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?
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.