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#863: “Have I settled?”

Dear Captain,

I’ve been with my partner Dave a long time (10+ years). I love him dearly and I feel profoundly loved in return. We’ve built a life and a home together. He is unfailingly supportive and loves/tolerates all of my various quirks as I do his. We have friends in common, but also understand and encourage each other having separate interests and friends. Our values and life goals align perfectly, and he’s my best friend and the first person I’d normally turn to about anything. On paper we are perfect for one another, and our relationship is as wholesome and comforting as a bowl of hot soup in front of the fire on a cold day. But for all that I love Dave deeply, I’ve often had a nagging doubt that in some way I’ve ‘settled’ and over the last year or so I’ve wondered if we’re beginning to drift apart a little. Having said that, to answer Sheelzebub’s question: I can very easily still see us together in five or ten years’ time, much the same as we are now. So I’m not in the position of LW #603.

Last week I was staying away at a conference. I sat next to Steve, a colleague, at dinner. His role has just changed, which means we are no longer working together directly, though we move in the same circles. Our paths will cross again, fairly regularly, and it’s likely we’ll have to work together closely again in the future. Over dinner he made a pass at me. The way it was done showed planning and forethought, and it was done with subtlety, so that I could decline and we could both pretend it never happened. Later in the evening, he tried again, much more obviously. I let him down gently both times. We parted on good, friendly terms, with me making sure he understood I was touched and flattered by his attention, and didn’t intend to treat him any differently as a consequence.

I am intensely flattered. Steve is interesting, clever, funny and great company. He is very successful in his field and I respect him and his opinions tremendously. We clicked from the start and work really well together. I had been half-wondering if he might try something that night. I’ve been particularly careful not to let friendly banter edge into anything that could be read as flirting precisely because I thought he might be feeling more and I didn’t want to lead him on. But, banter aside, he’s always been so scrupulously professional that I was never sure if he actually was attracted to me or not. Ironically, what happened has cleared the air (for me at least) and I feel a lot easier around him than I did. I’m confident we can move forward as colleagues.

In some ways, Steve has given me a gift. For a brief while I’ve seen myself through his eyes: an intelligent, witty, successful and attractive woman that he desires and wants to spend more time with. I like being that person he sees. I don’t have pantsfeelings for Steve, but I’ll freely admit I’ve enjoyed being the object of his desire. And while I feel and am loved by Dave, I rarely get that thrill from him. So, while my head is firmly saying “nope” to Steve, my ego is saying, “hell yeah!”. My heart agrees it was right to reject Steve’s advances, but is left wondering whether that awesome woman Steve tried his luck with should take a shot at a less secure, but potentially more exciting life.

So, Captain, have I ‘settled’ for Dave, or does the grass just appear greener? How do I tell which it is?

Yours,

Awesome

Dear Awesome:

I don’t know if you’ve “settled.” Boredom happens. Growing apart happens. Crushes happen. I think a) Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz is a good movie that wrestles with your question and b) that you’ll be just fine whatever you decide to do. 

My question is, do you want a different dude or do you want a different dream? Sometimes crushes are about wanting to be with someone new, other times they are about wanting to be someone new. Are you bored with Dave or are you a little bored with yourself right now?

What’s all the stuff you want to be doing with your life that you’re not yet doing with your life? If we removed the question of wanting to be seen/desired/fucked in a brand new way for a second, what does that “intelligent, witty, successful and attractive woman that (Steve) desires and wants to spend more time with” do with her life when she’s out of his gaze? Are you blocked in some way – professionally, personally, creatively, socially? Is Dave & his Daveness really the barrier to you coming unstuck, or is there something you could do right now, some baby step, that will start you on the path to the things you want?

If you read this blog you know that I think that sometimes romantic relationships just run their course and nobody had to do anything wrong for that to be true. Also on the site we tend to “meet” relationships long after the damage has been done and where it’s pretty easy (for an outsider at least) to contemplate cutting the last thread. But with you, Letter Writer, we’re “meeting” your relationship before that point. Everyone is still kind. You’re still imagining a future with this person 10 years out. You thought about an affair but rejected the idea.

Maybe that “less secure, but potentially more exciting new life” dream can only be accomplished by leaving the man you describe as a “bowl of hot soup” and flying solo for a while. But maybe there are invitations to be made, like, “Dave, my company has this year-long overseas position open and I want to apply for it and I want you to come with me.” “Dave, I’m thinking about ____________. What do you think?” “Dave, I feel like we’ve been drifting a little bit, can we carve out a little more time together?””Dave, if you could try one new thing in the next year, what would it be?” “Dave, I’m going on a solo vacation this year. I’ve always wanted to see _______ and I want some solitude for a week or two while I do it.” “Dave, I want to try _________ in bed with you. Are you game?” “Dave, I want to run for mayor.” “Dave, what do you want?”

You asked how you could tell if this is about green grass vs. settling for brown grass/hot soup. My best guess is, if you can’t imagine having those risky, interesting, truthful conversations with someone you’re so closely partnered with, if you’ve already moved on into a mindset where those conversations feel impossible, or you’ve already decided that Dave can’t handle it, or you know exactly what he’ll say (and you don’t respect him or want him enough to give him a chance to surprise you) then yeah, it’s done. When you stop inviting your partner into your dreaming and planning and when you cast them as the “boring” antagonist in a conversation they don’t know they’re having with you, it’s a good sign that your heart has moved on.

Are we there yet? I don’t know. You’ve got some thinking and some talking to do. I hope it leads you to good places.

 

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162 comments
  1. AnnaStheticOnThe WrongComputer said:

    This is a kind and beautiful response.

  2. toniprufrock said:

    LW this is so tough because everything’s so nice and really boredom happens to everyone – monogamy I dofficult. Even Ariel would get over the novelty of having feet and start looking at the ocean again. Really that’s what you’re doing – trading land for the sea. Both are great in their own way.
    The thing that’s important about the capain’s avice is that you don’t have to drown your hubby to get a bit of that sea-action, you can both swim around together, feet intact.
    Only you can really choose whether this is viable – maybe he doesn’t swim so well. Maybe he complains at having wet trousers all the time.
    Heck, maybe you wade into that ocean ready to get your tail back and remember how much you miss walking up mountains and how much sea salt screws up your hair.

    I think the key is to minimise hurt and explore within your relationship first, as the captain says. Feeling like you need change is natural so you need to examine that first I think, before you swap your lungs for gills and make it harder to get back to the life you had if it doesn’t work out. Take out a boat and swim a bit first.
    But if, after all that, you decide to dive back in with the Dolphins. and leave hubby on the shore with his toes in the soil and the sun on his face? Well at least you’ve both made a more informed choice about where you want to be.

    • Jaz said:

      I love your analogy! Mind if I borrow it sometime? 🙂

      • toniprufrock said:

        Ta, Jaz.
        And go for it 😉

    • Turtle Candle said:

      “Take out a boat and swim a bit first” is a beautiful way to put it. There are a lot of options between “stay with everything the way they are right now” and “change everything,” and sometimes the best way to figure out what you want is to play with your options rather than going straight to an extreme.

    • nottakennotavailable said:

      …Shit. There was no dude involved, but I traded mountains for an ocean and now really, really miss the mountains. Your analogy is a beautifully stated, reversed near-literality that I will probably continue to wrestle with for a while to come.

      • Rose Fox said:

        Listening to S.J. Tucker’s “Neptune” may be useful or at least cathartic. There’s a lovely video on YouTube (not linking in hopes of avoiding the spamtrap).

        • Thanks for posting that! I definitely needed it today.

    • Bippy said:

      I’m poly and one of the things that was very hard for my hubs of 10 years to understand is that I need *some* of the new partner excitement thing. Not all the time. There’s nothing wrong with the long, slow build of a loving, solid relationship we have, but there’s a point where it becomes a little dull, and I like new experiences and sizzle. I then take that home and use that energy where I feel all recharged to rock my husband’s world.

      It’s nice to have someone new see you as a sexy, alluring woman. My mono friends take that energy, go home, tell their man that they got hit on by a hot guy, give their long term partner a lap dance or otherwise tease them, then try to mix it up a bit in the bedroom.

      I have hot sex with my new paramore and then take that energy home, try not to overshare or hurt my husbands feelings, and then do all the things to him that he loves that are on my OK list because I got my needs taken care of elsewhere, and blow his mind.

      There’s nothing wrong with the slow and steady relationship, but they do get comfortable. If you feel the need for the sizzle, then flirting more with your partner or doing something exciting *together* could really help. Someone down thread was talking about warm soup and spicy peppers and that’s totally how I see it, as well.

  3. Buttermilk said:

    LW, I know that you’re not into Steve, your head is not in that space, and you’re portraying what he did as a suave attempt to, what? start a relationship? Bang you at a conference?

    But please keep in mind that what he did was basically come on to a colleague. Then, when you let him down, he came on stronger.

    This is not “scrupulously professional” behavior. Especially if it’s been somewhat obvious to you for a while that he’s interested in you. And extra especially if he is aware that you’re in a committed relationship with Dave. In fact, if he knows about Dave, it’s kind of gross.

    If I were you, I would document what happened, including dates, times, anyone who was at dinner, and anybody you’ve told about it. Just in case Steve does something later that you feel needs to be reported to HR. Also, watch out for how Steve behaves with younger colleagues.

    • sarahjaneb said:

      I completely agree with all of this. Steve’s behavior sounds pretty creepy.

    • Taiga said:

      Thank you, I was thinking this too!

    • JenniferP said:

      Oh, absolutely. Steve is no prize!

    • Big Pink Box said:

      The fact that he kept trying after she turned him down… Ewww. Professional? He’s a professional something, that’s for sure.

    • Calenchamien said:

      I think there’s room here to give the benefit of the doubt; I’ve known lots of guys who came onto me twice, and then never again. They were not (and I have neither seen nor heard any accounts that they are) predatory or dangerous, just a little clueless and completely incapable of reading my mind. They offer once in a circumspect way, that gives people an easy out (as LW described) and then go “oh wait, what if they didn’t realize that was an offer?” So they offer again, more obviously. It gets turned down again, they back off because your lack of interest is clear.
      If Steve continues to escalate, or even simply continues to make offers that make LW uncomfortable, then absolutely that is time for action, and for documentation and reporting to HR.
      But… offered twice and then “we parted on good friendly terms” does not in any way read to me like Steve was acting in a predatory way.

      LW, use your best judgment! The possibility of Steve being predatory is possible, yes, but you were the one who was there and who knows exactly how he comported himself!

      • JenniferP said:

        WILL NO ONE SPEAK FOR THE STEVES?

        By which I mean, why do we have to give Steve “the benefit of the doubt?” No one suggested defenestrating him or immediately reporting him to HR or anything that would have lasting consequences to Steve if he is not in fact skeevy, just, hey, repeatedly hitting on a coworker at a work event is kinda icky, so, maybe keep an eye on that and make sure it doesn’t keep happening.

        • Calenchamien said:

          You mean, why do we – people who have never met Steve and whose only experience of Steve is an encounter in which he and LW “part ways on good terms” after, yes, he hit on her a grand total of twice?
          We don’t, you’re right. No one is obliged to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
          But my experience has been that people who offer twice and give up are not predatory, and were certainly not people that I would ever consider “start documenting everything they do” to be anything than an overreaction towards.

          LW was the person actually in the situation; [she’d] be the best person to know whether making two advances was creepery or something else.

          • JenniferP said:

            Addressed here. I believe the LW’s perception of events and trust them, I don’t think Steve is necessarily a villain, also, I am tired of this derail. People who hit on their coworkers at work events risk being misjudged. It is not a tragedy if a random internet commenter has side-eye for Steve.

            You should come back some other thread, some other day, Calenchamien.

        • Qxcl said:

          Usually I am on the side of “Ew creepy dude,” but I keep coming back to Jim and Pam when he finally confessed his love for her. Creepy? Sure, I guess. But assuming that Steve leaves it at that one night*, maybe we have bigger fish to fry. Isn’t creepiness somewhat in the eye of the beholder? LW didn’t seem offended by Steve, maybe the rest of us should let her define her own experience.

          PLEASE NOTE: LW, I am not saying Steve is the Jim to your Pam** or any of that nonsense. I like the captain’s advice a lot. You already are that woman that Steve saw. I bet Dave sees that woman too. Work on seeing her for yourself.

          *If Steve brings it up again or treats LW differently afterwards: yep, super creepy and gross. Obviously.

          **Not that they were perfect…but who is?

          • JenniferP said:

            No one is stopping the LW from defining her own experience re: Steve. She will follow her own instincts and that is as it should be.

            Saying “hey, this Steve guy did something that might be kinda…off” isn’t a terrible assault on his character or her judgment.

            The “not ALL men” comments can definitely stop now.

        • I love that defenestration got brought up again. Yeah!

      • Mary said:

        Yes, I’d trust the LW here.

        There are lots of LWs who say things like, “obviously he didn’t do anything wrong, but for some reason I felt kind of icky. Did I lead him on?” I think in those situations it’s really important to point out the ways the dude was not ok, because he made the LW feel bad. But this LW is saying very clearly that it was a non-gross and non-pushy offer that didn’t make her feel bad, so I don’t think it’s great to second-guess her. Trust women works both ways!

        • JenniferP said:

          You know what, I 100% believe the LW that it was all handled fine and she doesn’t feel gross about it.

          I also don’t think Steve is any great prize, and I don’t think it’s horrible or mean to say, “A guy who hits on a colleague, gets turned down, and then does it again the same day might hit on lots of ladies at work/might not have the best boundaries, so think twice before unmaking your life because of a little attention from that dude.”

          I am also done with this particular derail. Like, who cares about Steve? He is not the point of the question and does not need defenders.

    • Calenchamien said:

      (original comment seems to have been eaten so, reposting)
      I think there’s a loot of distance between “predatory” or even “creepy” and what LW has described. Steve made advance twice and then he and LW “parted on good terms”. While it’s not explicitly stated, we can only believe – unless and until the LW says otherwise – that those were the only two. So he offered obliquely, got turned down, made a more obvious advance, got turned down and /stopped trying/.
      I don’t know what any of your experiences have been, but I have known lots of guys who have done exactly that thing. They want to save face so they don’t make it really obvious, and then (because enculturated sexism, probably) they wonder if the advance was clear. Were you turning /them/ down? Or just that particular proposed plan? Or (for example) was I turning down the idea that he “owed” me dinner?
      So, one more attempt. And when you turn them down, they give it up because they have confirmed that you’re not interested.

      Like, it was 2 tries guys. I mean, sure it’s possible that Steve is a predator, yeah. And if he continues to come on to LW or escalate, then absolutely document, go to HR. But “watch out for how he behaves with younger colleagues” is a bit of a leap to conclusions based on what LW has actually written.

      • JenniferP said:

        Why are you so invested in the idea of Steve as a good guy? He might be a good guy, in which case if Steve is never creepy or skeevy again, writing down his behavior & the dates privately somewhere has ZERO CONSEQUENCES for Steve or anyone else.

        People, especially men, SHOULD think twice about hitting on people they work with at work events. Like, that should be discouraged/judged/viewed with a healthy skepticism. Hitting on someone at work should be a risky move and people should worry about being misjudged for it. Steves of the world should do less of it.

        • Calenchamien said:

          I literally explained why I posted twice. I posted once, didn’t see it come appear after I refreshed the page several times, and reposted. So that snarky “why are you so invested” is really, really not called for.

          I’m invested in the idea of LW as the expert of [her] own situation. If she were concerned about Steve, I would expect that to make itself known. Since that’s not at all how she describes her interaction with him, it’s weird to see so many posters jump in to start talking about LW needs to immediately start worrying about and putting in a bunch of emotional and physical work to defend herself (and others!) from a threat that there is no strong indication exists.

          As you said, Steve isn’t the point of the letter, so talking about him is a derail – it was when Buttermilk did it too.

          Whatever, I’m out.

      • Buttermilk said:

        The Captain wants this thread to stop, so I won’t elaborate. But, you’re clearly coming at this from the direction of a person who has experienced missed-signals in dating requests. I’m coming from the perspective of somebody who was sexually harassed at work. There’s a chance that Steve’s behavior was totally innocent, if misguided. There’s a chance it wasn’t. LW can protect herself and potentially other women from future problems with Steve if she writes down what happened and saves the document on her computer, or in a physical folder, or whatever. And if she keeps an eye on his behavior with younger women, who may not be savvy enough to avoid Steve, if Steve is Bad Steve. That is all that I am advising, and everything else that you’re reading into this (“Steve is a predator” “start documenting everything they do”) is not something I’ve said.

        BTW, you have to document an event when it happened, not later after it’s obvious you should have documented it. That’s because it’s fresh in your mind now, and won’t be later.

        • Mayati said:

          You really do have to document right away, even if it’s just writing it down on a paper napkin, because it’s more likely to have legal value that way. (At least in the US.) I wish more people knew how to document stuff. Just write the event down along with relevant context, write the date and time next to it, and include info on who witnessed the thing. It’s SO useful against gaslighting, too, so even if nothing ever comes of it in terms of lawsuits or HR or investigations, it helps you know that you saw what you saw, that your perceptions were correct, and that no, you aren’t misremembering or exaggerating.

        • B. said:

          I would like to point out that it’s not the LW’s responsibility to protect her younger coworkers from creeps.
          I’m sure that it was not your intention, but it came across as a weird flavor of paternalism with a dash of victim blaming. As in, the root of what you said can be found in arguments such as: “But why didn’t she report her rapist? What if he attacked other women?!” (Answer: 1-She’s the expert on what’s best for her. 2-Not her fault.).
          I assure you I don’t think you meant it that way, but the phrasing you used has somewhat unfortunate implications.

        • BarlowGirl said:

          Not to dogpile either, but also related – maybe Steve is fine. Maybe he’s a slightly awkward dude who had too many cocktails at a work event and is incredibly embarrassed that he hit on a coworker at all, let alone twice.

          But maybe Phil isn’t such a good guy. And maybe there’s a Marjorie out there who got hit on by Phil last night, and is reading this and goes, “Huh. I didn’t think about it that way,” and documents the incident, and it helps her out later.

          That’s worth it, too.

      • hbc said:

        Why offer obliquely if you’re not going to take an oblique rejection? The whole point of making it subtle is that everyone gets to skate by pretending it never happened, or you two take multiple tiny steps towards an outright yes.

        If she missed the subtle pass and he didn’t follow up, the downside was that he wouldn’t get to romance a coworker who might be willing to head back to his hotel room. If she didn’t miss it and he pressed harder, the downside is that he’s made a coworker turn him down twice in one evening and denied them both the polite fiction that they were simply discussing the comfort of the hotel linens. The choice is obvious if you care about your coworker/friend (and your professional reputation.)

        If the guys you know want a clear “no” so badly, they need to ask a clear question. “Do you want to get together for a date some time?” Otherwise, yeah, they and Steve are going to get lumped in with the other people who don’t take “no” for an answer.

        • thecynicalromantic said:

          Uuuugh yes this.

          I literally once had a conversation where a strange dude was trying to ask me out and he suggested three different activities at different dates and times I made polite excuses for each of them and then, clearly frustrated, he said “I’m trying to ask you out on a date!” and I said “Yes, I’m trying to turn you down!” and he didn’t like that. Too bad, so sad, I didn’t like having to say “no” four times in a row.

          • winter said:

            Ha, love your reaction. Seriously, strange dude.

    • Minister of Smartassery said:

      Yep, my shoulders went up around my ears when LW said that he tried once in a carefully planned way, she “gently refused” and then he tried again in a much more ham-handed way later. And LW had to turn him down again. So…. Steve doesn’t understand the meaning of the word, “No?” Oh, and it was at a professional event, where he could have damaged both of your reputations?

      That doesn’t sound like someone I would endanger a ten year relationship for.

      LW, if you’re unhappy, you’re unhappy. And you don’t need a reason to leave a relationship. You can just leave. But don’t leave for a Steve.

      I didn’t mean for that to rhyme.

      • JenniferP said:

        Also “propositioned” did not mean “let’s fly kites together sometime.”

      • neverjaunty said:

        Also, I just noted that LW mentioned her path will cross with Steve in the future.

        It’s entirely possible that since Steve thought the first ‘no’ meant ‘try again louder’ that he’ll simply try again.

  4. Buni said:

    I think there’s a difference between ‘this person is not working for me’ and ‘my relationship with this person is not working for me’. I’ve encountered the latter a couple of times with friends, where I’ve had no intention of African Violet’ing the genuinely-wanted person but have had to change the parameters / mix things up / shake it all about.

    Sometimes this means a drawing closer and sometimes an easing apart, but it means taking actual action either way. I have no experience with 10+ year relationships but presumably there was a reason you got together in the first place. If it turns out that’s still buried there somewhere then maybe it can be re-excavated, and if not then at least knowing that could lead you to a course of action.

    • therufs said:

      Gosh, this is a great distinction — thanks!

  5. MK said:

    LW, I don’t have any other insight to offer, exept to say this: as someone wh has been living a perfectly contented bachelor existence for years now, don’t fall into the media-endorced trap of automatically assuming that it is more exciting than the humdrum of monogamy. Routine and occasional boredom are part of life; chances are you would not feel this way about Steve’s attentions if he was the 10th person who made a pass at you this year, instead of the first in 10 years.

    • TO_Ont said:

      Yes, basically everyone I know, regardless of their relationship status, seems to go through a feeling of ‘is this all there is? is this the life I want?’ at some point in their life. It can manifest itself as doubts about a relationship or lack thereof, or about a career path, or about hobbies or passions… Basically I think it’s an almost inevitable part of life, especially as you see the passage of time and realise – as we do every now and then – that your life is finite.

      Sometimes you really do want to change the thing and it’s a wakeup call, sometimes there’s something else entirely it’s time to change, and sometimes it’s more about processing the realities of the universe like the passage of time than about the actual choices you’ve made.

      • MK said:

        Sure, but I meant it in a more everyday way. I am sure that when the LW first moved in with Dave, a might spent cooking dinner together and then cuddling in front of the television felt exciting “we live together now! We are sharing a new intimacy! In our own home!”; ten years later it’s still nice, but nothing to get worked up about. Right now the LW is experiencing major ego boost and validation because a guy she isn’t even interested in made a pass; if this was a regular occurrence, she would just decline and forget about it. Everything becomes routine; even going on first dates feels repetitive over time, even though it’s with different people.

        • Sarah N said:

          Ooh, this is pretty much the thesis of Take This Waltz, which is why it is so relevant to this situation and a terrific recommendation (and a pretty well done film, I think).

          • JenniferP said:

            Watch it, and then watch Stories We Tell – I feel like the Michelle Williams character is a version of her mom. (Warning: You might Ugly Cry).

      • Yes, we’ve all been there. Inertia is a powerful force. If you don’t make an effort to try new things, meet new people, see new places, you’ll eventually hit a wall of mehness. Trying new things, with or without your partner, boosts your dopamine.

  6. FightforyourMarriage said:

    Dear LW,
    I commend you on your years of successful marriage and dedication yo this kind man you have committed to.
    Captain, I respect your advice and think 99% of the time you are dead on, but I can’t totally agree with you in this.
    Disclaimer: I was on the receiving end of a spouse who “just wasn’t that attracted” to me anymore and “found something more exciting” (in the form of a year-long affair before walking out on me), so this is a slightly touchy subject.
    Might your dreams of a different life with a different man mean that “your heart has moved on”? Possibly. But here in lies the difference between dating and marriage: when you’re dating and your hear moves on, you move on with it! When you’re married, you’ve committed to do everything in your power to love that person even when you’re tired, frustrated, bored, or just not feeling it.
    So yes! Have those conversations Captain suggested! Start dreaming with your husband again. Tell your dear husband “I feel like we’ve stopped dreaming and exploring together. I know this conversation might feel weird to start, but can you humor me and try?”
    Please, don’t assum your husband is in the same place you are. Make love a verb in your life, and not just an emotion. Invite him into your life and your dreams.
    And when that wanderlust strikes, and you start picturing yourself with a different man in a different life, have the mental disciplin to shut it down. Instead, imagine what a happy life with your husband looks like, and go get it!

    • JenniferP said:

      From the letter: “I’ve been with my partner Dave a long time (10+ years).

      They aren’t married, from what I can tell.

      After 10+ years a lot of the things in this relationship are probably indistinguishable from a marriage, but the legal ties/vows/”til death do us part” promises have not necessarily been spelled out that way. If the LW wants to stay with Dave, she should invite Dave into her life (as we’ve both said). However, fighting for the principle/idea of marriage where you stay even if you aren’t feeling it quite this minute because you made a lifetime commitment vs. feelings of maybe wanting to leave a relationship don’t really apply in quite the same way.

      • Anothermous said:

        And honestly, even if you are married, the relationship should exist in service to the people in it, not the other way around.

        • JenniferP said:

          Absolutely. As painful as it is, if a marriage is not working for one partner, then it isn’t working for both partners. People shouldn’t be forced or pressured to stay unhappily married to each other.

          That said, there is a reason that ending a marriage involves the state, courts, finances, etc. and it’s not “just a dumb piece of paper” or whatever. When someone has agreed in writing and in front of witnesses that this will be a lifelong relationship with you, and you build your life around that contract (especially in terms of finances), dissolving that contract means accounting for the fact that someone has put all of their eggs (financial and perhaps literal eggs, in the reproductive sense) in the other person’s basket. If the LW is not married to Dave but is thinking about it down the road, this is a really good time to figure it out for sure – before taking that step!

          • I don’t disagree, but in some places, depending on circumstances, they could be considered commonlaw married. After ten years, their lives seem to be pretty entwined anyway, so if LW does decide to end the relationship, it could be a little more complicated.

            Not that I’m saying that LW should leave, because there’s a lot of factors involved that we don’t know about. It’s just something that might come up.

          • Anothermous said:

            Absolutely, agreed on all counts!

          • Duly Concerned said:

            If the LW is living in the US, there is no way for her to be common-law married unless she and Dave live in one of the few states that still recognise common-law marriage, the two of them have formed the intent to be common-law married, they have held themselves out to other people as being a married couple and fulfilled any of the other criteria applicable in their state of residence. The details vary from state to state but the two elements of intention and presentation do not vary. For example, there is no way for two people who have co-habited for 50 years to discover that they are common-law married even though they never wanted to be and never presented themselves to people outside the relationship as being married.

            Every state recognises a common-law marriage as a legal marriage if it was begun in a state that allows common-law marriage and fulfils all the details of the laws of the original state of residence.

            There is no such thing as common-law divorce in the US; the only legal way out of a common-law marriage is by going through the process of a legal divorce.

            I don’t know how common-law marriage works in any country besides the US and it is probably very different.

          • thelittlepakeha said:

            In New Zealand the de-tangling of assets is exactly the same for marriages, civil unions and de facto (common law) relationships if they’ve been at least three years. Less than three years is a “relationship of short duration” and marriages and civil unions have different procedures than de factos. So if you live together as a couple for three years, then for most practical purposes you’re basically more-or-less married.

          • JenniferP said:

            Ok!

          • BigdogLittlecat said:

            @ Duly Concerned (out of nesting)
            Bless you for setting the record straight on common law marriage! Why the urban myth “if you live together for X years you’re married” is one of my pet peeves, I dunno, but it is.
            As you indicated, even if they were in a common law state, LW’s calling Dave her “partner” would make it not a common law marriage.

          • TO_Ont said:

            It’s not a myth… it’s extremely common for partners living together to automatically have at least some of the legal standing of married people after some period of time (1 year, 3 years, etc). It’s just not a thing the US apparently does, but the LW didn’t say they were american? Anyway, they should look up the details for wherever they actually live.

          • JenniferP said:

            Sure! I was responding to the “love your HUSBAND!” comment, which, a lot of assumptions there.

        • Osirus said:

          Needs to be needlepointed and hung on a wall.

    • Shadowflash said:

      I respectfully disagree, for more emotional reasons than the (excellent) practical ones listed above by other posters.

      Honestly, I think one of the most loving things I’ve ever said to my fiancee is when I looked deeply into her eyes and said, “If you ever want to leave me, if this is ever not working for you and it’s really what you want, I won’t fight it. I don’t want to be in a relationship that hurts you. I’ll probably be devastated, but I’ll try my best to make it as quick and painless as possible for both of us.”

      I value her (and my) happiness far more than I value the institution of marriage or entrenched relationships. I am marrying her because my life is far better with her in it, even in moments when I don’t like her a whole lot. That doesn’t mean I’ll fold at the first sign of trouble; on the contrary, I’ll fight like hell to be with her. But I will only fight beside her, never against her.

      • This is really perfect. I’m getting married in a few days, and you’ve neatly summed up a lot of the thoughts we’ve both been working through while writing vows about what “so long as we both shall live” actually means for us.

        • slythwolf said:

          I wanted so badly to change that to “both shall love” in my vows when I got married, but I didn’t have the guts.

      • “Honestly, I think one of the most loving things I’ve ever said to my fiancee is when I looked deeply into her eyes and said, ‘If you ever want to leave me, if this is ever not working for you and it’s really what you want, I won’t fight it. I don’t want to be in a relationship that hurts you. I’ll probably be devastated, but I’ll try my best to make it as quick and painless as possible for both of us.’ ”

        This is a nice sentiment, but when my beloved of 11.5 years decided that he wanted to have multiple partners more than he wanted to have a relationship with me, I lost the ability to pay for housing and food, having relocated to his (expensive) city at his request, and never having found work that would enable me to pay rent in said city, because unlike him I do not work in tech or venture capital, and that’s what this market values. I value commitment. I gave up a lot to make the move. My ex, who never made that kind of sacrifice, also valued commitment, until he didn’t. And I DO judge him for that.

        This is to say, when people have been together for a long time, sometimes their lives are entangled, and often one of them can financially handle the disentanglement better than the other. I think a decade of relationship entitles a non-abusive ex to some consideration, especially in a long-term relationship that is not a legal marriage, and which therefore does not legally obligate the party who’s in a better financial position to care if the other party can afford soup.

        In a world where we had a basic universal income, I might feel more like you do. But I also might not. Reciprocity matters a lot to me.

        • BigdogLittlecat said:

          I’m sorry you got hurt and left in bad straits. Your experience is proof that marriage is not “just a piece of paper.”
          I hope you’re back on your feet and doing wonderfully.

          • “I hope you’re back on your feet and doing wonderfully.”

            Thank you for that. I’m not yet, but I have hope that I will be someday. It’s still fairly early days.

        • ashbet said:

          Thank you. I am currently living in a red state that refused ACA funds due to my now-former partner, which is super-fun, since I’m disabled and have a rare, expensive, lifelong disease (which he knew about when we got together.)

          We did legally marry, in the last year of our 7-year partnership, and I’m having to fight like hell to get any kind of concession in the divorce that he initiated (all I asked was that he assist in keeping my daughter and I insured.)

          This isn’t a direct response to the OP, necessarily — it’s to the discussion about marriage/commitment and financial entanglement — but it’s worth taking a look at whether “Dave” will suffer if the OP leaves him.

          It’s not necessarily her burden to bear, or her responsibility, if she decides to end the relationship — but if your partner will be destitute after a breakup, and they’re a partner who loved you and didn’t mistreat you, and you’re only leaving because there’s a New Shiny Person (or a New Shiny Life) on the horizon . . . it might be worth figuring out whether there’s a way to help them get back on their feet for a period of time.

          @whollyword, I’m very much with you — in a world with a basic universal income, or a human right to access to healthcare, this would be a different story.

          I’m sorry that you were treated that way, and I hope that you can continue to heal, move on, and get yourself in a better place financially.

          I’m still struggling to do the same, while trying to pay for medications, minimize doctor visits, and take care of all of the home/family responsibilities that I was left holding the bag for . . . while my ex is now living with his New Shiny and going to kink conventions, free of all inconvenient commitments. Needless to say, I have some Strong Feelings on this subject :/

          • I’m really sorry this happened to you, and I understand those Strong Feelings. Jedi hugs if you would like them, and what fortitude I can spare.

        • ashbet said:

          Note to my other comment, which hasn’t appeared yet:

          THINK ABOUT whether you’d be putting your partner into a survival-level crisis if you left. That doesn’t mean that you can’t think about it and decide to leave anyway, or that you are obligated to support an ex-partner… but if you’re leaving because you’re bored in an otherwise-loving partnership, it would be a kindness to see whether there are things you can do to make the situation less dire for your partner, in a transition sense.

          (I’m especially thinking of situations like my own and @whollywords — where there is a massive power and financial discrepancy.)

          When one partner is disabled, or has been out of the workforce for 20 years to raise your kids, or moved away from family and friends to be with you (and now can’t afford to move back) — and your motivation for leaving is that you feel stale or that you met someone new — maybe the way to be a decent human being in this situation isn’t just to turn your back on your now-former partner’s very real struggles.

          This isn’t advice that *should* apply to everyone — “I want to leave” is a good reason to leave — but if you’ve deeply entwined your life with someone in a way that leaves them vulnerable to serious harm if you leave (can’t pay rent/mortgage on the dwelling you shared, can’t afford necessary medical care, struggling to support children), I do think that the partner you’re leaving deserves some level of consideration and compensation, *if* they have limited resources and there is a concrete reason why they can’t somehow make up the difference.

          Bah. Having a hard time communicating this one — I don’t think it’s universal, but I think it should apply when there is a major disparity in power, ability/disability, and/or earning potential, especially if the partner with less power/privilege made major life changes or sacrifices to support the person who is leaving.

          • Mel Reams said:

            I’m sure there’s necessarily a conflict between “wanting to leave is a good enough reason to leave” and “do right by your former partner on the way out.” Health insurance is a weird gray area – I can’t say it would be unreasonable for a chronically ill person to ask their former partner not to go through with a legal divorce so they could stay insured, although having that kind of legal tie to a former partner seems likely to suck for everyone. In a situation like whollyword’s, I think their former partner should have financially helped them move back to a place where they could make a living. If someone moves *for* you and then you break up with them, that’s not necessarily anyone’s fault but “I want to leave” doesn’t mean it’s not your “fault,” for lack of a better word, that your now-former partner moved to a place where it turns out they can’t make a living.

            Basically I don’t see anyone here saying “don’t leave at all,” I see people saying “don’t leave me in the lurch,” which seems pretty reasonable.

          • Mel Reams said:

            Doh! I meant “I’m NOT sure there’s necessarily a conflict…”

          • ashbet said:

            @Mel Reams (we’re out of nesting, alas!), I figured there was intended to be a “not” in there, from context ^__^

            I had suggested that we either not go through a legal divorce, *or* to go through a legal separation (available in the state where he now resides, unavailable in the state where I live), but he didn’t feel that would give him 100% protection if I later decided to “go after him for his money” . . . even though almost any judge would look at a jointly-agreed legal separation and a postnuptial agreement about insurance, and any attempt at later asking for more would get laughed out of court.

            Doesn’t matter — he has his New Shiny, and he can’t risk any of his precious money being taken away in the nebulous future . . . even though I wasn’t even asking him to PAY for insurance, just to put us on his employer plan so that WE could pay for it.

            (We’re in a weird loophole — moved to Red State after the ACA passed but before the Supreme Court lawsuit allowed states to opt-out, so according to the Federal rules, we should be getting expanded Medicaid, and due to the state rules, we get nothing. And we’re not allowed to buy insurance on the ACA exchange, because we’re disabled and on Medicare . . . even though Medicare doesn’t pay for anything near our actual medical expenses. Don’t be born with a rare disease, kids — it sucks.)

            So, yeah. We moved from Blue State to Red State so that I could live near him (after being long-distance for a couple of years), and we’re now basically stuck here, for various reasons — financial and practical (such as the fact that we’re currently renting a place that my mother owns, so our landlord situation is more secure than it would be elsewhere.)

            Were we still in Blue State, our insurance/health care/survival issues wouldn’t be as acute.

            And I supported my ex-partner on *my* Social Security benefits when he went through an extended period of unemployment, had him move in with me when his lease was up and he had nowhere else to go (even though I preferred not to cohabitate, because I know it’s difficult to live with a seriously-ill partner), stayed together through various ups and downs, thought we had a life-partner relationship . . .

            . . . but his desire to pursue a new partner who had an active case of an STI that I didn’t want to get (I’m immune-compromised), despite our 7-year agreements about sexual health and safety, was something he was willing to tear our relationship apart to have.

            So, yes — in this case, I do think he owes me something (as the able-bodied, earning-capacity-having, insurance-eligible person), since this country is still utterly barbaric when it comes to health-care access.

            I’m not even asking him for money, just the right for my daughter and I to stay eligible for insurance as his stepchild and spouse.

            Again, not saying he didn’t have the right to fall out of love and move on with his life (although he could have been a bit less cruel and shitty about it) . . . but since we’re majorly over a barrel due to living in an ACA-funds-denying state, due to moving to be with him, he could at least have the decency not to cut off our healthcare and prescription coverage in the bargain :/

            I think “You can leave, but don’t leave me in the lurch” is a reasonable compromise for certain cases, when the “left” partner made a significant move or sacrifice for the other partner’s sake, and the “leaving” partner has much greater resources and ability to take care of themselves on their own.

      • Jaz said:

        I love the last sentence! About only fighting besides, never against! It perfectly sums up how I feel about “fighting for a relationship”.

    • I guess “FightforyourCohabitingRelationshipThatYouAreCurrentlyHappilyDefiningAsAPartnership” was too long for the textfield, even if it was more accurate and less judgmental. 🙂

    • I am truly sorry about what happened to you. I’ve been cheated on. The betrayal struck me at a deep, almost primal level, and good lord, it seemed to transcend physical and emotional pain and create a whole new threshold of agony, only to destroy that, too. I didn’t, couldn’t, start feeling healthy and whole again until the guy decided his new lover didn’t match up to me and took me back. Hell, there was even a near-physical altercation between him and my rebound for my womanly charms! Both of the Others were vanquished, the guy and I were newly confident in our mutual desires, roll end credits over perky pop ballads.

      But.

      A few years down the line, the roles reversed. I got to play Judas. I just wasn’t attracted to him anymore. And I really should have left when it was a mere loss of attraction, because after I lost that, I subsequently lost, in rapid succession, respect, friendliness, and all but the most basic tenets of common decency for a fellow human being, and those I only dispensed grudgingly.

      I was fighting. I fought myself. “He’s a decent guy,” I told myself. “All relationships go through rough patches! We went through one before, and we came through it stronger than ever!”

      But I was so fatigued from all the internal tussling over the relationship that I had nothing left to give to the other person in it. And while hindsight’s harsh glare finally revealed that the other person was a dillweed of significant rank even without the cheating factored in (which I’m not saying about you, nor do I believe your ex-husband thinks about you), my actions – inactions, rather – were pushing the shit we had created right into the fan.

      As “just not attracted anymore” tumbled into “sneering contempt,” I stopped caring. I broke plans made months before without telling him, I stopped communicating unless absolutely necessary, I went out of my way – literally – to stay out of our apartment.

      I considered having a fling and inviting the new guy back to our bed; old guy would know what was going on, since he never left the building. The reason I discarded it was not my comatose conscience hurtling up from the abyss in desperation to deliver a healthy dose of shame. The real reason I didn’t go through with it was that I suspect my now-ex’s reaction to “catching” us would simply be to shrug, go back to his computer games, and never speak of it again.

      It took me way too long before I finally mustered up enough guts to sit down, talk to him, and tell him he needed to go. To his credit, after he finished crying, he simply packed some things into a duffel bag and changed a previously-booked ticket home so that he could take off earlier. If he had fought it – if he’d promised changes, tried to talk me out of it – I would’ve been pissed.

      Yes, I do think LW needs to have a conversation with Dave. But the end result of that discussion may be an unconditional surrender rather than a renewed commitment to fight until the bitter end. And if that’s the way it goes, it’s my opinion as someone who has been on both sides of this equation that the end should happen now, when LW and Dave still retain some fondness for each other, than later, after they’ve ground it down to nothing after months or years of attrition.

      I don’t know if my comment-turned-epic is helpful to the LW, or to you, though if it helps you to think of me as a callous heel and extend the comparison to your husband, I understand completely. I simply wanted to explain how I came to believe that (and this is only my personal opinion, take it, leave it, or spit on it), whatever the legal standing of LW’s relationship, a relationship that requires that much fighting is a lost cause.

      • rhythla said:

        I think people undervalue leaving on good terms, even if that means hurt sooner for one person.

        A bunch of my friends thought I was cruel for breaking up with a guy I only dated for a few months because the sex was lousy and I wasn’t really attracted to him anymore because of it. However, I knew that I would end up eventually cheating on him, which I believe is cruel – so even though the break up devastated him, I think he would have been more hurt by me cheating on him. It sucks, but he was going to get hurt either way – so I went the best route I could to spare him as much pain as possible.

        So nottakennotavailable, I agree with and empathize with what you are saying. (My ex actually did fight for the relationship and I stupidly/naively gave in and dated him for another month, but inevitably dumped him again for the same reason because it didn’t change. So instead of being dumped once, he was dumped twice.) A relationship that requires that much fighting is a lost cause and it is very sad, but it really is better to move on.

        • A bunch of my friends thought I was cruel for breaking up with a guy I only dated for a few months because the sex was lousy and I wasn’t really attracted to him anymore because of it.
          Now THAT leaves me scratching my head. On some level, I understand people who say to the party breaking up a long-term relationship, “I can’t believe you’d throw away everything you’ve/we’ve built together over the years! Is it really worth it just for better sex?” (Short answer to that, of course, being “it depends – maybe”.) But if you’re not allowed to end a relationship a few *months* in – once the gloss is off and you get a general sense of what it would look like long-term – then when, exactly, are you?

          • rhythla said:

            Exactly!

            (There were other reasons too for ending it, but the sex was the primary reason for me.)

            Before I knew what the Sheelzebub Principle was, I knew myself enough to know that I could not do a year, let alone 5 years, of what we had, so I ended it before we became more entangled. I think that is all you can really do – once you know you cannot be in a (non-abusive) relationship anymore, start the process of ending it as quickly and painlessly as possible for both parties.

  7. Thank you for writing this LW, and thank you Captain for such a thoughtful response.

    I’ve been wrestling with the same issue. In some ways it feels cliche – I love my long-term partner but maybe I’m not in love with him any more? – but reading that I’m not alone with this helps clarify the concerns I have with myself and my relationship.

    • misspiggy said:

      The Captain’s advice to look at your life overall is great. When I start to get fed up with my partner, I ask if the things I valued about him – that I found exciting – have changed. Usually the answer is that I’m not getting to see them, or I’m only seeing aspects of him that I don’t like. I tend to ask him why he’s doing x or y difficult thing, or set up situations where he shines/I’m more fulfilled. He hates the idea of going to new places, and I love to explore. When I start feeling stifled it’s often time to insist on going somewhere new. He’s great with people, but often feels too tired to go out. I’ll push for us to go to a get together, and enjoy seeing him charming the pants off everyone.

      This sounds awfully manipulative, but I think he does the same with me – letting me know what he wants, or what he doesn’t want, in our lives. Not everything is possible, but then we try to make it easy for the other to do those things outside the relationship.

  8. sarahjaneb said:

    I would talk to Dave to see how he’s feeling about the relationship and then proceed from there. Maybe you’ll do the pina colada thing without either of you actually getting to the point of placing a personal ad, or maybe you’ll come to a mutual agreement and part ways as friends.

  9. Amber Rose said:

    I hear ya LW. I’ve been +10 years with the only guy I ever dated and I love him dearly but sometimes I wonder.

    That’s why I think what you are is in a rut. It’s easy to take that constant presence for granted, to start becoming roommates instead of lovers. And usually both parties do it. You don’t get that flash of excitement but… have you tried to give it? Have you coated the house in candles and rose petals and worn the sexy outfit (not in a literal sense)? Have you considered trying out a class together so you can show off your Awesome a bit?

    Partner and I have been working on this too LW. We are going on an adventure for two weeks soon. I got him to try a sword fighting class with me. He cooks me fancy dinners and turns off the TV to dance with me.

    Romance is work. That flash, that spark, that excitement. It takes work. Even your slightly off-putting colleague (no means no dude, yuck) had to work to give you that feeling. You can create it too. Give it a try.

  10. Danielle Bryan said:

    What a lovely response! Oh LW, these questions are so damn tough! I wish you the best of luck in working through these thoughts and feelings, as I’m sure that you will in time.

    On a personal level, this hits very close to home for me as I have just come through a similar assessment of my life and what I want from it. Like you, I compared a more exciting version of me, my life, and my partner to what I actually had. I felt terrified that I would never feel the excitement of something (or someone) new.

    I hope nobody will mind if I share a personal experience that might help. In my case I became obsessed with the idea of living somewhere new, and felt stuck. I also became incredibly sad that, because I have found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, I will never feel the excitement of a new crush, a first sexual encounter, that lovely feeling of getting to know somebody I’m falling for. Having worked through the those fears I realized that I could experience new cities just by traveling more, and that my real fear was not about where I lived, it was about discovering new places. Also, I found that by expanding my social group and meeting new people with similar interests, I could find the excitement of bonding with another person platonically, and that the sexual element wasnt as important. Also, I started dressing a little more sexily, but just for me.

    I second the advice to focus on being the person you want to be, and go from there. Good luck!

    • Private Editor said:

      Thank you for this. It actually does help. Not because I want to leave my husband but because I’m just starting to work on figuring out what I want to be now that I’m in my mid-40s. It’s good to hear from other people about their work. Cheers!

      • I only found out what I wanted to be when I was 43, PE. And that was by plain, dumb luck. Picked a new field in which to train based on equal parts pragmatism and desperation; the fact that I both fell in love with it and appear to have a talent for it was complete serendipity.

  11. braennare said:

    I’d like to add, as a person practicing ethical non-monogamy on the Relationship Anarchy part of that spectrum, that one can be done with a relationship in its current form without being done with the relationship, and that if it’s important to have a certain person in one’s life in some capacity, there are more options than “together” or “not together”. Maybe you want more Space and Excitement, but don’t want to have to give up Hot Soup to get it – new directions can be set if you’re able to discuss it in a mutually caring and understanding way. Maybe you want to be able to see others, live alone, be independent – those can also be options within longterm committed relationships, before or after you’ve been living together. Maybe you want other premises, limits, conditions, agreements – you don’t have to use a ready-made set of rules, but can build your own rule set together.

    You are also allowed to leave a perfectly good, well-functioning relationship if you want to. You don’t have to wait for it to get so boring or dissatisfying that the other person notices and does the breaking up for you. It’s just a waste of time, if you already know. (I did that once, a long time ago, and I would definitely not recommend it, it’s neither fair, fun nor a good use of time.)

    I sometimes get bored and restless and feel… slightly dissatisfied while wondering if I am settling. For me, it usually means one of two things: I am either A) done with the relationship and want to spread my wings again, or B) adapting overly much to the other person’s way of life while ignoring my own dreams, desires and needs. In both cases I feel cramped or crowded by the other person, but sometimes I’m actually just stuck in a somewhat (or distinctly) codependent mindset or being held back from living my life as I want, not by the other person, but by Jerkbrain telling me that I have to be someone else for people to love me, even though I know full well I am only really comfortable, inspired and horny in my own skin. In the latter cases, the relationship usually grows deeper, fuller and richer for me taking my dissatisfaction seriously and bringing the dreams, desires and needs I have hidden into play.

    • Thank you. You said what I wanted to say, but better. Wait… you’re not me, are you? Are we long-lost twins? Because I feel exactly the same way sometimes.

      • braennare said:

        Being a philosopher and somewhat hazy at times about my identity, I might very well be you…
        (Philosophy also gives one a somewhat odd sense of humor.)

        Thanks for the appreciation. Good to know there was recognition.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Beautifully put!

    • Pizkies said:

      Wow. As a fellow tends-towards-codependent person, your last paragraph hit me like a long-lost puzzle piece. I… need to go reflect a lot on what my relationship claustrophobia actually means, now.

      • braennare said:

        I’m glad to inspire reflection, and I hope something good comes of it.

        For me, when I first started to challenge my tendency to flee even the relationships I wanted, I instead got stuck in them in interesting and evolving, but also painful and exhausting ways. I still don’t really know how to allow myself to stay or stay committed without shaking things up every now and then by fighting to make space for myself, but I have gotten a long way towards at least staying connected and intimate with people I want to have that with, and towards having a much better balance of vulnerability and boundaries than I used to. And much much more respect for the vulnerability and boundaries of my partners.

        There are also, of course, the difficulties of me trying as a feminist agender-but-female-assumed person to have free, equal and nourishing relationships with people for whom these ideas are good, but mainly someone else’s battles. It does happen that I run (or spread my wings) because however good or intimate a relationship is, it is based on the idea of me being a woman/girlfriend, something I can never be. And even when I am not “girlfriend” in the eyes of my loved one, I feel crowded by the idea that this is how others view us. The view that a person assumed female is supposed to belong to and assist their partner rather than be their own independent person might be eroded, but still haunts me, like the constant monster under the relationship bed. Not as something I ever try to live up to, but as something that I constantly run from.

        So yeah, relationship claustrophobia. Definitely worth taking a good look at. Definitely worth both respect and challenge.

      • braennare said:

        I’m glad to inspire reflection, and I hope something good comes of it.

        For me, when I first started to challenge my tendency to flee even the relationships I wanted, I instead got stuck in them in interesting and evolving, but also painful and exhausting ways. I still don’t really know how to allow myself to stay or stay committed without shaking things up every now and then by fighting to make space for myself, but I have gotten a long way towards at least staying connected and intimate with people I want to have that with, and towards having a much better balance of vulnerability and boundaries than I used to. And much much more respect for the vulnerability and boundaries of my partners.

        There are also, of course, the difficulties of trying as a feminist agender-but-female-assumed person to have free, equal and nourishing relationships with people for whom these ideas are good, but mainly someone else’s battles. It does happen that I run (or spread my wings) because however good or intimate a relationship is, it is based on the idea of me being a woman/girlfriend, something I can never be. And even when I am not “girlfriend” in the eyes of my loved one, I feel crowded by the idea that this is how others view us. The view that a person assumed female is supposed to belong to and assist their partner rather than be their own independent person might be eroded, but still haunts me, like the constant monster under the relationship bed. Not as something I ever try to live up to, but as something that I constantly run from.

        So yeah, relationship claustrophobia. Definitely worth taking a good look at. Definitely worth both respect and challenge.

    • edelc said:

      Your second paragraph, is wonderful, I had an aha moment when I read it…that thing of ‘adapting overly much to the other persons way of life while ignoring my own dreams, desires and needs’..bingo, spot on for me, That with my newfound reading of emotional labour has given me some signposts to help me as I navigate the most emotionally healthy relationship of my life..and I have had many. Having lived for nearly 50 years in a way that encourages me to ‘ignore my own dreams, desires and needs’ in favour of being nice, and in order to be lovable, it is good to be reminded in such a succinct way, how it manifests in my life..thanks

      and OP The captains advice is spot on. I particularly recommend solo travelling, or at least travels and adventures with someone other than your SO, my beloved has just returned from a three week trip and it was so good to see him again, I had a chance and space to miss him.

  12. Mary said:

    I’ve sort of been in this headspace, and the key thing for me in deciding what to do was knowing what kind of life I want. I wanted to make a home with my partner and have a child and to get to sixty-five and look back with my partner on what we’d built and the family we’d made. That means foregoing the excitements of new relationship energy (we aren’t necessarily monogamous in theory, but in practice, both of us have prioritised home and family and careers and each other over any other relationships for well over ten years now. Might change when the kids are older.) That doesn’t mean that I’ve never missed being single or dating or flirting-with-intent (as opposed to flirting-without-intent, which is different), but ultimately, those things aren’t compatible with what I want out of life.

    So yeah, I think that you want a long-term relationship, and all the comfort and security that go with it, yup, this is what it looks like sometimes. My relationship with my partner of twelve years is the solid constant which frees us both up to be parents and have jobs we care about and a home we love. We work together well, and we love spending time together, but it’s very different from the energy of the first few years when we were finding each other and falling in love.

    But the thing is, if you don’t want that, that’s totally fair enough! You don’t have to want a long-term relationship, or a family, or a marriage, or any of those things! If you want to keep being the sexy strong single lady and falling in love and putting lots of energy into new relationships, that’s so allowed! You are allowed to break up with Dave not because there’s anything wrong with him or with the relationship, but just because you’ve realised that long-term relationship isn’t what you want. Or even that it’s not what you want *yet*: you’re allowed to break up and settle down later too. Maybe you’ve not “settled” for Dave, but you’ve “settled” for a long-term partnership because it seemed to be expected, and what you’re figuring out is that that isn’t what you want. That is 100% OK! It is very, very hard and confusing if you do that when you’re actually in a relationship with someone you do love and respect, because it seems awful to hurt them and the expectation that you (and especially a female-you) want that is still very, very prevalent and unexamined. But you’re allowed not to. You’re allowed to want something different, and you’re allowed to take steps to make you’re life like that, even if it’s hard and it isn’t what anyone expects or what you expected.

    • This is such a lovely response. Long term relationships nearly always look and feel far different down the line than they did when you first met and thought each other were the bees knees. I don’t know that accepting that your life and your partnership can be both rock solid and sometimes boring means “settling,” but different people have different needs and wants out of life.

    • espritdecorps said:

      This response resonates with me.

      Spouse and I have spent the better part of two decades together, and have kids. Between the natural settling of partners over time, and children’s need for stability, Hot Soup is on the menu for most meals, and for the most part we enjoy that.
      We’ve chosen to stay together three times during our relationship, where we could have parted. Which is something that doesn’t get talked about much.
      There’s this idea that a ‘good’ relationship never has any doubt, but any long-term relationship has had points where other possible lives intersect with the one you have together. Where you could easily step into something new, and you choose not to. It sounds like LW is at one of those points.

      It helped for me to take time to figure out the thing I was most craving from a potential new life, and find ways to have some of that in my current one.
      If LW is needing to be admired and desired, taking a partnered dance class or going on a day trip a couple times a month w/o partner could be a way to flirt casually with other men. Finding out whether she feels feeling energized by the attention but happy to be home, versus being disappointed and sad to spend time with Dave again would be useful information before doing anything drastic.

      • FlyBy said:

        “We’ve chosen to stay together three times during our relationship, where we could have parted. Which is something that doesn’t get talked about much.”

        Yeah. In seven years of marriage, my husband and I have both grown, and there were times when it looked like we were growing apart. We’ve ended up staying together instead, mostly because we both decided we wanted to stay and were willing to make the needed changes to do so. This kind of cycle is really normal, and I wish we talked about it more.

      • Jackalope said:

        I would second the idea of a dance class, but specifically a class where you rotate partners every time you dance, so you can have fun hanging out with lots of members of the opposite sex without getting into anything serious. You dance for a few minutes, then move on to the next person. (Plus, you also learn to dance better that way.) This could even work together with Dave if you are both interested, because you get to interact with other people besides each other. Of course, if you’re not at all into dancing, that won’t work.

  13. If I were LW, I would actually take the letter and show it to my partner. I mean, I might look at some of the wording and change some phrases that may hit too hard and thus distract from the message. But it sounds like a very worthwhile conversation to be had.

    I’d also tell my partner all about the incident with Steve, including how the incident made me feel and what it made me start thinking about.

    But I think my partner and I may be outliers: we got together in our 40s, post-therapy (for one of us) and post-marriage (for the other). We’ve been around the block a few times, both of us. Although we might have some trepidation at this type of conversation — which has actually happened, e.g., when an old internet friend of mine proposed flying me out to the West Coast twice or thrice a year to not-so-secretly enjoy my intimate company (!) — the conversations can be deep and satisfying and have only drawn us closer together.

    • 30ish said:

      Yes, I think that sharing what’s really going on in your head – especially stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise talk about – can help keep a relationship exciting. I just recently had that experience when my partner and I shared our thoughts about whether we still think we want to have kids. It was scary – what if we don’t agree? – but having that heart-to-heart and hearing the other’s deep desires and doubts was really stimulating for our relationship. It reminded me of the early phase of our relationship when we were much more open about being two different people with potentially different desires that might not necessarily align.

  14. Nicole said:

    Man, I want to forward that second to last paragraph of the Captain’s response to my ex and to everyone in my life as a means of explaining my divorce. I wish I had had those words to better articulate my feelings.

    LW, I think that paragraph has a lot of key insight in it about whether the grass truly is greener.

    • reddressgnome said:

      I really loved that bit, too. So much wisdom. This letter and the response are great all around!

  15. Liz said:

    I was at the same point as LW a few years back. My situation was pretty much exactly like Take This Waltz. I had a comfortable but stale relationship with a great guy, and then a Sexy Mysterious Stranger walked into my life (new coworker) and threw my emotions into upheaval. I had been feeling safe but bored, and like I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and suddenly I had this vision of a shiny new life with Sexy Coworker in the middle of it.

    Turns out, though that both my comfortable/stale relationship and the sexy stranger were totally irrelevant. I was actually bored with MYSELF, and my personal identity was so tied up to my relationship that I thought the blame lay there. So I started doing stuff on my own just to get out of the house. I signed up for a martial arts class. I learned to play ukulele. I set up a monthly craft day with my girlfriends. My poor boyfriend cheered me on from the sidelines, having no idea I was doing this to get away from him for awhile, but thinking it was super cool that I was doing all this stuff.

    After about 6 months this, something shifted. My boyfriend and I were reconnecting. We started mountain biking together again, and gaming together again, and cooking together again. I had all this positive energy that made me fun to be around, again. I lost interest in my sexy coworker once I actually knew him as a person and not a concept. And before I knew it I felt like myself again. And once I was happy with myself, I remembered why I loved my boyfriend, and I fell harder in love with him than I had even been before. That was three years ago, and we’re getting married this fall.

    But that’s not actually happy ending to this story. The happy ending is that I took control of my life, and fell back in love with myself, and remembered who I was and what I needed to be happy. And getting to know myself gave me the insight to know whether my boyfriend was the right person to share my happiness with or not.

    So yeah. You do you. Reconnect with yourself. Re-learn your own heart. Dream with yourself. And if you find that you want Dave to come along with you, invite him along for the ride.

    • I think that’s brilliant, Liz. So brilliant that I may well copy you 🙂

      Congratulations on your engagement.

    • I love this. Go you.

    • carabiner said:

      this is really fantastic, and is a place i’m working through right now! congratulations, liz! on both your engagement and (perhaps more importantly) your personal accomplishments!!

    • Private Editor said:

      This story is going to stay in my pocket for a couple of days so that I can look at it and feel happy whenever I want. Congrats on the happy ending! You and your fiancé sound like great partners.

    • Wren said:

      Oh wow, Liz. This is how I’m feeling now! I am BORED, and not with my lovely husband but with myself. Work is not fulfilling me, but I’m OK with that as it pays the bills and doesn’t put me under pressure – and probably won’t last forever either. I do see my friends regularly but there is something missing…I shall put some time into figuring this out, and work on what I can do to re-energise myself.

      Thanks for the insight, both Captain and Liz. Perfectly timed and worded post.

    • PintsizeBro said:

      What a nice story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Jaz said:

      I’m working on finding out who I am right now. I just got out of a depressive period (actually just got off my meds last week!) and everything is new and shiny and exciting. I’m trying to figure out what I want and see how it lines up with my partner.

    • kanel said:

      So many hearts around this comment. For me it perfectly captures why I needed to work on reconnecting with myself and get to a place where I was quite happy with myself and my life before I could be open to connecting with a partner who was really right for me. Before I had arrived at that place I tried partnering up too, but the person and the circumstances were all wrong and in my non-connectedness with myself I couldn’t see that. Counseling and therapy helped and when I had returned to myself and was in a rather good place I was able to find my honey, and our relationship is better than anything before.

  16. I think there’s plenty of room in this relationship for “shaking things up” to be fruitful. Even the plan to do so may reveal information of interest: are there cultural inhibitions being projected onto “Dan” unnecessarily, are there other factors contributing to stagnation that are not partner-related, or does “Dan” in fact have some strong opinions or desires that change the landscape? It’s time to start the “venture” part of “nothing ventured, nothing gained! How exciting!

    While I don’t recommend it, I should also confess that I’ve used consensual non-monogamy to explore other aspects of my personality. It’s perspective changing to be valued for different things by different people. I don’t recommend it because it can really tempt you to imagine that you can ONLY be a different sort of person with a different sort of partner, because it’s just HARD to revise well-worn paths of compatibility in an existing relationship. And it just isn’t true: many relationships can go through growth intact and even deepened. Also, that idea robs you of the very real autonomy to be whoever you bloody want to be whether it suits a certain partner or not.

    For my entire fifteen year monogamous marriage, I did this with intense and intimate friendships with a diverse array of people while doing a variety of projects in my spare time: Ren Faires, knitting circles, pet shelter volunteering, community theater, local government, etc. I now have some benefit in long-term poly relationships with two divergent people as partners, but my recommendation is definitely to start up the machinery to see what breaks and what needs repair/replacement.

  17. Noggins said:

    Give Dave A Chance.

    Talk to him.

  18. RSVP said:

    There’s always going to be a “what if” in your life. “What if I’d taken that job?” “What if I’d done this/that/the other?” Given the number of appalling Darth Partners that have been described in this blog, I’d think very carefully before giving up on a partner who definitely isn’t a Darth.

    • Tim Tam Girl said:

      Eh. I mean, you’re not wrong if what you mean is that it’s important to weight carefully what you have and what you’d lose by leaving, as part of the LW’s process of thinking about the relationship and her life overall. But I’m uncomfortable with the idea that if he’s not a Darth, then he’s Good Enough! There’s a huge spectrum between Person I Actively Want To Be With and Darth I Should Run From At Speed; and especially given the LW’s concerns about settling, I think it’s important to acknowledge that someone can be awesome in every way and still not be Awesome For You – or even have been Awesome For You in the past but not in the present or future.

      FWIW, from what the LW said, I do think there’s a lot right with her life, and it sounds to me (as it did to CA and others) that there are a lot of options available to her to try to bring some spark back into herself and her relationship. But I always reckon it’s worth remembering that ‘good person’ does not always equal ‘good for me’, and that *there is no shame in that*.

    • errrrr… yes….and no…

      Yeah, there’s always going to be “what if” and trying to find a path that won’t have any is not a great strategy. But I feel like “don’t lose this one because he isn’t awful, and you might never find a not-awful guy again” is a really sad way to make decisions? Like, wanting a partner to be actually *right* for her (as opposed to not Darth Vader) isn’t a bad thing? It has that feel of “you can’t leave because no one else will love you like I do,” which really squicks me out.

      I mean, maybe Dave IS right for her, or their relationship CAN be what she wants it to be, but if he isn’t, and it can’t, then staying because he’s better than The Worst is kinda the definition of settling.

    • espritdecorps said:

      While Darths make a large percentage of the partners that people write in about, they’re not a large part of the general population.

      New relationship energy is a long time gone between me and Spouse, even so, I’d be very upset and hurt if the reason he stuck with me boiled down to “You’re not awful.”

    • Mary said:

      Ooh, I so disagree with this! It comes across to me as “he’s not abusive, siding break up with him.” If the LW NEEDED to be in a relationship with a man – if it was a time or a place where that was the only way she could get her basic needs met – that approach would make sense. But hopefully the LW would be perfectly OK if she was single, so the only reason for being with Dave should be because she actively chooses to be with Dave.

      • Mary said:

        siding = so don’t

  19. duaecat said:

    “Steve has given me a gift. For a brief while I’ve seen myself through his eyes: an intelligent, witty, successful and attractive woman that he desires and wants to spend more time with”

    I think it might be worthwhile to think of the fact that Dave does not make you feel like he sees you as that, and then ask what it would take to change that? It might even be as simple as flat out saying you want more attention (and maybe looking to give the same attention in return?) or maybe Dave isn’t interested anymore. And maybe all it will take is incorporating a little ‘hey, we’re usually in a holding pattern using about 10% emotional energy in our Us time, lets set a time to crank that up and get the romance on.’

    I know it’s popular to rag on holidays with “You should make your partner/parent/teacher/secretary feel special every day! Not just once a year!” but honestly a relationship is a bit like an action movie. You have to space out the explosions! Nothing but explosions will start getting boring because oh gee, another explosion? How surprising. Steve gave you a trailer, a quick cut of enticing scenes and explosions that can hold your attention for a minute and a half and they may not even be in the final cut of the movie! Of course that trailer is going to seem a little more action-packed than your current long-running movie.

    But I entirely agree with the Captain that I don’t think you’re yet at the point where it’s time to accept that there’s nothing salvageable. It sounds like you want to feel special more often (Which is a good and normal thing!) and perusing that doesn’t mean giving up what you already have.

    • Eeeeka said:

      ‘Oh, if life were made of moments / even now and then a bad one…
      but if life were made of moments / then you’d never know you had one.’

      • S said:

        ❤ That show and the truthbombs.

    • dizzy said:

      Yeah, can I co-sign this as someone who is in a very similar situation to the LW. My partner and I love each other and our relationship is comfy, but the spark isn’t there anymore. It took an recriprocal attraction to a coworker to make me realise that my partner and I needed to get our romance back on track, or the relationship wasn’t going to make it. It sounds to me like Dave is good with Hot Soup, but maybe he needs to serve up some Hot Stuff to the LW so that LW has that feeling that she’s exciting and desirable to Dave.

      I hope that’s something they can have a conversation about. It is hard though – in my case I’ve communicated it to my partner but I’m not seeing any changes to the way he interacts with me. There’s not a lot you can do if the other person isn’t willing to meet your needs, which is kind of scary and awful but also just the way it goes sometimes.

      • basketcasenz said:

        Are you me?
        I’ve tried so many times – being an exemplar, using my words, using tears, withholding sex (in an extreme attempt) – to get my husband to meet my needs in terms of feeling loved.
        Nothing doing.
        With the fact I also dont get general / specific male attention in that regard either, I can only assume that I am actually unattractive (mentally and physically).
        My love bucket is only refilled by my preschooler, my self-confidence is at an all-time low. I fear turning into an angry shrew just like his mother. I would much rather my relationship mirrored my parents (sometimes volatile, but usually affectionate) than his parents (always carping at each other and I actually dont know whats holding them together 35 years later).

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          I can only assume

          That’s depression talking.

          I actually dont know whats holding them together

          This might be a filter you need to apply to your own relationship. If your partner does not make you feel loved, it is time to look at that relationship. This is not your fault; and you cannot fix it; if you have used your words and he remains indifferent, you have to face reality: he is indifferent to you. That’s not a good basis for a long-term relationship.

  20. Isben Takes Tea said:

    What really resonated for me is the Captain’s point:

    “Sometimes crushes are about wanting to be with someone new, other times they are about wanting to be someone new.”

    Maybe you’re not worried you’re “settling” with Dave, but that you’re “settling” with yourself? Maybe the question is not can Dave make you feel like that, but can you can make yourself feel like that?

    Steve has given you a gift, and I think I agree with duaecat that pursuing that feeling doesn’t mean giving up what you have; it could mean making it even better.

  21. TheWhiteTree said:

    LW, I know it feels great to have someone say that hey, you’re sexy and awesome! There’s nothing wrong with basking in that ego boost and enjoying it for a bit. But when you start really thinking about your relationship with Dave, be careful about reading more into Steve’s come-on than was really there. You’ve given Steve’s attention a lot of emotional weight, but you don’t really know how meaningful it is to Steve. It sounds like the only thing you really know for sure is that Steve wanted to have sex with you that night. Would your relationship with Dave seem less doubtful if you found out Steve did the same thing to another colleague the next day? Or if you could magically read Steve’s mind and see nothing but “woooooo I might get laaaaaaid” going through his mind while he’s hitting on you?

    I’m saying this because it’s SO EASY to run exciting new attention through the wishful thinking filter and come up with the most flattering interpretation possible, and at the same time, it’s SO EASY to let everyday love, respect, and commitment fade into the background. But just keep in mind that Dave’s “gift” to you is 10 years of love, support, and commitment to building a life together. Steve’s “gift” might amount to nothing more than him really wanting you to touch his boner. Whatever you decide about Dave, just make sure that your decision holds up whether Steve thinks you’re the most amazing person who ever walked the earth or whether Steve just wanted a one-night stand and doesn’t think about you at all now. The Captain’s advice is great because YOU are what makes you sexy and awesome, not Steve’s bonerfeels, so don’t make them the center of a major decision in your life.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Yes, this. LW, what you are really experiencing her is “Steve’s attention made me feel especially intelligent, appreciated, etc”. There’s nothing wrong with that! And it’s especially good if you feel that you’d like more of that from Dave, and you can talk to him about that.

      But you don’t know what was going on in Steve’s head. All you know is how he behaved – which is that after his ‘plausible deniability’ got a polite refusal, he tried again, only louder.

  22. cleo said:

    I really relate to this. I’ve been married almost 15 years and we’ve had a couple dry patches where we almost parted but ended up rekindling / reconnecting.

    I 100% agree with the suggestions for the LW to connect with herself and her dreams.

    I will just add that learning our respective Love Languages made a huge difference (and I was so, so skeptical). But – it turns out that my top love language was Mr Cleo’s bottom and vice-versa, so no wonder neither of us was feeling loved or appreciated by the other. It was pretty eye opening and life changing.

    • Nicole said:

      +1 … I remember the “love language” stuff when I’m trying to articulate back to my BF why I’m feeling “not so loved” from time to time even though he’s doing lots of other love acts, and vice versa, to remember his top way of feeling loved when the world is piling on.

  23. Clarry said:

    Dave, I love you so much, and I love the life I have with you, but recently I’ve been feeling, oh, I don’t know, bored or taken for granted, or like we have a bowl of hot soup when I’m yearning for hot peppers. I want to feel like you see me as intelligent, witty, successful, attractive– not all the time. I know I should have the confidence to see myself that way, but sometimes I want to feel it from you. Let’s do something wild, crazy, different, (safe). What can you think of? Maybe something challenging we could do or learn together. A vacation but something we don’t usually do even if we don’t enjoy or don’t think we’ll enjoy it. Kite surfing? Travel like teenagers in youth hostels? A college class in something I have experience in that you don’t? Or the other way around. Sex in some new place or a new way? No, no, I’m not pushing for something specific; I’m just open to ideas, something to shake things up, so I don’t feel like I’m learning to knit when I know how to crochet. Brainstorm with me. What are you thinking? I won’t laugh.

    Then see what sort of answers you get. His response might make you realize that you’re bored because Dave’s boring. Or he’s feeling restless too. Or he’s been hoping you’d say something like that because there’s something he wants to do. There are any number of possibilities. It just seems to me that if you’re feeling like maybe you’re settling for Dave, wondering if Dave’s all there is, then you need to approach Dave in a respectful manner to see what he thinks.

  24. peeta8 said:

    “Settling” is also what pioneers do when they find the perfect spot. My own mental image is of a bird settling into the best, smoothing down her feathers.

    I think the Captain’s advice is lovely & perfect.

    • peeta8 said:

      Sigh. Into the *nest.*

    • espritdecorps said:

      Yeah, I don’t think of settling as a bad thing, in the sense of setting into a life with someone, it’s been hugely positive in my life overall.

      I really like the pioneer analogy. It takes years of searching to find the right spot, years of labor to get the basics set up properly, and a lifetime of tweaking and maintenance to keep it all going.

    • Good point! “Settling” has a rightly poor reputation, but it sounds like Dave has a lot of good qualities, and the happy ten year relationship points to that. I’d just like to add that “settling” happens with everything.

      No job is both thrilling and challenging, while also not-stressful and gives us room in our lives for other pursuits. No hobby turns into a profession without a lot of investment and gambles, and then is not a low-pressure as a hobby tends to be. No partner is absolutely everything we could ever want.

      And even if so… none of these things stay the same.

      I love what the Captain said about the LW needing to shake herself up before considering anything else, because chances are, things have developed with an emphasis on comfy with the consent of them both, but that certainly does not mean comfy is all there is.

      I have found that long-term relationships are just as likely to become thrilling again. We just have to look at the other person with fresh eyes and put them in new circumstances.

      That’s the only way to know for certain that we are growing together and not apart.

    • CommanderBanana said:

      What a lovely image!

      I am by nature a high-strung, anxious hyper-planner type person (and I’m in a job that needs those characteristics, so it just amplifies it) and I don’t want a partner who is super thrilling and wants to do adventurous things all the time. I want a partner who is my safe space to come home to – my safe harbor, if you will.

      • espritdecorps said:

        Yes!!!
        Quiet, steady and attentive is just the best ❤

  25. LW, my gut instinct says that if your mind is conjuring up the word “settling” to describe your relationship with Dave, it’s probably a good idea to get some distance from him. Not necessarily permanent distance, mind you, but maybe that solo vacation or long-distance opportunity the Captain mentioned–enough to figure out whether the unease you’re feeling is due to Dave or due to something else you realize you’ve “settled” for in your life. I don’t know if absence makes the heart grow, but I know that for me, it brings whatever feelings I do have about the absentee/absenter into sharp focus. My ex’s more or less permanent departure from our then-shared apartment was a huge relief; my best friend and I moving to different states for different reasons (his obligatory, mine voluntary, but there are no opportunities for me where he is, and he is my only reason to even visit) continue to make me ache persistently in a way I can only think of as a phantom soul pain. Of course, I am strenuously introverted – I can’t properly process feelings around others (the aforementioned best friend being one of very, very few). If that isn’t how you operate, feel free to take my advice with a grain of salt, or even a full saltshaker spread liberally around the rim of a margarita glass.

  26. Rose Fox said:

    Dear LW, I offer a little perspective from someone who’s been with a “hot soup” partner for going on 15 years. I also have a “spicy pepper” partner who I’ve been with for 13 years. They complement each other beautifully. As my “spicy pepper” partner has astonished and challenged and vexed me, I’ve become more aware, more confident, and more ethical. As my “hot soup” partner has comforted and trusted and encouraged me, I’ve become more relaxed, more kind, and more happy. And I bring each of those characteristics to both relationships–in many ways I’m now the “hot soup” person for my “spicy pepper” partner, and the “spicy pepper” person for my “hot soup” partner.

    The three of us began living together four years ago and it has been phenomenally good for all of us; we’ve grown and changed a lot, and it hasn’t always been easy, but we are all agreed that we’re better people for it. Before that, my “hot soup” partner and I lived alone for seven years, and we got into a rut much like yours with Dave. We intermittently worked on getting out of the rut, but we couldn’t quite see what we needed to make it happen. It turned out that we needed to be a little brave and do things that were a little scary. My “spicy pepper” person provided the opportunity, but our support for each other, that deep comforting hot soup warmth, is what gave us the strength to take the plunge.

    You don’t have to be polyamorous to develop a dynamic like this, if it’s a dynamic that appeals to you. Spend time with friends who are spicy pepper for you, or spice up your own life with activities that demand a lot from you. You and Dave will probably both be much happier if his support is active rather than abstract, if there’s a specific task he’s supporting you in doing or goal he’s supporting you in reaching. (And vice versa, if you’re his hot soup person too.) Don’t just bask in the warmth of the hot soup–turn its nutrients and calories into energy!

    There is risk, of course–Dave may like his hot soup exactly the way it is, without any spice in it at all, and if you start throwing pepper around a little recklessly, that probably won’t go over so well. But in my experience the risk is well worth taking, and a thoughtful collaborative approach can mitigate a lot of it. Ideally, once you bring some spice into your life and get the balance right, you’ll end up with the sort of delicious hot spicy soup that can cure any illness, and it will nourish you both forever.

    • That’s so amazing. I hope one day I have enough self confidence to meet ‘spicy pepper’ people.

      • Rose Fox said:

        I was struck by lightning-love the day I met mine; I went from “no idea who you are” to “can’t imagine my life without you” in the space of an hour. I am glad I had the self-confidence to pursue them and persuade them that the hot soup I wanted to give them was tasty and non-poisonous (which took some time and effort) but the meeting itself was pure chance. 🙂

        This isn’t just a romance thing, either. If you’ve ever had a friend who said “Look, I love you, but you really need to get your head out of your ass” or “Let’s go climb the Matterhorn, I’ve never done it and it sounds like fun” or plays the entirety of “There Is Life Outside Your Apartment” onto your voicemail, that is a spicy pepper friend. They push you out of your comfort zone because they believe that your comfort zone is stifling you. You don’t usually need a ton of self-confidence to make a friend like that because they will bring lots of their own energy to the relationship. What you need is the courage and wherewithal to say yes to their suggestions. (Assuming you agree with them that things in your life could use a bit of shaking up.)

        • Jackalope said:

          Totally seconding this about the friends filling those gaps. I have a spicy pepper friend that I love partly because she can talk me into just about anything. When we’re together I consider doing crazy things that I never would have done otherwise, like hiking gigantic mountains, doing amazingly long bike rides, or going on trips to random exotic locations. We’ve known each other long enough that she knows what I’m just not interested in, and she always respects my no, but she rarely gets it anymore because I think she has such good ideas. I also have a hot soup friend that is one of the most comfortable people I’ve ever known. Other friends joke that we don’t have conversations, we have had one long conversation over the course of our nearly 20 years of friendship, and we’ll refer to some ancient comment as if we’d said it 5 minutes ago instead of 15 years ago. A few weeks ago the 3 of us, plus 2 other friends, went on vacation in Hot Soup Friend’s home area. We were a perfect combination; Spicy Pepper Friend would suggest several crazy things to do, and Hot Soup Friend would tell us if it was a bad idea (“I know that sounds like fun, but it’s dangerous and lots of people have died doing it, so no.”); we all ended up having a great time, did things we normally wouldn’t have, and didn’t die. All in all, a good combination. This was just one little vacation, but that’s how it can work all the time.

  27. Part-time Jedi said:

    LW, I’m feeling you, because I have just gone through the same sort of mental calculus of “I have this awesome partner whose life goals line up with mine perfectly and is good for me in every way, except that the romance and the sexytimes have become pretty meh. Do I carry on?” And so I had to do a lot of thinking and deciding what was really important to me. Part of this was looking back at what had made me happy in the past, both while in relationships and while single.

    And what I decided was that I can live without crazy-hot rabbit sex. I did for years. Trashy fan-fiction and vibrators are a thing that can fill that gap just fine. I’ve had a couple of partners who gave me stomach butterflies and sex so good I could barely think, and they all wound up making me profoundly unhappy in one way or another. The things in my life that I really, really want, and that will make me happy, include adopting a kid, teaching, buying a house, and not having to do more than half of the cooking or cleaning. With my partner, I can have all these things, all wrapped up with a lovely supportive dude who will watch nerdy things with me and talk about history and science until the wee hours of the morning.

    The truth is, we all settle in some ways, because perfection doesn’t exist and our partners are people, not objects designed to fill our fantasies. I feel like the narrative around “settling” in relationships is just another way to make women feel anxious about not doing life right. So do your calculus, figure out what makes you happiest, and if your relationship with Dave hits all the important things, then don’t worry about if you are “settling” with him.

  28. moss said:

    You feel well-loved but do you feel well fucked? Because that is important too.

  29. MrsLokiofAsgard said:

    “Our values and life goals align perfectly, and he’s my best friend and the first person I’d normally turn to about anything. On paper we are perfect for one another, and our relationship is as wholesome and comforting as a bowl of hot soup in front of the fire on a cold day.”

    This line nagged at me all day yesterday yesterday. This is how I feel about my husband. I like soup. A lot. But it made me wonder if my husband felt the same way or if he thought soup was code for settling. The conversation that this letter and it’s response generated in my own life was pretty wonderful. What started as a “Hey, do you think you’re settling?” check-in turned into a deeper conversation about our individual and shared goals and dreams and overall happiness. It was really nice.

    LW, I know that this doesn’t help your issue, but you helped me, so thanks!

  30. Polychrome said:

    The Captain’s line here:

    “When you stop inviting your partner into your dreaming and planning and when you cast them as the “boring” antagonist in a conversation they don’t know they’re having with you, it’s a good sign that your heart has moved on.”

    was so beautifully put and so right on. As someone who has been cast in that role, *if* that is how you are feeling about Dave then move on as kindly as you can but as quickly, too –being cast in this role for a while casts a long shadow, and can take a long time to crawl out of (“oh me, unfun stick in the mud that I am”).

  31. multicoastal said:

    I was in a similar situation, 6 years in a relationship, not 10+, and I did leave, although it took six months of agonizing and misplaced attempts at therapy. But basically the question was, what did I imagine I could have with my ‘Steve’ (also a co-worker, also made me feel strangely full of hope) and could I have it with my ‘Dave’? When I asked the question, to myself and to my partner, the answer turned out to be 1. Yes, I want specific, reasonable things that I am not getting and 2. I was not going to be able to get them in the relationship I was in. Two years later I’m about to marry someone else and I’m very happy. I never ended up getting together with my ‘Steve’ once I was single, although he and I are still (oddly) very close friends and I still find that conversations with him help me figure out what I want and what matters in my life.

  32. lisakoby said:

    LW – I think Captain’s answer has it. The temptation is about you, what is missing in your life. Have an adventure…invite your partner along on another adventure. It’s easy to slide into stale, but it sounds like you have too much really good stuff in your own life as is and with ‘hot soup’ to let it go when the answer could be a salsa class or a trip or a new hobby.

    I’m with my hot soup for 22 years now, and while it’s been rocky and stale sometimes, we put the effort in and he does still surprise me if I give him the chance. Sometimes I surprise myself.

    Good luck LW.

    • Palliser said:

      I was just writing in to say something similar. Boredom is oftentimes about what is happening with ourselves rather than someone else. I would suggest LW to ask if there are any ways that she has ‘settled’ for herself? As in, are there greater passions to be pursued, more adventures to be had that LW could explore for herself and invite her partner into? All long term relationships have their peaks and valleys, and it is possible that her romance with this man could be over, but it will be clearer if she more fully reconnects with the wonderment that is her own life.

  33. julezyme said:

    I just want to chime in and say, even if LW has cast Dave as the boring antagonist in their mental conversations, LW might yet be surprised at what *actual* Dave says when they actually talk to him in real life. I felt so much like the LW here and a lot of it turned out to be me being afraid of taking a chance with my Dave. But when I did, very surprising things happened that watered our proverbial lawn!

  34. gallantqueer said:

    LW, I’m in a relationship of two years where I’m definitely not bored BUT I easily experience the phenomenon Capt refers to as “casting [your partner] as the…antagonist in a conversation they don’t know they’re having with you” when I hit a rough patch with my partner.” I know that if I was in your shoes I would feel disconnected from my partner and guilty about it, which would give me a general feeling of dysphoria and dread around the relationship. When I get in that sort of head space I tell my partner what I’m thinking presented not as “this is a truth” but as “this is a piece of me right now and a way I’m responding to you, process it with me?” Then I feel closer to my partner because we’ve had emotional intimacy about how shitty I’m feeling, and he supports me with either problem solving or emotional support.

    Your mileage may vary, but another question you could maybe ask your husband is “I’ve been feeling like we’ve maybe been growing apart lately. Are you feeling this too? Let’s talk about it?” You don’t have to tell him anything you don’t want to tell him, this isn’t a confession. You’ve been a great spouse it sounds like. You could even tell him about Steve making a pass at you and about how it made you feel. I don’t know if he could support you in these feelings, and it could be a rough conversation. There seems to be a high probability it would be an intimate conversation, though, which might be something you’re wanting.

  35. robotneedslove said:

    HI LW! It’s fun and sexy to get hit on (even by someone like Steve who you may be looking at with rose-coloured glasses). It’s totally cool to get a charge out of that. It does not mean that your relationship is flawed, necessarily, although it might mean, as the Captain has said, that you need to find more charges in your life.

    BUT – I’m going to go out on a limb. You use words like “settled”. If you are secretly having feelings like “maybe I am hotter than Dave and could do better” there is nothing wrong with you – but there may be something wrong with your relationship. “Settling” is a contemptuous word, and is different than boredom. Boredom happens! Contempt should not.

  36. Chessie said:

    A question to the LW: do you want to be monogamous with Dave? How would you feel about the idea of seeing other people, in an open and honest way, without ending anything with Dave? If that’s something that might interest you, maybe it could be time to float the idea to Dave and see how he feels about it.

    There are lots of different ways to do nonmonogamy, and many people (me included) find that it’s easier to maintain intimate and serious connections in relationships which aren’t monogamous. I have several friends whose long-term relationships have really benefited from both partners having outside partners as well. I don’t know if that sounds like you, or like Dave, so I defer to your judgement. Best of luck!

  37. Boz said:

    Steve is a player. That smooth, practiced pass he made is something he does to everyone.

    How exactly do you think a guy gets to the point where he can make a subtle, tactful pass? You think he’s just somehow that good? Or he PRACTICED?

    I have q lot of guy friends who are Steve. It blows me away how few women see through the Steve pose. Incan guarantee he’s not just telling one woman at the party “I feel a special connection to YOU. I could give you a chance to act on this connection if you’re up for it?”

    The world has a lot of Steves. Almost no one, however, can find an endlessly supportive guy who really backs his words with actions.

    The letter writer shouldn’t stay with Dave just because he’s a nice guy. But the letter writer also sounds really naive. The question is not: did I settle? Steve is not really an option. The real question is whether or not the letter writer still wants Dave if Steve is off the table.

    • …the LW did not even allow Steve on the table in the first place.

    • Mary said:

      How exactly do you think a guy gets to the point where he can make a subtle, tactful pass?

      Are you arguing that everyone who can make a pass at someone without pissing them off is a creep and a player? Coming onto someone clumsily is an indicator of good intentions? Cos I really, really disagree with that!

      • Yeah, I thought that was weird too. Sometimes being subtle and tactful is just a sign of someone being polite and considerate. Because if you turn them down, you can both pretend nothing happened without things getting awkward. If you don’t like them in that way, you can even convince yourself they were just being friendly! If you like them back, it gives you an opening! I’ve used this tactic myself to avoid weirdness and I’m certainty not a player.

      • hummingbear said:

        Thirding this – yes, it takes practice to be subtle and tactful in tricky social situations, but that practice doesn’t have to be in romantic situations. It can just be a person who’s excellent and experienced at facilitating meetings, dealing with warring family members, counseling people, building political consensus, etc.

  38. Odalis Aiza said:

    You don’t sound as if you have disastrously low self-esteem so I wouldn’t be inclined to over-pathologize your getting a boost from realizing how Steve saw you. However, it would be great to work on seeing yourself that way without needing Steve in the equation.

  39. untonuggan said:

    I have been with my partner a similar amount of time as LW. Partner and I have good communication around most things, except when it’s a Big Scary Thing our “have learned to deal with conflict” skills can default to conflict avoidance, not talking about Thing, and overall loss of intimacy. It can creep up til I’m like ‘Why doesn’t it feel like before?” Talking about the hard thing has so far helped.

    YMMV, of course. But it might also be worth thinking about what you have Not Been Saying to your partner. Along the lines of CA’s questions, but also if you two ever act like cats ignoring a strange object…now might be the time.

  40. Dear LW:

    I think a big takeaway from the Captain’s lovely answer is to gauge whether the thought of sharing your feelings leaves you hopeful.

    If you anticipate good things from the convo then I think you will be happier if you have it.

    On the other hand, if the thought of hashing through this just makes you tired, maybe you’re done.

  41. NotAGift said:

    This is the first time I have ever commented on this blog (long-time reader), but LW I REALLY feel what you’re going through, and this letter hit at a particularly good time for me. A similar (or so I thought) event happened to me. I was so flattered by my Steve’s attentions that it made me rethink my whole relationship. In some ways this may have actually been a good thing — I think our relationship has improved because I did some necessary soul searching and recommitted myself and feel much more intentional about the whole thing. However, since is the anonymous internet I can be totally honest with you — I still carried a small torch inside for Steve because of how flattering his advances had been for me. It was like a little gift I carried around in my heart longer than I should have.

    Well, I recently found out that Steve had been sleeping with my good friend “Shelby” on and off this whole time. Who oddly enough was one of the only people I even told about the whole Steve thing. Steve’s advance, at least in my case, had NOTHING to do with me and all about him and his ego. Be VERY wary of people like Steve who make these kind of advances to people who they know are in monogamous relationships. It’s almost worse that he made it so sly — if really cared about you and wanted to be with you he would just be honest and upfront. “LW, I know you are in a relationship but I care about you deeply and it is important for you to know” or something. Still weird, but less snake like, in my opinion.

    Good luck, however you proceed. Perturbing a steady state can be helpful for optimization, but that doesn’t mean it is a fun process.

  42. Hannahbelle said:

    You asked how you could tell if this is about green grass vs. settling for brown grass/hot soup. My best guess is, if you can’t imagine having those risky, interesting, truthful conversations with someone you’re so closely partnered with, if you’ve already moved on into a mindset where those conversations feel impossible, or you’ve already decided that Dave can’t handle it, or you know exactly what he’ll say (and you don’t respect him or want him enough to give him a chance to surprise you) then yeah, it’s done. When you stop inviting your partner into your dreaming and planning and when you cast them as the “boring” antagonist in a conversation they don’t know they’re having with you, it’s a good sign that your heart has moved on.

    I hadn’t really thought about this before…that the way we imagine interacting with our friends, partners, etc. tells us how we feel about them. There’s a tendency to skip to the question “are my imaginary interactions accurate?” and then to get stuck obsessing about it forever in our imaginations(!) rather than seeking out the real-world information that would help answer it. So maybe the rule is, for the question “are my imaginary interactions fun, worthwhile, upsetting, boring, valuable, stressful, etc. etc…” we can use our imaginations and introspection. For the question “are they accurate,” stay out of your head and go fact-finding.

  43. Magpie said:

    I really wish that this is something that is talked about more – the dry patches, where it’s just as easy to leave a marriage/long term relationship as it is to stay. Life is full of “is the grass greener moments”, and absolutely sometimes it is. But it rarely works out that way.

  44. CJ said:

    “When you stop inviting your partner into your dreaming and planning and when you cast them as the “boring” antagonist in a conversation they don’t know they’re having with you, it’s a good sign that your heart has moved on.”

    Oh, my. It’s a real ouch, yet it does perfectly describe my late husband’s mindset once he decided that he would rather be investing his emotional resources elsewhere. When that point came, nothing I did for the relationship was ever good enough because he had already checked out emotionally.

    I’ve done it too with several boyfriends whom I had grown weary of. Nice guys, but they were just too boring and weren’t particularly emotionally intelligent. We also had different life goals, several of which didn’t lend themselves to compromise.

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