-monogamous relationship better than the monogamous one you have. But it takes a LOT of communication and a lot of trust, so it would be difficult to turn the relationship you have into an ethical non-monogamous one.

    You talk a lot about guilt and I get that- a lot of people who pursue non-monogamy also have guilt as they start to try and work things out, and certainly you will hear from (some) family and friends that you are in some way abusing the situation. But what matters is if you and your partner are happy with the shape of your relationship. Right now, you clearly aren’t. But perhaps you could be.

    I’m encouraged that Leigh has given you space (although slight alarm bells at ‘he has also managed to find’) and that he was also able to trust you once and even now seems to realise that this is possibly not as much about him as you. It gives me hope that if you did want to pursue ethical non-monogamy (whether that is poly- other ‘love’ relationships, or open- more physical-attraction based relationships, or whatever flavour in between feels best) that possibly he would be open to listening.

    It sounds like a great opportunity right now to read about this kind of thing and look- what you are doing right now exists in other relationships but not as a secret. It is possible to have the type of relationship with a steady partner and side-relationships and it all work out. I know people who have maintained poly relationships for several years and it can work.

    Best of luck thinking this all through 🙂

  17. Leigh is not actually “the perfect man.” There is no such thing as a perfect person or perfect relationship.

    I think you and Leigh are not actually all that close. You have him on a pedestal, and living on a pedestal is not a fun place to be. You can’t be yourself with someone you think is “perfect.” I think you’re starving for connection with people you see as flawed human beings like yourself. (I bet Leigh is too.)

    Leigh is a flawed human being like you. He deserves a partner who knows this, and who’s with him because she wants to be, not only because he loves her. Nor do either of you deserve this dynamic where you mess up, then abase yourself utterly (even in your sleep!), and he magnanimously forgives you.

    Ani DiFranco song for any occasion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pCVquWGjWs

  18. It sounds to me like the behavior that comes naturally to you at the moment is behaving like you’re single (or not monogamous at least), and the behavior that comes with being in a monogamous relationship feels really forced to you at the moment. You say you have to “concentrate” on being a good girlfriend, for example. Just sounds like being in this relationship demands a lot of repression of impulses from you. IMO, you should only be in a monogamous relationship when that feels about as natural to you as going on a backpacking trip solo and making it out with different people. I can tell you that while I used to have similar problems in past relationships, now being monogamous really doesn’t require much thinking for me. It’s very rare that I actively have to think of it and control myself. It’s not really present as a rule in my life because it’s mostly what I want anyway.

    I would really caution against opening up the relationship. I did that once and it was a clusterfuck, very similar dynamic to the situation the Captain described. While some people may think it worthwhile as a last ditch effort to save a relationship, it can actually do a lot of damage to the friendship you might otherwise be able to maintain with your boyfriend (after a relationship grieving period). And it just creates a lot of drama if it isn’t what both people truly want, and in the end you’ll probably get the breakup drama on top of that anyway, so it’s just a bad proposition. I’m positive that you would feel guilty hooking up with others even with your bf’s permission if he’s just giving it in order to do you a favor. Your boyfriend seems aware that things could end (or he might choose to break up with you soon anyway) and he has essentially given you an opportunity to break up without much bitterness. I would use that opportunity and just free yourself now. It’s scary, but you’ll likely be relieved to have all the freedom you want.

    As a more general remark, I think that the idea that it would be *just terrible* to break up with a good guy in order to be single is a sexist idea that’s hammered into our heads by society. What are we thinking, leaving GOOD GUYS. The horror! It’s perfectly fine to break up with someone good in order to be single. The thinking should be reversed: You need a lot of good reasons to give up on the awesomeness of being single.

  19. Also, I feel like we need a PSA that it’s fine for all women (and for everyone generally) to explore their sexuality, experiment with different partners, and look out for a truly satisfying sexual experience (which can include ending a relationship that’s not fully sexually satisfying). It’s fine and it’s seriously worth it. Don’t feel bad if you’re with a good guy and he doesn’t 100% do it for you sexually – there are other guys or girls who will, and who will be good guys or girls, too. (Ugh, I just noticed the completely different connotations of “good guy” and “good girl”). I’m so, so glad I finally got the chance to be with someone who I click with sexually, and I almost missed out on it because I desperately wanted to make another relationship work, a relationship where I had to fight tooth and nail for my sexual satisfaction and still only got crumbs, and where I was constantly tempted to cheat.

    1. This, so much! It doesn’t matter what it is you need, if your partner is otherwise perfect for you but doesn’t meet the bar in the area that is important to you, don’t force it. It’s totally okay to leave and find the person that *is* good for you there.

  20. LW, in your thinking keep the sunk-cost fallacy firmly in mind. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the tendency to feel like we should keep putting money/effort/time into something just because we’ve already put so much money/effort/time into it and it’s hard to write that off as wasted. But it’s a fallacy because actually, that money/effort/time is gone and investing more won’t change that.

    You need to decide based on what you want from the *future* and how much effort you’re willing to spend to get that, and also how likely it is that putting in effort will get the result you want.

    Sometimes we persist with something because we used to be so hopeful about it. Because it seemed perfect. So we keep chasing the phantom of what we wanted a thing to be, even when it clearly isn’t that thing. Because we believed it once, and it’s hard to accept you were mistaken about something so important. Or because it just hurts so much not to have the thing we wanted (so we keep pretending we do have it, except for this one thing, which we can fix with effort, only actually we can’t fix it).

    All of this is a round about way of saying that you don’t sound super happy with the relationship you have. And obviously you’ve invested a lot in it, and it seems to tick all the boxes you’re supposed to want ticked. Try to look passed all that and ask yourself if this is what you want, if you’re *happy*. Because you need to find a way to do relationships without constantly betraying this guy’s trust and making promises you don’t actually want to keep. And maybe that means not being with this guy at all.

  21. Hi

    This is my first comment after reading through hundreds of Awkward letters. This is the first time I feel I have something useful to add 😛 You guys all rock btw.

    To LW: when you have been with someone for a long time, you get into certain habits and beliefs. You both change over time and it can become difficult to recognise yourself and your partner after a long time. Sometimes that doesn’t really matter. In your case, I think it does.

    You got together at a time when most people go through a lot of changing, providing the foundations of who you will eventually become.

    Again, if you’ve grown together, it doesn’t matter but I really feel in your case, you need to explore the world and how you fit in it.

    It’s clear that you might need some time outside the relationship, to take stock, figure some things out and maybe review your relationship.

    I was with someone for 5 years and there were a lot of toxic behaviours and patterns I hadn’t realised were such until it was over.

    It doesn’t have to be the end for the two of you but it really does seem that some perspective is needed about the future of both yourself and the relationship.

  22. I really feel for you, LW! Lots of the things in this letter could have been me five years ago. I may be projecting a bit from my own experience, but I fell in love with someone when I was still in school and like you, we grew up together, shared so much love and happiness, and made plans to spend the rest of our lives together. But somewhere along the way, we actually grew in different directions. Unlike you, I didn’t really allow myself to acknowledge that, and the result was that we prolonged our relationship far beyond the time we should have done, and behaved in some less-than-admirable ways along the way. Looking back, I realise that I was deeply invested in the ‘fairytale’ aspect of our love – we met so young, we stayed together though hard time, we were ‘that couple’ who all our friends thought of as the example of a successful relationship. When we finally broke up, I was devastated, but I think in many ways I was grieving for the relationship we had once had and the one we had imagined we would have in the future, not the one we were actually in. Once I had worked through that grief I was so much happier single than I had been with him. What’s going on in your relationship may not be exactly the same, but forcing yourself to be honest about the real relationship, not the ‘imagined’ one, is a good step for figuring out what you really want.

    1. This is so exactly what I wanted to say. I left a long marriage just a year ago. Not over either of us wanting other sex partners (though we have always been poly to some extent), but over ‘we actually grew in different directions.’ And, as has been mentioned by other commenters, somehow we got it framed as ‘I changed, but he didn’t, so I’m the bad guy.’ Which of course isn’t the whole truth; he changed, too, but not in ways that are so ‘unconventional.’ Put that another way altogether: we started out in the same career, but I lost the Perfect Job and ended up with an unwanted career change — so now we don’t have the same technical interests.

      What I most wish, at the end of a year apart, is that I’d had the good sense to end the relationship 20 years ago when it was first really clear that we had grown in different, irreconcilable directions. Instead of insisting to myself that the ‘fairytale’ aspect of our undying love was enough reason for me to stuff my growing feet into the glass slipper of his continuing expectations.

      We’re friends, now, and that’s a good thing.

  23. I was the “perfect” guy who was cheated on by an ex. Yes, it is raw, and it feels like the ultimate betrayal when it happens, you start to question every part of yourself.

    But eventually, when the dust cleared, and I had learned to love my single self again, I realized that we were two completely different people, with different goals. It took me a very long time to grieve the relationship that was, but after I did, I started to categorize my own needs in a relationship.

    I met my fiancée almost a year after the break-up. My ex and I eventually reconnected as friends. As happy people with separate lives, who wouldn’t have had any of that experience if we had stayed together despite how “perfect” we were for each other.

    It really does get better, for the both of you.

  24. I am smellin’ what you’re cookin’, LW. Believe me, I have tried so hard in the past to bully myself into being happy. I once had a husband who was so over the moon for me. We married and he got a great job and I was let go of my shitty job and suddenly had a chance to return to school, which I’d never been able to do, which nobody in my family had ever done, and which his support made possible. Believe you me, I had HUGE motivation to stay in that relationship. And correspondingly huge feelings of self-loathing for not wanting to be in it. For finding him increasingly tiresome and petulant. For beginning to resent him.

    I left. But not before my resentment got to the point where I had begun to treat him badly. This wasn’t one-sided of course – he treated ME badly as well and used his “love” like a weapon. He was a very enthusiastic supporter of my self-loathing, as it meant I was the bad guy and he got to be the long-suffering good guy. I was so committed to that world view that when I finally left, I became homeless while I finished school because I refused to ask for alimony.

    You haven’t mentioned what’s perfect about this perfect relationship, so without getting too speculative, I wonder if it’s really so perfect? If you feel like you owe him something because you’re being a bad girlfriend, that’s a huge amount of pressure. I mean, it’s the kind of pressure that builds on itself, you know? Because feeling guilty all the time is NOT going to inspire you to pour all your love and energy into this relationship. And when you don’t, and you feel bad about not, it just gets worse. That sounds… less than perfect.

    And I agree with CA – it IS terrifying. I wouldn’t wish my first couple years after leaving my husband on anyone, but guess what? I’m now in a top PhD program. I’m travelling around the world and learning new languages and meeting people and having experiences I would NEVER have had if I’d stayed in that safe, stifling space that was our home and our relationship. I am living a life I was sure until my early 30s could only ever be a dream for me. The friends and family who felt I was using this poor guy appallingly now have nothing to say, because it’s so clear now I was SO NOT MEANT for that kind of life back then. I’ve taken off like a freaking rocket. Who’s to say you can’t do the same? I would suggest, gently, that you try to let go of that guilt. I think maybe the guilt is holding you back from a life that could be extraordinary.

    Also, as a PS – good call on avoiding the online dude. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of people who meet in games and build awesome lives together with awesome games in them. But. Before the time of you young’uns, there was Everquest. And on Everquest, I met many men. Some of them fell in love with me before meeting me. Each time that happened, it turned into some needy-ass “love.” Lots of dramatics about not being able to live without me, etc. Just remember that when a person is totally enamored with you without having met you, they’re enamored mostly with a projection. A fantasy. You COULD meet and turn out to be exactly each other’s projection, but if you’re not, it will Not End Well. Take it from a woman who had an affair with one married man, got engaged to another guy from across an ocean without ever having met him, and at around 22, had a man in his 40s threaten to kill himself when I broke up with him. Also without having met him. Just… you know. Be careful with dudes like that. Here there be dragons.

  25. It’s hard being the perfect couple, the one that your friends all think of as being perfect together. It seems fine, on the surface. It’s flattering, and you feel like you have met a societal milestone and maybe gotten an A on the test. But, somewhere underneath, there’s the fact that no one is actually perfect. You already know that YOU aren’t and you feel guilty about not being the perfect girlfriend, but, he isn’t a perfect boyfriend either. No. It is something that does not actually exist, no matter how much you want to believe it or make things fit.
    People are people, and, people are flawed. All of us. But, we can also be really really good at trying to make things fit. Our minds like to categorize things and make stories to tell ourselves that rationalize events and actions down to neat little packages. It’s how we make clouds look like animals, and name constellations after heroes and beasts.
    You are calling him perfect, and calling yourself names in your sleep? This is a very, very broken dynamic. You are naming ROLES here, and our minds may like easy narratives, but, that does not make them true. This particular dynamic is horrible for both of you, but, dangerous for you because when you label yourself that way, you can really start to believe it. When you believe horrible things about yourself you can start feeling like you don’t deserve to be treated decently, and then you can, sometimes, seek situations where you are not treated decently at all. PLEASE do not go down this road. It is a horrible road.

    Back to real relationships and people. Real people and real relationships are flawed. You can find someone who you love and who fits you fantastically, but, they won’t be a perfect person. It’s really more like finding someone who has flaws that aren’t flaws to you, or whose flaws fit yours in a way that works well for both of you. It isn’t never fighting, but, rather knowing how to disagree in a respectful way and resolve things in ways that work for both of you.
    Thinking of yourself as the flawed one and your significant other as Perfect unbalances the relationship in a way that makes it really super hard to keep things fair or beneficial to you. It becomes hard to stand up for(or even ask for) the things that you need, and so, you get less and less of what you need from the relationship. If you aren’t getting what you need from the relationship, then it is ok to to not be in that relationship. You don’t have to fix everything. It is not that you are broken(if you think that something IS broken, therapy is often a good idea. I am doing therapy now). The situation may actually be the broken thing, and that’s ok. You can disentangle yourself and find your balance afterwards.

  26. I still have a comment in the spam filter, but I thought of something else. I don’t know if Leigh is doing this, but I think that sometimes the attitude of “I’ll leave you all the freedom you want and accommodate all your needs” can be just another way of really pushing for the idea that you simply MUST stay together and that your relationship is meant to be. The idea being something like “If I let you do everything you want, you won’t have a justification for leaving me” (again, not saying that Leigh is trying to do this, just bringing it up as a possibility). It’s often healthier to NOT be 100% accommodating and to be able to end a relationship when there is a significant issue like this. So I don’t think his being open to an open relationship necessarily means that he is super generous and ready to sacrifice a lot, it could just mean that he is too scared of losing you and not really able to enforce his boundaries because of it (admittedly, it’s a difficult thing to realize that you have a pretty much insurmountable problem in a relationship, it takes a lot of maturity to see the writing on the wall and act on it). As the Captain pointed out, this can easily turn into a bad dynamic where he starts blaming you for making him feel bad, even as he allows you to see other people. Or it can lead to a dynamic where he feels like you owe him to stay with him because he sacrificed so much. This is something my ex did and I felt super guilty for trying an open relationship with him and then still leaving him for another guy.

  27. LW, I think you need to take some time thinking about what it is you really want, and in that I think you should consider why you chose to write to this blog. What kind of advice to you expect to receive? What kind of advice were you hoping to receive? A lot of the time, when we say we’re lost, we’re actually standing on the path looking straight at the place we want to go, and just need someone to tell us it’s okay to start walking.

    Ultimately, in your letter, it sounds like what you want is actually pretty clear to you. You talk about life with Leigh – dedicating yourself to being a perfect girlfriend, to getting married, to children – as a chore, something that is hard and requires will power. You talk about your encounters with other people as fun things that made you feel excited, positive and happy (aside from the issues of guilt). These were things you did because you wanted to, and they were things you wanted enough to do them even knowing the effect it may have on the life you’ve got right now. That seems like a pretty strong desire to me.

    On top of that, I would like to echo what some other people have raised about Leigh sounding somewhat controlling – or, at least, it sounding like you don’t have enough of a say in where your relationship goes. So you’re not engaged, the ceremony was a sham for the sake of your families…but he sees you two as engaged? How’s that come about? I don’t think you can be engaged to someone without them being explicitly also engaged to you, which you two aren’t. It sounds like Leigh has decided something for the both of you without asking, and you don’t actually agree. And now you feel guilty, because you don’t agree on a decision he made *about* you but *without* you. I’m also concerned about him “managing to find” the conversation with your friend about your encounter while travelling. I’ve cheated before, and I did not leave any information about it somewhere my then-partner could stumble across it by accident. How did he find that?

    Ultimately, when I cheated on my ex, I felt terrible for a while – I had ruined the life we were going to have, I was a terrible person, how could I do this? I had a lot of the feelings you were having now. Then one day shortly after he found out and we were trying to ‘work through it’, we had a screaming row and he kept asking me *why* I had done what I did. And the true, honest answer popped out of my mouth “Because I wanted to.” And I realized how long it had been since I’d had something I wanted.

    I don’t know what kind of life you want, LW, but it doesn’t sound like what you have right now is making you happy. Sometimes we look at these things and see the houses we’ve bought and the families that have expectations and the years of history between two people, when actually, it’s not that complicated. The only question that should matter to you, LW, is what do you want to do?

  28. LW, there’s nothing wrong with following your heart, regardless of what that means — being single, in your career, with family, with travel, whatever. I found myself in a very similar situation. Tl;dr version: Started dating at 17; married at 22; a decade of “perfect” togetherness, general compatibility and yet the pantsfeelings had died and I started DREADING coming home at night, delighted when he had plans elsewhere. Even after an emotional affair, he was still willing to stick around and work on it, but unfortunately I was already checked out. It hurts to be in a place of telling someone you love(d) that it’s over or you want to be off doing something else (with someones else) but you can’t help how you feel. You owe him to be honest and direct, not a change of heart.

    Trust me when I say when it’s right — being single, a new partner, a new job — you will KNOW. It will be like coming up for air or finally getting a drink of water after being parched for so long. THIS is what I was missing! This is what it’s supposed to feel like!

    I’ve had so much complication with new guy from the start of our relationship: lost jobs, moving, divorce, car accidents, family spats, on and on — and yet at the end of the day, at the end of EVERY day, I am blissed out of my mind happy. Nothing feels insurmountable, everything feels like a team effort, and even 18+ months into this crazy ride I am still enjoying every minute at his side. You, and everyone else, can and will find this if you have the courage to go looking for it. I hope you do.

  29. LW, I highly recommend this Dear Sugar column.

    “Go, even though you’re sure no one will ever love you as well as he does.

    Go, even though there is nowhere to go.

    Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay.

    Go, because you want to.

    Because wanting to leave is enough.”

  30. Dear Captain Awkward,

    How, every time I’m troubled by something and thinking about a major life change and it’s making me scared and sad and uncertain and freaked out and itchy, do you manage to publish advice that seems like you’re answering the letter I would’ve written to you about my thing except I never got around to writing it? Seriously? Why are you an advice psychic and how can I tap into your magical powers?

    (Also, please expect me to write to you in about 2ish months when I need help dealing with the fallout from the “Hey, Husband, you’re cool and I love you but we never bone anymore so I’m going to quit my insanely-high-paying-and-also-soul-suckingly-terrible job and take all of my savings and go live in Spain for six months, sorry” conversation that’s going to happen. Because, thanks in part to you and this community, it’s going to happen. And it’s going to be UGLY. But this column today is giving me the strength to remember that UGLY + honest works better than “stuff everything inside so the outside stays pretty and nice and die a death by a thousand tiny cuts of boredom and lack-of-boning.” So thank you.)

      1. Best photo ever. (And also my first direct CA response, squee! Yes, I’m a nerdy fangirl.)

    1. Speaking as somebody who upped stakes and moved to a different country six years ago on what turned out to be the tail end of an increasingly bad and stressful marriage (it’s complicated, but I got into grad school here, he refused to come with me, and then unexpectedly died right after spring finals), it’s actually a pretty awesome idea to be in a different country when you’re coping with that kind of stuff. 🙂 The day to day culture shock always has the power to take your mind off things, for starters.

  31. I have a very close friend ‘Kayla’ who is deliberately un-married.
    She is talented and witty and beautiful. She travels and has lots of interests and several careers. She has had many relationships, and was engaged several times. She still dates, but is very up front about not wanting to marry now.

    When we were younger we shared adventures together, Kayla broke me out of my rut and expanded my view of what life could be. She moved away and has lived all over America and in a couple other counries. Every year or so she comes and stays with me for a few weeks. My kids adore their Aunt Kayla, and she loves them. She sends them packages of little toys and trinkets from her travels, and postcards addressed to them (they love getting mail!).

    A few years ago my mother commented on how it was a shame Kayla never grew up. How selfish and immature she was to never settle down and be an adult.
    I couldn’t make her understand that Kayla is an adult. She plans her moves, finding a job and a place to live before she goes. She has a small condo here she rents out to cover the mortgage. When she retires, she’ll live there.

    Kayla loves becoming. Most people become who they are and just kind of tinker with themselves a bit after that. Kayla keeps on changing into someone new. The settled life that is such a huge comfort to me would be a prison for her. And vice versa. I like who I am, I don’t want to make major changes unless I have to. I would be in constant anxiety if I had her life, it wouldn’t be fun, it would be torture.

    Lost, it doesn’t matter how beautiful this life is if you are still becoming, and your partner is ready to settle. You’re both going to be miserable and trying to find compromises will only make you both resentful.

    I hope you throw yourself into the life you need right now with a clear conscience, and a happy heart!

    1. It sounds like Kayla is emotionally healthy, self-sufficient, and enjoying the hell out of herself. I don’t know what’s more “grown up” than knowing what you want and need and going and getting that thing in a way that hurts nobody. May we all become such grownups.

    2. My mother’s twin sister never married; the way my mom tells it, she was in a relationship with an older man for many years, then he died unexpectedly. They never married. Mum’s attitude smacks very much of the idea that my aunt completely wasted a large part of her life (and this merits a certain amount of scorn and condescension for the rest of it, apparently). When I was first told this story, and Mum said something to the effect of, “I just don’t know what she was thinking, what she expected to get out of this whole thing,” I blurted out, “Maybe she loved him?” and got a bit of stink-eye for my trouble. Admittedly, she was there and I wasn’t, so maybe this guy treated my aunt really badly or something. But the vibe I get is just “she didn’t have a traditional relationship and now she’s going to die alone”, without any consideration for how my aunt feels about how she lived.

    3. Holy cr@p, I kind of wish I was Kayla.

      (This thread is killing/saving me right now, and I’m trying to refrain from commenting to every. single. person because it feels like everything and everyone is speaking directly to me, but the Kayla thing, and the way you phrased it – “Kayla loves becoming” – is just absolutely mind-blowing for me.)

  32. Oh LW, I feel you so hard. I grew up in a tiny, stifling town, and I spent high school in a super intense relationship with a guy who wanted to stay in that town, buy a house, have kids, etc. That was his ideal life, and most people in that town’s ideal life, and what many of my friends from that town have done. And I loved that guy — I loved him hard and intensely. (He was my first love, in fact.)

    We talked about if we should get engaged. He had a list of names he liked for kids. My parents adored him. But there was always this little part of me that wondered, “Really….forever?” when we’d talk about that kind of thing, and a more vocal part of me that knew I wanted to leave that town, at least for college. Well, college came around for him first (he was a year ahead of me, and he only went because I badgered him into it, which, in retrospect, was not a good thing for either of us — he dropped out pretty quickly) and by the end of September, we’d broken up.

    I was heartbroken. I was also SO RELIEVED.

    Then I went to college. Sophomore year I started dating a really great guy. I loved him SO MUCH. It was SO INTENSE. We were together for the rest of college, and again, talking about things like, should we get a place together after graduation? Would I be willing to move to the tiny city where he was going to grad school? Should we get engaged? We wanted to be together, but when we talked about what that would actually mean for both of us — especially for me, who’d grown up in a tiny town and didn’t want to move to a nearby tiny city — I had that little voice again, that said, “but…forever? ” and, because i had a better idea of who I was and who I wanted this time, it added, “You want to be with him…but not like this. (And maybe not forever.)”

    After a very rough few months of being “on a break” but still talking daily and crying to each other and missing each other and it being awful, we ended it. I was so heartbroken. And so, so, so relieved.

    And guess what? My high school boyfriend met a girl in the next town over. They moved into a cute house, got married, and have kids, and from what I hear through the grapevine, are very happy with that life. My college boyfriend liked his tiny city but also had the freedom to accept research opportunities around the world. He lived in Switzerland for a year, came back for awhile, and last year moved to Germany, possibly permanently. He loves it there, and he would never have been able to do that if we’d gotten married, because I would never, ever have wanted to or been willing to.

    And me? I’ve realized I don’t have any particular drive to get married (if I meet a guy who never sets off that voice in my mind, rad! but I’m not on the lookout for him). Making the decisions, with both of those dudes, to walk away from what looked perfect and wonderful and we were talking about as lasting forever has led me to the life I have now — single in a big city, able to spend as much time on my career and creative pursuits as I want, with amazing friends I love hanging out with — and THIS is the life I could lead forever. Forever forever, for real. I’m so glad I listened to that voice in the back of my mind.

    I hope that you can hear what your voice is telling you, whether it’s that Leigh is the one, or whether it’s not sure forever is what you want, and that you will follow its advice.

  33. LW, there’s a tone to your letter that’s telling us how great Leigh is, how he’s really such a fantastic human being, practically perfect in every way, the pattern of chivalry, the chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, a faultless commander and a triple D.S.O., etc. While I’m sure that he is in fact just as lovely as you say, it comes across more that you’re having a conversation with yourself where you can’t understand why, when he’s so great, you just aren’t feeling it. It is OK to just not be feeling it. When you’re balancing up how you feel about a relationship and whether you still want to be in it and whether you’re prepared to put in the work that would take, there doesn’t have to be a definitive Bad Wrong Thing that you can hold up to the world and say “This is my Reason”; it can just be that it’s not quite right, somehow. If that’s what you decide, it doesn’t file that Leigh is somehow turned into a bad person by that; or that you are. It’s not a judgement on anyone. Good luck with whatever path you choose.

    1. Yes, this. I was about to say this very thing.

      LW, your letter is filled with statements Leigh’s feelings towards you. What about your feelings? I don’t see anything about them. I wonder if you feel the same way towards Leigh that they feel towards you. If not, that is a perfectly legitimate reason to leave. You are not foolish to leave a person who loves you. You are not doing the best thing for yourself by staying in a relationship that doesn’t meet all of your needs.

  34. My apologies if someone has already linked this but: LW, consider that your boyfriend may be ill-fitting for you http://criminalreviews.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/a-captain-awkward-glossary/#pants

    He may be a perfectly wonderful boyfriend! There may be nothing really wrong with him OR with you! But he just doesn’t *quite* “fit” with you and your life. Or, to use another metaphor: have you ever seen a really really beautiful awesome piece of furniture in a shop window and thought “Wow, that is one amazing sofa / ottoman / coffee table! I wish I could buy it, it’s wonderful… but it would clash horribly with my other furniture / wallpaper / David Bowie lifesize cardboard cut out so I best not”.

    People can be like that. They can be amazing, beautiful, compassionate, warm, sexy awesome people… and clash horribly with other things in your life so you best not. It’s not always obvious (sometimes we have to send furniture back to the shop after trying it in three different rooms) but some people are really great people… for someone else.

    In case anyone was after a script for gently breaking up with someone, I offer this: “This isn’t working. I’m sorry about that but I know this isn’t working and I know I don’t want to keep trying to fix it. We’re breaking up.”

    1. Oh God LW is dating my couch. Seriously, great metaphor! This is something that I can use when discussing breakups or imperfect fits. I have an apartment decorated in bold primary colors, and a couch I love that’s this shabby-chic victorian cream and pink stripes. I love that couch so freaking much. But it lives in my basement or garage because it looks AWFUL with everything.

      LW, your boyfriend is maybe a comfortable, subdued, tasteful awesome couch when you want a whole lot more magenta in your life.

  35. Leigh may indeed be a perfect boyfriend. Thing is, he’s not a perfect boyfriend for you. You want to be single, and no matter how great he is, it sounds like you need some time alone. You’ve been dating him for five years. You’re 24 now- that’s almost a fifth of your life, and all of your adult life. Right now, you know who you want you-and-Leigh to be, but you don’t really know who you are because you’re trying to subsume her into the Perfect Girlfriend. So break up with him. Be kind, be honest and let go of this illusion so you can go learn about your reality.

  36. Hey LW. Poly queer person here. Being poly is great! You might decide that being poly is great for you too! I just wanted to point out that being poly isn’t necessarily a free-for-all, cheating-is-no-longer-possible fun mess. I’ve cheated on someone in a poly relationship because we failed to communicate our boundaries/expectations properly. Cheating pretty much sucks all around, for everyone involved. You can repair a relationship after a violation of trust like that, but it’s hard, and it sounds like a very-not-ideal place to “open up” an assumed monogamous relationship into a poly one (especially when there’s this dynamic of you are the Bad Guy and Leigh is the Long Suffering Good Guy – who… reads your private conversations with friends????)

    If you decide to try out being single and/or poly, a future thing that would be great to do at the beginning of any kind of relationship is to define what cheating means to you. Is cheating sexual activity with anyone other than Partner? Is it sexytimes without telling Partner first? Is it unsafe sex with someone other than Partner? Is it casual sex, or non-casual romantic connections (whatever that means to you)? Are you ok with casual, sexual, and romantic attractions, but you just like being kept up to speed?

    I’d also like to put in a word of caution about using terms like “primary” or “secondary” – for some people it’s a useful way to organise their relationships, but it can also go to a not-fun place of feeling like you’re organising your relationships in some kind of hierarchy of importance/worth. A way to get around that can be to just name your relationships for what they are – eg, long term partner, casual girlfriend, casual fuckbuddy, romantic date-friend, cuddle buddy, etc.

  37. My best friend could have written this letter. She got married young (so young) and she and her husband are just completely different people now. She’s been so unhappy for so long, and I wish she could believe what is being said here – wanting to leave is good enough reason to leave. Needing more than what your partner can give you doesn’t make you a terrible person. Instead, she’s internalized her guilt and they’re both miserable. She struggles with depression and is in a really, really bad place right now with an eating disorder and I’ve been so worried about her.

    LW, the Captain’s advice is so spot-on. I hope that whatever decision you make, you can stop feeling guilty for having wants and needs. It’s really okay.

    My friend checked into a treatment facility this week for her anorexia and doesn’t have access to the internet, but I am bookmarking this one for when she gets out and is ready to hear it, especially the last two sentences. Thank you, Captain.

  38. “Am I really willing to let a man like this go just to fuel my desire of being single?”

    Wrong question. A better question is whether you are willing to keep treating “a man like this” badly because you don’t know what you want.

    It’s okay not to know what you want. It’s okay to need to go out in the world and find out what you want. It’s not okay to lie (to yourself and to Leigh) about what you want, or even that you know what you want when you don’t.

    It sounds like maybe you need to be single. Or maybe you need to be polyamorous. Or maybe you need to figure out who you have grown up to be. Sometimes the scariest thing in the world is to have to say “I don’t know”.

    Since there is another person involved here, one you care deeply about, I recommend you proceed as carefully as you can. Commit yourself to not looking outside your relationship for six months. Then get a therapist, a good one, to help you figure out what you questions you want to answer about yourself. Talk to Leigh, tell him what you are doing. Consider getting a couple’s therapist, as well, to help both of you talk honestly about what you are doing, thinking, feeling, fearing.

    Embrace the “I don’t know”.

    On another topic, think hard about what the “fake engagement ceremony to placate our families” says about your ability to own your own choices. Until you are comfortable enough with what you choose for yourself not to need that kind of subterfuge, it’s hard for me to see how you dig your way out of the place where you are. Also, if it was a real engagement ceremony in Leigh’s eyes and a fake one in your view, and you knew it, then it wasn’t only your parents you were lying to.

    1. Ehm. As far as I understood it, both of them had the understanding that the engagement ceremony was purely for show but LW’s partner then decided that it’s actually kinda what he wants. LW staying with her opinion on the ceremony is not lying in that case.

        1. Thank you so much for your advice sorcharei. I really appreciate your input and has given me a lot to think about. Just to answer your question, Erin is correct. At the time l have not yet had any desire to become single and was happily in love and what not. But we were both only 22 and 24 and one of us was still in school so we figured we were not ready for a commitment like this yet and that we should just put up a front for now. When the time is right for us both we can then get engaged “for real” I hope that makes sense. And thank you SO MUCH. Thank you.

  39. OMG. LW, you are me, as of about 20 years ago. I’m going to tell you what I wish I had done then. Break up. Be single.

    What did I do instead? I spent 20 years breaking the heart of someone I still think the world of, but couldn’t settle with. I was the bad one, he was the good one. He deserved better. I deserved better. And when I finally found the courage to leave, I carried so much guilt for all those years of trying to be the girlfriend he deserved. I still carry it. I am the bad one. But I have to make my peace with that and go on.

    Just go. Go now. It only gets worse.

    1. Argh me too. 16 years. 2 kids. Not worth the pain of not making each other happy.

  40. A good friend of mine once said, “When you choose who to be with, you’re also choosing who you want to be.” Is person you are with Leigh who you want to be? Is it who you CAN be right now or in the long term?

  41. Oh LW, are you me? I put my previous bf through similar crap, and he loved me and put up with it and tried to work around it, but in the end I knew I didn’t love him like he loved me and was always going to keep hurting him. I ended things, tried to stay single to get my head sorted (hadn’t been properly single for 9 years, with several relationships up to that point), then ended up pushed into a relationship with an abusive arsehole who I was totally devoted and faithful to (didn’t get the same in return, but to what extent I’ll never know…).
    One thing I’ve learnt from my experiences is, it really does take two to tango. I’d harbour humungous amounts of guilt for the way I behaved (which my abuser leveraged to treat me like shit), but the other party was just as much to blame and until I got my shit together and understood the root of my behaviour, I’d have to be a lot more picky about the kind of people I’d socialise with.
    People who have pantsfeelings for you, that actually respect you, do not make a move on you when they know you’re in a relationship, regardless whether they know your partner or not, regardless if they’re on the same landmass or not, or if they know you in person. They certainly don’t bide their time and make a move once you’re single either. They also don’t bend to your advances if it’s you doing the initiating for whatever reason (you’re having a bad time, relationship troubles etc.), and totally respect the whole “I don’t want to be in a relationship right now” thing. These are good people to remain or become friends with, I’ve found.
    The opposite, I’ve culled from my social circle and don’t have any personal contact with anymore, and won’t ever properly engage with people who display the opposite behaviours, because who needs people like that in their life? Definitely feel a lot better and stronger for doing it too.

    It sounds like there is something missing or incomplete for you, either in the relationship you have with Leigh, or in you. For me it was never being comfortable with the sexual part of me and it took my abuser forcing me to be and do *a lot* more than I was comfortable with to accept it (sounds weird, right?).
    So, take a break, find out what it is you’re missing (I guarantee on some level you already have an idea), and stay out of any deep relationships with people until you’re confident in yourself that you can be well and truly happy with them (I don’t mean fairy tale romances here though).
    And definitely stay away from anyone who is a bit too interested in how many sexual partners you’ve had beyond the standard sexual health concerns – that way lies very evil bees.
    Good Luck LW and *jedi hugs* 🙂

  42. Lost, I hope you’re still reading – as you may have gathered from my other comments here, I’m in a similar situation right now – contemplating leaving my husband because “good enough” and “what *everyone* wants” isn’t cutting it. I’m sad and scared and worried that I’m going to make the biggest mistake of my life by leaving, because my husband is a good man and I love him dearly and there’s nothing objectively “wrong” with our life.

    Except . . . except I cry often, and feel like a bad person, and if I sit still for too long and let myself think, I feel like there’s a pit in my stomach and a pack of panicky butterflies living in my chest. Except even the “good stuff” feels flat and uninteresting. Except thinking about “our” future leaves me cold and sad and the tiniest bit resentful of everything I’ll miss out on if we take that path. Except we don’t have sex anymore, and I don’t even care anymore to try to do anything about it, because I have tried and it goes nowhere and I’m discouraged and I hate my own body.

    So here’s what I just did this morning, and it was immensely helpful and it might help you too. I pictured where I would go/what I would do/who I would be if I left. And I pictured that future version of myself, and I wrote a letter as if it was that future version of myself writing to current me. And the letter was full of uncertainty, but it was also full of hope and light and adventure.

    And then I tried to do the same exercise by picturing the future version of myself if I let things continue as they are, and I couldn’t even write the letter it felt so bleak. So I know I have my answer now, about how to proceed – really, I had it all along, but it’s so hard to even think about that I’ve been faltering and uncertain for nearly a year leading up to this. Good luck Lost. I hope you come back and update – your letter and CA’s advice to you has been seismic for me, and I’m so grateful that you shared your experience, and so hopeful that you (and I) can figure out how to live a life that is big and beautiful and authentic, whatever that ends up meaning. Thank you. I’ll be thinking of you.

    1. I used to carry around a picture of where I really wanted to live (the kind of space, decorating ideas, etc.) the whole time I was living with Ex. I showed it to my therapist once, and he burst out laughing, because it was a sterile white cell with only enough room for one person and a lot of books. TELLING VISUAL METAPHOR. ❤

      1. About three months ago, I was obsessed with the “tiny house” movement – basically, people who live in 300 sq. ft. or less, i.e. – only enough room for one. Also i.e. – no way in hell my claustrophobic husband could bear to live in a space even twice that size on his own, never mind with me. Ummm, duh, self. Duh. 🙂

        1. “Oh, what, nothing, I just became obsessed with living spaces where there is no room for you.”

        2. Oh, wow, I had never put thesetthings together (tiny house dreams and a no longer wanted relationship). Wow. I need to sit with this.

        3. Tiny houses are the best, something I deperately want despite having so much stuff 😀 and the inventive ways people have found to maximise storage in such spaces just fascinates me.

          I love the way you worked out what you really wanted, it’s ingenious! Good luck Mellifluous *jedi hugs*

    2. Best of luck to you! If only I had taken “I cry often” as the clear sign it is, I would have left my ex much earlier.

    3. Thank you so much for your comments, I can’t tell you how grateful I am you and how fortunate to have made a decision to ask for advice here. I’ve never been big on sharing something negative but I was so desperate and needed help so bad. I’m so glad that our experience connected in some way and I’m really sorry to hear what you’re going through. I hope you will be fine soon and I can tell that you are a great person and deserve a full life time of happiness. I still have a few days before he comes back to decide what I want to do. I’m still fighting with myself, there is a big part of me that wanted to really try and work things out with him so I will never regret leaving him if I ever do. Love, Lost.

  43. If you’re interested in the same sex, and you are not yet married, by all means, pursue that interest.
    This kind of thing will not go away. It may even bite you on the ass later.
    Take it from someone who knows.

  44. A different perspective:

    Many people in a long-term relationship reach the point where the first flash of romantic attraction has run it’s course, and the real work on the relationship has to begin. No human is perfect, and in any long-term situation you are going to become very aware of what the imperfections are. This can make other possible partners seem more attractive, simply because you do not yet know what their imperfections are; a “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” situation.

    Are you sure that is not the case here? Of course I am not saying that anyone should stay in a relationship where the other person is not also prepared to work on it.

    1. As someone who used this type of reasoning to justify staying in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy, I think you can usually tell the difference between “my partner has some imperfections” and the need-to-leave type of unhappiness. At least in hindsight I can see a massive difference between the kind of work that my new (but not that new, long past the first flash of attraction) relationship requires – there definitely are imperfections, but they seem manageable and don’t take up a lot of headspace – and the constant battling that was necessary in my past relationship. One of the tell-tale signs for me was how my past relationship often made me feel physically (gut-wrenching feeling, crying, etc.), and I see some signs of that in LW with her sleep-trash-talking herself. Definitely not feeling like that with my new partner even when we’re having an argument.

      Just an observation: I actually see very few people leaving their partners because of a “grass is greener” type of thinking. Much more often I see people who are desperately unhappy in their relationships but who can’t get up the courage to leave. To the point that I believe it’s pretty much a myth that people aren’t ready to hang in there and make relationships work anymore. Most people are ready to put in a lot of work, it’s just often work that doesn’t *work* (trying again and again, going in circles, blaming yourself). Often because it *can’t* work because the partner just isn’t compatible in important areas or the dynamic is too f**ked up for any interventions to still work. Moreover, for young couples without kids that are already having problems, there’s just not that much to be gained by putting in tons of work just in case the relationship might still survive. Breaking up and trying again with someone new later seems vastly easier and less likely to end in years of resentment.

      1. Yeah, I also fell into the ‘all relationships have pits and troughs’ type of thinking and stayed in a relationship way past its sell-by date. It’s always worth considering whether that’s at play, of course, but I’d agree that a lot of people are more inclined to try making it work for too long rather than bailing at the first opportunity. The suggestion upthread about imagining future you is a good test for this, I think – if the vision of future-you without partner is more fulfilling than the one with, then it’s probably not the kind of trough you come out of.

    2. Wow, your user name is really apt. I’m pretty sure that this discussion is not about whatever’s going on in your marriage.

    3. The grass is often greener on the other side of the fence, but LW’s not fantasizing about a perfect lawn.

      LW wants a wild, fertile, meadow and planting daisies in front of the house with her partner ain’t gonna cut it..

  45. Yes yes yes to everything the Captain said! And one thing to add, as well: if you have no idea right now what you want your life to look like, or how you want to do sex and/or romance, but you need to take some time to experiment and meet some new people, that’s fine too! People’s needs can change over time, and it’s okay to need time now to take another look at yourself and what might float your boat. If that is how you are feeling, it is totally, totally okay to say to your boyfriend “I don’t know what I want but this isn’t working for me and I need to go and figure my shit out, by myself.”

  46. On the “finding a message” thing:

    It is entirely possible to read a message by accident. I accidentally read my mum’s messages sometimes because I answer the phone while she’s out and then when I hang up the message is on the screen. You can also borrow someone’s laptop while they have a social network tab onscreen, or walk past while an email is being written. But, if he is reading your private communications regularly, that is a sucky behaviour. Everyone has the right to secrets, because sometimes those secrets are the surprise present you’re going to give someone; or that sometimes your brain plays the word “watermelon” on a loop for no discernible reason; or that you cheated, but you’re processing it with a friend before you tell your partner.

    Also, I think you should read this: http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-you-know-its-time-to-get-married/ Partly because it’s super-cute, partly because it talks about trust in relationships, and partly because I need people to share my pain in being sucked into the cracked timesink.

  47. I spent 10.5 years in a relationship, and 7.5 years in a marriage, being Leigh. Endlessly tolerating terrible acts of disrespect. We were the perfect couple. We worked so well together. But then he cheated with me after a year of marriage. Right after our belated honeymoon, no less. And I stayed because we were perfect together, and I was terrified of being alone. Well, years later he cheated on me again, and after another year of couples therapy, we split. And now I wish I had split with him 5 years ago. I am enjoying some low-stakes flirting with boys, but mostly I’m just being myself, by myself. It’s amazing the things you find out when you do this, for realsies, not just on a “break” where you still have that tie back to someone. I was able to go back and watch all of Buffy and Angel, for instance, and not listen to the scoffs at the very idea. I can dance around my apartment. I can cook what I want, when I want, for myself. I can eat the same thing for a week straight if I want that thing. Or go out when I want and not have to check in with someone or worry about ruining their plans. I have gone and done the most terrific things with friends at the last minute, like the session on crafting my own Bonsai tree that I took home and soon killed, but who cares? It’s a plant, and it was so much fun. Concerts, arts fests plural, ribs fest. It’s my time, my body, my money.

    For the record, my ten-year relationship? Began when I was 17, he 19. I really do think there is something to the concept that you find things out about yourself when you don’t jump into a relationship straight outta school (even college). I do know people who have been together that way, happily, for decades. It just didn’t work out for me – I needed this period of self-discovery. Maybe it will help me find a healthier relationship later, or maybe not. I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my 20s in a relationship with someone who so clearly did not want to be with me. We made great partners (he agreed), and maybe we’ll make great friends later, but one of us was checked out of the relationship the whole time and it ended with a LOT of pain. Unnecessary pain.

    I really recommend you follow through with the Captain’s advice. I know I needed to – and I also know I never would have if I hadn’t been forced to (he initiated the split). It’s ok that it’s scary. And despite my thoughts on cheating, I think you have been brave, doing what was best for you, even with all the pain it caused you both. Use that bravery now. It’s hard, it’s scary, but at the end is a reward far greater than you can imagine.

  48. Hello all, long time lurker first time commenter.

    I know this is getting kinda heavy and academic, but the Captain’s allusions to why Leigh’s ‘forgiveness’ for the LW’s cheating might be problematic down the track made me think of Derrida’s thoughts on forgiveness, which blew my mind when I read them a few years ago in a subject on Terrorism.

    The tl;dr version is: for forgiveness to mean what we would like it to mean/think it means, it must be given freely, irrationally, exceptionally (as in the exception to the norm, not ‘very well’) with no expectation of anything in return from the forgiven party.
    This is not usually how forgiveness goes. Usually, forgiveness is given conditionally – as in, ‘I forgive you on the condition that you change your behaviour/do something for me/apologise/be remorseful’ etc etc. These conditions might not be stated explicitly, but they are usually there in some form or another. Whilst these arrangements might be totally reasonable, this is not actually forgiveness! It’s an economic or political exchange. The forgiveness is ‘given’ in exchange for something, often some kind of power over the forgiven (think back to our LW). So true or pure forgiveness is actually very rare and difficult to achieve.

    That has pretty much changed the way I’ll think about forgiveness forever.

    Here’s a PDF of the original chapter. It’s actually a pretty straightforward read by Derrida standards: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/ce/s6403/jacques_derrida.pdf

  49. I’m in a similar position, Lost. I have a wonderful guy (we’re married) who is genuinely lovely, but during a recent poly phase he and I tried I met someone who really, _really_ does it for me. Just lights me up. Intellectually, emotionally, sexually. It’s probably not going to work out between us, Guy B and me, because he wants kids and that’s not going to be part of my life, but two weeks with him has left me happier than two years with my spouse.

    And it’s NOT because Spouse is a bad person, or a bad spouse. He’s a wonderful both of those things. It’s just that we don’t have The Thing with each other (I call it Magic Sparkle X).

    I’ve had Magic Sparkle X before, with a previous boyfriend. We were both young and selfish and mentally ill and untreated, and it ended badly. I thought MSX was a side effect of mental illness–co-dependence, in short.

    Spouse, for his part, does not believe in Magic Sparkle X “for people like us,” by which he means people who think a lot.

    But now I AM treated, and I’m not quite as young, and I handle my selfishness better, and I’ve found out that That Thing, that thing where the universe whispers “yes” in your ear and suddenly you’re Arthur Dent and you don’t HAVE to land if you don’t want to, actually exists. And I want some for myself.

    And I’m terrified and alone and I feel like a monster. Because I will have to hurt this beautiful man (and, worse, because we live together and my visa depends on our continuing to do so for at least another nine months, I will have to continue hurting him every time he sees me) to buy my own happiness. Or not even my own happiness–just the possibility of my own happiness.

    It’s not that I don’t know what to do. It’s that I know what to do and I’m smart enough to know what will happen after that, and it’s awful for him and awful for me. But I have heard the seagulls crying, and I can’t hide from myself that Middle Earth is not enough for me.

    Fucking birds.

  50. It’s days late, but I have a lot of feels about this. So, Confessions of a Serial Cheater:

    I cheated on boyfriends. I cheated on my husband. Then another few boyfriends. I hated myself for it. Why couldn’t I just be a decent person??

    Because I didn’t think I had a right to be happy, that’s why. My role was to be what others needed. To be a Good Girl. I couldn’t break up with these partners because I was a Perfect Girlfriend with zero needs. I ended up causing more pain in the end than just leaving, but it preserved my Identity.

    So I stopped. I decided to spend a year single. And oh my, was it a lot of fun! I activated my OkCupid account and had an amazing time meeting lots of people for casual encounters. A few poly, a few kinky, a few vanilla. And spent some quality time by myself. It was absolutely lovely.

    And then I met someone that made me want to stay with him. So I did. At first, when the stakes were low, I went out of my way to assert my personality, my needs, who I am. Now it’s been a year and a half, we’re engaged, and it finally doesn’t feel like a death sentence to be monogamous. =)

    Tl;dr. You are allowed to have needs, and wants, and even whims. Have them. Crank them up to eleven. Your worth is not determined by how well you can squish yourself into a mold of Perfect Wife and Mother.

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