Should I stay or should I go?
March 28, 2009 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Is it wrong to leave a mostly-ok 10-year relationship because you've found someone new that you're passionate about?

I suppose this scenario is pretty clich├ęd. I'm in a 10-year (not married, no kids, but share a mortgage) relationship that's generally fine, but about which I've (mostly privately) had some doubts from time to time. A few years ago I met another woman who has become a very close friend. That friendship has reached a point where both of us recognize the need for it to become something more, or for it to completely end. I feel more connected and attracted to this friend than I have to anyone else, ever.

Some background about me: I'm quite shy, and have had only two real relationships. In fact, though I'm in my mid-30s, I've really barely dated at all. I've had lots of crushes/more-than-crushes, but none of them ever turned into a relationship, partially because I was too reserved to do anything about it.

A few points about my current relationship: As I said, we've been together for about 10 years; lived together for around seven. Five years ago we bought a house together. This relationship is, for the most part, fine; we generally get along well, and there haven't been a lot of ups and downs. We've made a comfortable life together and have been pretty happy. However, if I'm honest with myself, I have a hard time feeling passionate about it, and that feels wrong to me. My partner definitely wants to get married. I've never been comfortable with the idea of getting married, not wanting to just do something because it's expected or socially normal. Lately, though, I've begun to wonder if I'm really just not comfortable with the idea of getting married to her. Part of me feels that if getting married to my partner was the right thing for us, I'd know it in my gut, and that my lack of this feeling is something I should pay attention to. So far I've deferred any decision on marriage, but I've left the door open (to preserve the peace), and I won't be able to put it off forever. (I know, leaving the door open may have been lame, but I really wasn't sure either. I realize now that if I'd dealt with some of these issues properly earlier I wouldn't be in this pickle. Sigh.)

A few points about my friend/more-than-friend: Wow. I'm barely able to grasp how fantastic this situation is. For years we've spent significant (and increasing) amounts of time together during the week, sharing walks and lunches, talking all the time. She's amazing to me in so many ways: she's quirkily funny (matching my sense of humor almost exactly), she's adventurous, she's incredibly smart, she's absolutely beautiful. (There's that feeling in my gut... definitely getting it now...) I find that I'm more physically and emotionally attracted to this woman than I've ever been to any other person. Sparks fly whenever we're together. I've been sort of nursing a crush for probably a couple of years now, but even though we're sometimes flirty, I never knew if she was just being playful or if she felt something more. She's also in a relationship -- been dating a guy for a few years now.

What's happening now: my friend and I have become so close that barely a day goes by when we don't have some contact, be it in person, email, text, etc. We both (and especially she) realized that we couldn't really continue like this -- it was negatively impacting our other relationships. For the last month, we've been trying to figure out where to go. We've had some emotionally difficult but completely open and honest conversations in the last couple of weeks, and we've each learned that the other was feeling pretty much exactly the same way all along. We're mad about each other, and we both desperately want to be together. We're both just absolutely floored at the mutuality of these feelings, and by the opportunity we have to be in a relationship where both parties are truly passionate about the other. We can hardly contain our excitement about our good fortune.

So back to my original question. I, obviously, very much want to start taking the steps to make this new relationship happen. How can I do this while minimizing the collateral damage? I know that my current partner's going to be blindsided by this. I suspect she can detect that there's something going on in my head that's been making me a little distant from time to time, but this news will definitely hurt her. Nearly all of my friends are really "our" friends, and I imagine they'll all be pretty shocked and disappointed too. Is there any way to do this without being a complete jerk? While I realize that not dealing with issues in my current relationship for so long was definitely a mistake, wouldn't it be worse to continue that way?

Breaking up is definitely going to be a mess; I'm pretty terrified about how to handle the house and the mortgage. I know the emotional fallout's going to be intense, and I expect that I'll end up becoming estranged from lots of friends too. But, I can't bring myself to walk away from this amazing chance at the relationship that I've always dreamed about.

So, hive mind, how do I do this? Please give me advice on whether or not I'm doing the right thing, and how I should proceed.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (65 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a fan of Robert Heinlein, but there is one thing that he said that I always remember in a moral dilemma: "The right thing to do is the hard thing to do." What, for you, is the hardest thing to do in this situation?

Personally, I don't believe it's the thing you want to do. I don't hold with breaking hearts, breaking houses, destroying friendships for a chance at passion, but hey. It may be that this new woman really does make you happier than you ever could imagine, and it may be that your current partner goes on to get another man who'll make her even happier than you. You have to spend a long, long time -- I think years would be appropriate -- thinking about what the hardest thing would be for you to do in this situation, and then do it.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:11 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regardless of whether this is a romantic interest, just a friend, a hobby, or anything else so all encompassing, you should break up with your current partner as it sounds like you are with this person because it is easy, and your partner wants more.

There is no guarantee that the relationship with new person will work out. That really shouldn't figure in to anything. Would you not want to leave if the relationship with new person was not there?
posted by kellyblah at 9:11 AM on March 28, 2009 [10 favorites]

Life is about being happy. You are happiest with friend/more-than-friend. Go be happy.

Good luck!
posted by Argyle at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

We're mad about each other, and we both desperately want to be together.

I know you've only had two relationships, but you do realize this will phase will end, right?

Trite as it sounds, only you know what's best for you, but it does sound like your actions and thinking are motivated by a fear of being alone, so I would proceed with getting that handled.
posted by mpls2 at 9:23 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you need to ask yourself a question: Do you look at your current partner and feel excited and engaged about spending the rest of your life with her?

If the answer is No, then you need to leave the relationship regardless of this other person in your life. Sometimes looking at a situation from just one essential angle provides the right answer as opposed to looking at the situation as an either/or scenario.
posted by meerkatty at 9:25 AM on March 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

You deserve to be as happy as you [think* that you] can be; if that's with the new woman, then so be it.

The current woman certainly deserves more than she is currently getting from you.

[*Seconding mpls2, above, the starry-eyed phase--however compelling--does not last forever. If things work out with the new woman, eventually you will look to her, too, with exhausted eyes.]
posted by applemeat at 9:31 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Everybody has doubts about their long term relationships. Passionate, intense relationships are relatively easy to start but the intensity means they burn brightly and die down fast - what's going to happen when you start discovering the little things you DON'T like about this new woman? Don't try to delude yourself that you won't, it's only a question of how large and numerous they are.

You sound like you have a very solid, reliable and worthwhile lady in your life. That is rare, and precious. The only reason I would ever think about a relationship with anyone else is if my current one was a failure, and yours can be quite reasonably called a success. What's happening is that you're telling yourself the grass on the far side of the hill - that you can't see - is greener than that on this side. Maybe it is, but you aren't going to find out without doing some serious ecological damage on this side.
posted by fearnothing at 9:32 AM on March 28, 2009 [12 favorites]

The grass is and will always be greener on the other side; despite what Argyle says, I don't believe that "life is about being happy" equates to "do whatever feels good". In the long term, when the passion has subsided and the new woman is just the same old, the fundamental issue will remain: you. What is it about you (not about these women) that's making you feel that leaving is better than staying?
posted by ellF at 9:33 AM on March 28, 2009 [16 favorites]

I disagree that the starry eyed period will end. I've been with my second wife for 9 years now (after leaving an unsatisfactory marriage), and we're still madly in love. My dad is still madly in love with my mom, and they've been together 55 years.

I think you should leave your first relationship because you're just killing time in it. But you should leave it for its own sake, because it's not giving you what you need/want/deserve.

But if you haven't already left your first relationship in your heart (though maybe you have) then consider marriage counseling. Maybe there are fixable reasons why your first relationship, the one you've invested so much time in, isn't working.

Bear in mind, that there are very few really amicable divorces, and you will probably lose your first "wife" as a friend, not just as a lover. No one likes being dumped. It will be a horribly painful breakup, and anything you do to try to make it less painful will probably make it more painful.
posted by musofire at 9:41 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh - to the specific question "is it wrong?"

No. You are not required to stay married to the first person in order to make her happy. There is no moral obligation to stay in a relationship even if it's an "okay" one. You are morally entitled to seek your own happiness. Anyone who tells you otherwise is laying a trip on you.
posted by musofire at 9:42 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Did you ever feel that way about your current partner? I know you said you didn't feel as strongly for them, but it is possible you're just being blindsighted by your current feelings and forgetting how you felt for your current partner before you became bored with them?

Have you tried working on improving/spicing up your current relationship? Or are you leaving that one to die so you can rationalize moving on to this new woman? What happens when you stop feeling crazy sparks with her?

Regardless of what is actually morally right or wrong (if a choice in this case even is or isn't), prepare to lose a lot of friends if you leave your current partner. A lot of people frown upon those who dump their spouses (you are married basically in all but ceremony and paperwork) for other people.

Another thought is that, depending on the common-law marriage laws in your state, you may have to get an *actual* divorce if you split.
posted by fructose at 9:43 AM on March 28, 2009

Have you and the new woman gotten jiggy with it? I would think that you'd want to know about your sexual compatibility before you throw out what you admit to be a perfectly fine relationship.
posted by jayder at 9:45 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Undertake a completely open and honest conversation with your 10-year partner. Find the answers from both perspectives for questions like: How happy are you in this relationship? What could make it better? If the relationship was just the same 10 years from now, would you still want to be in it? Are we satisfying all of each other's needs and desires?

If you come to mutual agreement that all issues can be resolved with each other in about one year's time, then likely the two of you should strive toward that goal. You may be surprised and find that your partner is just kinda going through the motions as well though, in which case you have the opportunity to set each other free, and separate the common assets equitably.
posted by netbros at 9:45 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Please give me advice on whether or not I'm doing the right thing, and how I should proceed.

You are having an affair. It doesn't matter if it's emotional or physical, though the sheer longing for the physical can make it even more compelling. Affairs are always better than the real thing. You are looking at your everyday relationship and comparing it to a fairytale.

I am a veteran of an almost ten-year affair, and I absolutely understand that you feel like you know this person like no other, that your time together is washed in a kind of vivid technicolor you've never experienced before, that the sex you're having or dreaming about is the most urgent and passionate imaginable, and that this person is your star-crossed destiny.

You are experiencing the euphoria of New Relationship Energy. Unlike a normal relationship where NRE is slowly worn down over the completely routine irritations of toothpaste spit in the sink, a partner who never wants to eat Mexican, and the eventuality of wanting to watch different TV shows at the same time, with an affair the NRE just goes on and on and on because the contact and the circumstances in which it takes place are so limited.

"Scarcity of resource" is in my experience a huge factor in affairs. The lack of everyday, normal relationship interaction keeps the NRE going. Even when you're just hanging out together reading papers, you're still reading papers inside the fairytale bubble because that little bubble of bliss has never been exposed to the mundane attrition of day to day life with someone.

Think about your current partner and the things you know now that you could never have guessed in say, the first year of your relationship. Did you know that her addiction to Emmerdale meant you'd never, ever get to watch the Top Gear marathon on Sunday? Did she know, before you lived together, that you habitually forgot to balance your checkbook and some account somewhere would inevitably be overdrawn?

This new relationship you're looking at will not be what you think it is if the two of you leave your partners. It will eventually settle into the same kind of pleasant but boring day to day life you have with your current partner. You will be swapping one thing for something new and shiny that eventually ends up looking a lot like the old thing, at the cost of enormous pain and emotional expense for a lot of people.

I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to break things off with your new woman, come clean with your partner, and enter couples counselling. That is the very least your 10 year relationship, and this woman, deserve. Yes it will be shocking and painful to her, and it will suck for you to be painted as the bad guy, but it is not any worse than it would be if you left and it will let the two of you begin to really look at and work on your relationship, finally with some honesty. If you are unable to improve and save your relationship, you will know you tried and it died an honest death, and she will have some support mechanisms in place.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:50 AM on March 28, 2009 [156 favorites]

PS: If you want to talk to someone who's been there, done that, feel free to MeMail me. I promise to maintain your confidentiality.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:52 AM on March 28, 2009

You made a lifelong commitment to your wife. It is, absolutely, 100% morally wrong to break that commitment over a "chance" you have with someone else.

If you are at all tempted to do this, your relationship is not as "fine" as you suggest that it is. Breaking up because the relationship is too flawed to continue is legit - but getting a divorce because *maybe* things will be better with someone else is just flat out wrong. I get what a lot of the other posters are saying about seeking your own happiness, and were you simply in relationship with your current partner, I would agree. However. I take marriage very, very seriously and as someone who has been married (and subsequently divorced) I do believe that the commitment "For better or worse" covers "For better and when I'd really truly rather do something else." You made an emotional and legal commitment to spend the rest of your life with someone else and you'd best be damned sure that you've exhausted the possibilities of doing so before ending it.

In short: make sure that if you end the relationship, you're doing so because you can't POSSIBLY be happy with your wife, not just because this other woman is fancy and shiny.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:59 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The grass is and will always be greener on the other side...


So you're gonna ditch the current longtime gf for new chick who has absolutely no qualms courting someone currently in a long term relationship? Red flags abound. You may, one day, find yourself in the same predicament as your current gf when new chick finds another relationship to destroy.
posted by torquemaniac at 10:02 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

You made an emotional and legal commitment to spend the rest of your life with your wife

They're not married.
posted by martinrebas at 10:08 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The OP is not married.

True story - my best friend had been with her college boyfriend for almost eight years and living with him for four when she met someone else while working out of town for two months. The spark she felt with this other man was instantaneous - she'd never before felt anything like it, didn't trust it, got scared, and told him she couldn't have any contact with him until she'd sorted her feelings out. The other man also lived in her home city very close to where she and her boyfriend were living at the time. It was complicated.

She went home. She tried for a year to re-define her relationship with her current boyfriend. They went to therapy. They worked very, very hard on talking through their problems. Still, she thought about this other man, but worked very hard to put him out of her mind. The other man respected her wishes and did not contact her in any way during this time, though she'd often hear about him or see him around. Still, they exchanged little more than cordial hellos and goodbyes if they found themselves in the same social situation.

After a year, the current boyfriend came to my friend and surprised her by saying he wanted to offer her a more firm commitment. He said he'd found a perfect apartment for them and had been saving for a down payment. He also wanted her, as a show of good-faith on her part, to put up a large part of her savings for the down-payment on this apartment. He said that he knew she'd been unhappy for a long time but that this concrete commitment to one another would be the turning point in the their relationship. He loved her and he wanted to start talking about getting married when their financial future was more stable.

It took having her cards forced this way - to really consider the commitment she'd be making if she bought this place with him - to make her finally realize how truly unhappy she was. She felt no joy at all at the prospect of building a future with this boyfriend she'd been working so hard to convince herself she really loved. The truth of the matter was, she felt strong-armed and trapped. She discovered what she'd really been working at for so long was trying to be a good person, trying to do the "right" thing, and trying not to, god forbid, hurt anyone. She hadn't thought at all about whether or not this particular relationship was worth all this effort.

After a long, agonizing week, she ended the relationship. Her boyfriend was devastated and angry, and the split was not amicable. Friends took sides and some stopped speaking with her altogether. She was viewed as a flake, a liar, someone who'd deliberately strung her poor boyfriend along for years and couldn't really commit. Poor him, and after he'd worked so hard to give her what she wanted, even though all the therapy and discussion and hand-wringing was her idea in the first place.

He moved out after a month. She took her savings and bought her own apartment six months later. She kept on with therapy to sort out why she'd stayed with her former boyfriend for so many years. A few months after that, she and the other man found themselves out of town again for work. They took things very, very slowly - coffee or lunch or a short walk. They got to know each other. They became friends. After eight weeks, they went home and started dating soon after that. They're now married and have been together for almost 17 years. They are the happiest couple I know.

My advice is to start figuring out what you want and whether or not it is possible to have that in your current relationship. You need to put the other person out of your mind right now, or, barring that, at least end all contact with her for a while and focus on fixing or extricating yourself from your current relationship. Go about it ethically and be prepared to deal with the fallout afterward if you decide to end your current relationship.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:19 AM on March 28, 2009 [64 favorites]

Have you and the new woman gotten jiggy with it? I would think that you'd want to know about your sexual compatibility before you throw out what you admit to be a perfectly fine relationship.

Are you seriously suggesting he go compound the situation by sleeping with another woman if he hasn't already?

I think DarlingBri has it down. You've spent ten years together and after a while things can get routine if you don't stoke the fires here and there. You and your current girlfriend need to sit down and have a long talk, and consider counseling. Try to bring back the emotional investment if it's a matter of boredom or of you two being disconnected as a result. Give it a chance before you throw in the towel on the two lovers running from their old relationships into each others' arms fantasy.

And cut off contact with the not quite friend.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:21 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

You ask the question in the future tense: Would it be wrong to leave?

Actually, what you're doing RIGHT NOW is wrong, and has been for years. You're having an affair. You have doubts about the current relationship, and instead of communicating them (which would have been hard), you had an affair (which was easy). The time to resolve whether or not staying with your partner was the right thing was before you got involved with somebody else. Duh.

You're a cheater. The only question is whether you're going to be a cheater who stays and tries to repair a 10-year relationship or a cheater who leaves because the person he's having the affair with is "amazing."

DarlingBri really has the best response in this thread.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:22 AM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Why did I think the OP was married? I must have left my reading comprehension skills in my other pants.

In that case, I retract my previous comment. It's not wrong at all to leave your current partner if you feel strongly about someone else. Difficult, yes. Worth it? You won't know that until you're far enough away to look back. But wrong? No, it's not wrong.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2009

Okay. So you ask if this is "wrong." Well, that's not easy to answer. There's no ultimate arbitrating authority here that has a list of things that are Right and things that are Wrong. So the first thing is for you to determine what moral framework you are working within. What are your values and guidelines for right, fair behavior? Do they include decieving your partner, sneaking around behind her, and putting more energy into another relationship than the one you have with your partner? For a lot of people, the answer would be no, right and fair behavior precludes that. But before you can get to the answer, it sounds as though it would be helpful for you to make reference to your own moral beliefs. Asking outsiders for permission to break off your relationship and go be with someone else is pretty fruitless. You will always find someone to tell you it's a good idea, and someone to tell you it's a bad idea, and both sides will have stories about what they chose to do and how it turned out all right. And both kinds of stories really happen in the world. So this question isn't about other people's morals and experiences - it's about yours. What do you think is right and wrong?

It sounds like you have two separate problems:

1. You are not completely satisfied in your relationship with your partner, and
2. You have become emotionally intimate with and developed a fantasy life with another person and are now considering throwing away both your previous relationships to pursue it.

The first problem to solve is #1.

The reason? There will always be a #2 as long as you feel like you're in #1. Relationship dissatisfaction is almost the prescription for affairs that lead to breakups. When you're satisfied with and value your relationship, when you're working on it and observing a moral framework that precludes flirting and inappropriate intimacy with other people, you just don't find yourself getting into situation #2. You stop it before it starts, you don't encourage it, you remind yourself of your commitments, and you put your energy back into your primary relationship, not into chasing fantasies.

If you manage to reject this #2, and you don't attend to your primary relationship, another #2 will come along, sure as you're born. There will be an endless string of them unless and until you resolve the question of whether you want to be in your primary relationship. Each one will be alluring and seem "perfect" for you, will offer you a doorway into an enchanting world of love and excitement and seeming satisfaction. As you mature in relationships, though, you begin to understand that at least half of that allure lies in the glimpse you're getting of another possible world - not in the person themselves or in the reality of that world, but in a vision of yourself that you imagine as more satisfying than what you feel now. The impossibility of pursuing the person creates a drama that heightens everyday life in a romantic way - you're the hero of an epic story, the stakes are big, you're facing a choice, blah blah blah. It's quite cinematic and it seems oh so exciting. Well, when all that's gone, it looks like a pile of ashes, and really has nothing to do with whether or not you're satisfied and content with yourself and your relationships.

So the problem for you is in relationship #1. I sense that you do think it would be wrong, at least on some level, to up and leave your girlfriend for the new girl (because you wouldn't be asking here if you had no compunction, you'd just go ahead and do it). Now, if you feel it's really imperative that you do leave her, you might have to just do that, but that doesn't make what you've been doing all along less wrong, in your framework. You've done badly here. You've withheld your thoughts about the future, about marriage, and about your present relationship from your current girlfriend. You've not been investing in the relationship. You 'left the door open' to 'preserve the peace,' which translates to selling out her hopes for your comfort - not very nice. Now, you're in such a state that you just want to escape, and it looks to you like you've found a golden ticket - an excuse to get out of something you've been messing up for a long time. No wonder new girl seems so attractive.

While I realize that not dealing with issues in my current relationship for so long was definitely a mistake, wouldn't it be worse to continue that way?

It's a nice rationalization, but it's not true. Not dealing with your issues in your current relationship was definitely a mistake - you've got that much right. And it would be worse indeed to continue not dealing with them. But acknowledge that by leaving your girlfriend for new girl, you would be continuing to not deal with them. It's likely those issues would recur, though. For instance, it sounds like you're not good at communicating in relationships. You don't know how to identify what you want or share it with a partner. You're secretive. You're so afraid of disappointing people or disrupting a comfortable situation that you don't speak the truth about yourself. You're dishonest. These are BIG relationship problems - and you'll be bringing them all with you into your next relationship, unsolved, if you just leave. Don't fool yourself. No woman in the world has Magic that will make you better at this just by dating her rather than someone else. These are skills and values you need to develop in yourself in order to have good relationships - and if you don't develop them, it's likely you'll keep recreating the same relationship over and over.

I agree with those who say that you need to come clean to your present girlfriend. Though you've already made up your mind that you're leaving and just want to "minimize" the messiness of it, I'd encourage you to step back from that conclusion and start at the beginning. Start by telling your girlfriend that you've been unsatisfied with your relationship and unsure about your future for a long time, and haven't been honest with her about it. That you've been tempted to leave and wondering about what life would be like with other people. That it's gotten very close to that for you. Will this be an ugly conversation? You betcha! But then I suggest that you ask your girlfriend how she feels about the relationship, what she wants, whether she's been happy, what she's been withholding. And ask her if she would go to counseling with you to see if you can resolve this in such a way that you can stay together happily, or determine whether you would be better off on your own. I can't tell you what will happen in counseling, but I can say that even if the two of you still end up splitting up, you will learn a lot in the process that will stand you in good stead in all future relationships. And you'll know you gave the relationship your best, most honest try - something you can't say right now - and treated your girlfriend and your relationship with the dignity, honesty, and respect they deserve.

And break it off with the new girl while you do this process. Just tell her you need to work on your primary relationship to give it your best chance, and what you have is too much of a distraction and confusion. If you are such star-crossed lovers, she'll be there if you fail with your girlfriend and eventually seek her out again. If she's not there, don't be terribly surprised. As someone pointed out above, she's ready to leave her relationship to be with a committed guy now - doesn't sound like someone who will wait faithfully for you, does it?

If you had been dating your girlfriend for a shorter time or if your lives were more casually intertwined, I might not come down on this side of the question. But you have a significant relationship. 10 years is a long time. Owning a house together is a big deal. Having all the same friends is a big deal. You have invested a huge chunk of your life into this and I encourage you not to throw it all away thoughtlessly. Those friends you have in common? They're not just going to be "shocked and disappointed" if you just up and leave - it's likely you will just lose all of them. The house could take years and a lot of cash to untangle completely. Your families could be have reactions that aren't fun. Your lifestyle could take a serious dive. What you're looking at is a drastic life change and it doesn't sound to me like you've even considered the ramifications.

Of course, it's hard, because you can't put yourself into the future and know what they are. But you're looking entirely at the positive side of the equation -- "chance at a relationship of my dreams OMG!!" -- and none at the very real downside of the equation. This is a tendency people have when they're awash in the brain chemicals that come with infatuation - nature wants us to ignore the ugly stuff so we'll just rush into the procreating - but it can be disastrous. You're not imagining the grief would feel even for a relationship that was disappointing you, for a life you're not going to have. You're not imagining the social disruption. You're not imagining the difficulties new girl might have separating from her current relationship. You're not imagining laying next to her wondering if she's regretting her choice to be with you, you're not imagining wondering if she's calling or meeting her old boyfriend after the bloom wears off, you're not imagining how you'll feel looking at the rift you tore into your former girlfriend's life. None of that would be easy to deal with. This is where fairytales break apart on the rocks. This lifechanging moment could change your life irrevocably for the worse just as easily as for the better.

See what's going on in your real relationship - open it up and look under the hood. After discussion and possibly counseling, you and your girlfriend truly might decide to part, that getting married is not for the two of you, and you might manage this amicably. That is how to "minimize" the problems - work at the relationship to see whether it needs to end, don't assume it's got to end. It will be a lot better for you than leaving in a storm of passion. Good relationships can bear this kind of thing and worse. They do it every day. Your relationship seriously needs work, and your relationship problems aren't about new girl. I'd say you owe it to yourself and your girlfriend to come clean and try to save your first relationship. If you can't, you can leave it with a clear conscience, not like a tool who got lured away by an affair and traded a solid, comfortable, and loving relationship for who knows. When you make a long-term commitment to someone, that commitment really should include the understanding that you are going to be tempted by other people from time to time. Even those of us in the most satisfying relationships find other people attractive, maybe even flirt with them, maybe fantasize about them. It's unrealistic to think that would never happen. But part of the commitment means that you understand that while all that is fairly natural, you're not going to pursue it. You're going to see it for what it is - old evolution looking to spread some genes around - and chuckle, and enjoy it and feel flattered, and then remember you've put a lot of time and emotional energy into your primary relationship, and give it the respect that deserves, and deal first with that before ever considering drastic changes.
posted by Miko at 10:48 AM on March 28, 2009 [74 favorites]

DarlingBri and especially torquemaniac have it down.

Someone who cheats (or is ready to) with you will be ready to cheat on you.
posted by jgirl at 10:48 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sorry, but two things are standing out in your post and might be something to think about:

barely a day goes by when we don't ... email, text, etc.

See, that's sweet and charming, and clearly for the two of you what we might call courting behaviour. Now ask yourself: when was the last time you sent a courtin' text to your partner, even before the affair started?

We've had some emotionally difficult but completely open and honest conversations in the last couple of weeks,

Again, how often did you invest the time, energy and emotion to do that in, say, the last 8 years of your 10 year relationship? Having those kinds of soul-baring conversations are what people do at the start of a relationship; it's actually easier because there is less risk. But not a lot of us are still doing that 5 or 10 years in.

I think that if you could step back and look at this honestly, you might find that what you need to do is change the way you behave in a long term relationship, not change which long term relationship you're in. And really, this is why couples counselling is so important; it teaches you how to nurture each other and the relationship even after the NRE is long gone. And even with the new woman, it will go.

PS: I know you will read TryTheTilapia's post and just see the "and they lived happily ever after" part you are desperate for. But don't. Really read the whole thing.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:56 AM on March 28, 2009 [12 favorites]

I say go with your gut on this one. Don't do a pro/con list. Don't overthink it. You don't even have to have "rational" reasons for how or why you feel how you do. Your brain already knows and is telling you. How do you feel when you think of the future with your current S.O.? How do you feel when you think of the future with the other person? That first emotional reaction is telling you what to do. The fallout from these decisions are what you have to deal with, but you can only control how you act, not how others will respond.

Honestly, I would rather have a guy break up with me, even if it hurt at the time, than stick with me because things were OK. I don't want someone living with regrets or wondering "what if?" a few years down the road.

My fiancee dumped me and I was devistated. He got with another girl right away (he had been hanging out with her for a while) and I was so upset. Guess what? I was over him in 6 months. I dated casually for a while, good guys and jerks, and then took a long break until I felt like I could start dating someone I might have a real future with. Now I'm with the best guy I've ever been with and am really happy I was dumped by that guy.
posted by CoralAmber at 10:58 AM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

CoralAmber: what happened to your ex-fiance's new relationship?
posted by Miko at 11:00 AM on March 28, 2009

Someone who cheats (or is ready to) with you will be ready to cheat on you.

I've never been in this position, and don't have much else to offer the OP, but I just wanted to say that I know anecdotal evidence from several personal acquaintances that this is not universally true. And I don't see evidence in the question that the OP or the new woman have a cavalier attitude to the issue of sleeping together.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:02 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

This would be sad if it weren't so utterly predictable, if I hadn't heard this same goddamned thing a million times before, if I hadn't once been on your partner's side in this.

So back to my original question. I, obviously, very much want to start taking the steps to make this new relationship happen. How can I do this while minimizing the collateral damage?

You do this by telling your partner today.
Not tomorrow, not next weekend, today. She wasted ten years of her life with you. Don't make her waste one day more.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:05 AM on March 28, 2009 [19 favorites]

They bought a house together, lived together for 7 years.. the answer is the same if you call them married or not.

The relationship with the fwb is a's outside of your actual life.. the minute you ditch the perfectly lovely life you have now that fantasy will go away and the new woman will be just another woman... I know you can't imagine that right now but BELIEVE me..that is how affairs work, it makes no difference if you have been sleeping together or not. It is a painful and life altering lesson.

Go back and read DarlingBri's post again and again.
posted by Weaslegirl at 11:07 AM on March 28, 2009

On the one hand you say, "should I stay or should I go? Is it wrong to leave a mostly-ok 10-year relationship because you've found someone new that you're passionate about?"

Then ten lines below that you say, "I, obviously, very much want to start taking the steps to make this new relationship happen. How can I do this while minimizing the collateral damage?"

Those are two very, very different scenarios. I think writing this question out helped you see that you've already moved from wondering what you should do, to trying to figure out how to do it.

Whether or not you're married is irrelevant. You've been together for 10 years, living together for 7, bought a house. If that's not a commitment, I'm not sure what is. Don't get derailed here thinking you're just a solo actor here.

You're cheating on your partner already. When was the last time you had a relationship check-in? When was the last time you took her away for the weekend, did the nice things that you're dreaming of doing with this new person? When was the last time you asked her if she's happy, and what she wants out of the relationship or you? When was the last time you flirted with her?

You're not walking into some amazing shiny relationship: you're failing at the one you have now. Whether or not you want to address that is a whole other question. But don't delude yourself into thinking it just wasted away and needed to be discarded without any work.
posted by barnone at 11:18 AM on March 28, 2009 [16 favorites]

You clearly never committed to the relationship you're in now, which is not fair to your partner, assuming she is committed to you.

She deserves someone who will remain faithful to her, and that has not been you.

Do whatever you want, but get yourself out of her life before you do more damage.
posted by General Tonic at 11:26 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just typed a whole screed about how dumb and hurtful it is to end a solid 10 year relationship over what is essentially an infatuation, but then I realized this is exactly how I met my wife. Well, actually, it was a 2 year relationship that ended and we weren't living together. But I had been consciously unhappy with the relationship and was contemplating how to end things for a while when I met the future Mrs. Bartfast. So I don't know if the set up is directly applicable, but here's my experience, for what it's worth.

Me and my future wife had an intense non-physical several week courtship while my ex was out of town for the summer. When my ex returned, I gave the relationship another couple weeks before I decided it was really truly over for real this time. When I told her, I tried to conceal the fact that another woman was instrumental in all this but she found out pretty quickly.

It was ugly. My ex and I shared all of our friends, we were in school together in a very small program, so everyone knew. I was the giant asshole and having to be around my ex was incredibly hurtful to her and very difficult for me. People believed that I was being selfish and totally inconsiderate of her feelings and it was hard to argue that they were wrong. Further complicating things, the ex and I both wound up matching at the same post graduate program in Seattle on the opposite side of the country while the future Mrs. Bartfast still had one more year of school.

But the future Mrs. Bartfast was wonderful. She really turned out to be as smart, generous, adventurous, and compatible with me as the intense initial infatuation suggested. As we fell in love, I discovered her faults and saw them as things I could live with and work around, rather than things that caused resentment and soured the relationship. But she was always suspicious of my previous girlfriend, especially because the two of us lived cross country from her and saw each other daily. My ex was gradually getting over her resentment and the two of us began to realize our previous relationship was based on real friendship and we came to rely on each other for support through a pretty difficult time in each of our lives. Of course this fueled the resentment my future wife felt toward my ex and created a lot of difficult late night conversations. But Mrs. Bartfast joined me in Seattle a year later and we got married a year after that.

This happened almost 13 years ago now. Me and Mrs. Bartfast are happily married, still living in Seattle, and expecting a child any day now. My ex still lives here, is married to a great guy from our program and they just had their first child. All four of us are extremely good friends now as we approach 40. I'm pretty amazed at how well everything worked out and I think everyone else involved would say the same.

The situation seems applicable to yours in that I ended things with someone I had a long history with, whom I really cared about, to take a big chance on love. And against all odds, with a lot of hurt feelings and hard work, things turned out for the best. Did I make the right decision 13 years ago? I don't know actually. There were certainly many times where it didn't seem worth the pain and effort, that the whole thing would blow up at any moment. Certainly, I matured in how I approach relationships at the exact moment that Mrs. Bartfast came along. I do know now that the value of a long term healthy relationship greatly outweighs the fleeting, ultimately superficial emotion of infatuation. But sometimes infatuation is the spark that leads to something much more important.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:37 AM on March 28, 2009 [12 favorites]

Break things off with your current partner and start a relationship with this new woman. Your heart isn't in it, and she deserves better. Your current partner will be very hurt and angry. Some of your mutual friends will think you're an asshole. The new relationship may not work out. But that's the way it is when you try to extract yourself from someone's life after getting so involved for so long when you weren't all that committed.

Be generous when it comes to selling the house or making arrangements for one of you to buy the other one out so as not to add to your partner's grief. Don't try to justify yourself or your actions. Take the next relationship slowly so you don't waste ten more years - of your time, or someone else's.
posted by orange swan at 11:38 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

You're being selfish, but not in the way you think you are. You're being selfish because you're denying your current girlfriend the opportunity of finding someone who loves her and is committed to her. You're obviously not committed to her and it's not wrong that you're not feeling committed to her. What's wrong is that you're not being honest with her and the longer you take to make this decision, you're denying her the time to recuperate, heal and find the love of her life. You're just a ghost lurking around your shared property.

So leave her and get on with it. You're hurting her already, even if she has no idea what you're up to yet.
posted by anniecat at 11:39 AM on March 28, 2009 [11 favorites]

There's a difference between 'my relationship is failing because I'm not trying hard enough/things are getting stale after 10 years' and 'my relationship is failing because I'm with the wrong person'. Have you ever felt passionate about your current relationship? If your relationship used to be great and this feeling of dissatisfaction is something new, it is absolutely worth trying to save the relationship. But if, on the other hand, sheer inertia has been keeping you in a relationship which has never been anything more than OK, then end it, because you are unlikely to ever feel fulfilled or satisfied however hard you work at it.

Also, it's not at all clear from the OP's description that this new woman is some sort of gleeful homewrecker with 'absolutely no qualms' about destroying relationships, as torquemaniac and jgirl are suggesting. Being ready to end a current relationship because you've fallen in love with somebody else does not mark you out as incapable of fidelity, particularly given that the OP and his somewhat-more-than-friend have spent a month talking about how to sort this mess out (rather than, say, screwing each other).

On preview, game warden to the events rhino got there first.
posted by inire at 11:39 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

You clearly never committed to the relationship you're in now, which is not fair to your partner, assuming she is committed to you.

She deserves someone who will remain faithful to her, and that has not been you.

I think this is really important (assuming that you and she have made commitments of monogamy and fidelity to each other, which it sounds like you have).

You should come clean to her no matter what. That may solve your problem entirely, because she may very well want to end the relationship because of the disrespect you've shown her by reserving your emotional intimacy and excitement for the other woman.

I'm trying to find a way to be really honest without seeming rude or abusive, so forgive me if I overstep the line here: You sound like you think you're a great prize that your current partner is lucky to have, and that you would shatter her if you ended the relationship. To be quite honest, you don't sound like much of a prize to me, and though it will probably be devastating to her to find out how little respect and honor you have had for her over the past few years, I wager she'll get over it.

Unless you're leaving something out of the story, like that she is completely physically disabled and relies on you for everything, and if you end the relationship she will have to go to a substandard nursing home, my guess is that she'll do just fine without you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:46 AM on March 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

Staying with someone you are not happy with (especially when that someone is hoping to marry you) is what's wrong in this situation. Saying, "well, she's OK, we're comfortable, I like her enough" is almost an insult to a "forever" partner.

So, go, be happy. Maybe with new girl, maybe with someone else. But don't stay with girl number one because it's the "right" thing to do--it most definitely is not.
posted by agentwills at 12:13 PM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

"Someone who cheats (or is ready to) with you will be ready to cheat on you."

I don't think that's true. There might be a few people who are just cheaters. But most people who cheat, do it because the relationship isn't working. They want more than their relationship is giving them.

I think for many people, meeting the real Ms. Right is what it takes to get them to the point of terminating a failed relationship with Ms. Okay. People being human and all, I suspect most people start cheating before they've terminated their first marriage. I think that's a different moral issue than cheating on Ms. Right with Ms. Fun.
posted by musofire at 12:17 PM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

I broke up with my partner of five years, but not for the same reasons. One thing I felt bad about after the fact, that I wasn't fully committed to the relationship during, and that I didn't make any real effort to fix it during. Instead, I just ended it.

If you have any thought that you do love the person you are in this long term relationship with, you owe it to them to try to resolve it. By going to a counselor or something.

Then, if you still feel the same way, you should break up. But, I feel like to just leave an important relationship for someone else, not very healthy.

It may be true that you are just not in love with your current partner, and have never been, and if that is the case, just leave them. But, the grass always seems greener on the other side.
posted by hazyspring at 12:40 PM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

She discovered what she'd really been working at for so long was trying to be a good person, trying to do the "right" thing, and trying not to, god forbid, hurt anyone.

This was definitely the case for me. It's not wrong to leave your current relationship, but this emotional affair that you are having is unfair to your current partner. In the end, I left because it was the right thing to do for both of us. Be sure it's the right thing for you before you make the jump.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mod note: a few comments removed - please keep this to constructive comments, opaque and/or judge me comments don't really help anyone but yourself.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:56 PM on March 28, 2009

What was it like for you when you and your SO first started dating? Did you intended for this relationship to last ten years or did it just work out that way? Can you remember felling in love with your partner? Would you miss her if she was gone tomorrow?

These are questions to think about.
posted by nola at 2:17 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by nola at 2:17 PM on March 28, 2009

How can I do this while minimizing the collateral damage? I know that my current partner's going to be blindsided by this. I suspect she can detect that there's something going on in my head that's been making me a little distant from time to time, but this news will definitely hurt her.

You can't. It's like being "a little-bit pregnant." Impossible. Either you are going to be with her or you aren't, and if you aren't that's going to cause a lot of pain. That pain is an unavoidable and entirely non-optional component to break-ups. Sorry. That's not to say you couldn't make it worse… for example, by sleeping with the new lady-friend, or by breaking up by e-mail or something.

The fundamental question you have to ask yourself is: What's more important to you: making yourself happy, or making other people happy?

Answer that, and you'll know what to do.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:21 PM on March 28, 2009

Your girlfriend wants to get married.

I'm assuming you've lied and stalled and told her maybesomeday and you'd think about it and why do you need a piece of paper?

You don't want to marry her. (Ten years of being "unsure" = ten years of being too cowardly to admit this to her/yourself and leave a comfortable situation.)

Regardless of EVERYTHING ELSE, leave your current relationship.
posted by thebazilist at 4:27 PM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

There is a difference between being in a 10-year relationship and being in a 10-year marriage. Many people here seem to think they are interchangeable; I don't believe they are.

You didn't commit to this woman for ten years. I think this speaks volumes about your satisfaction with her, and her satisfaction with you. If she felt differently, wouldn't she have asked for (or demanded) that commitment? Did she?

You have not sworn (legally or otherwise) to be true to her 'till death do us part'. It's not a loophole. It's why gays and their allies are fighting so damn hard to get gay marriage legalized. 'My boyfriend' != 'My husband'

As for how to proceed from here -- total honesty is all I can advocate. It will hurt like hell for all involved.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 4:49 PM on March 28, 2009

You're not married. There are no kids. Break up!
posted by Maias at 5:39 PM on March 28, 2009

I think this speaks volumes about your satisfaction with her, and her satisfaction with you. If she felt differently, wouldn't she have asked for (or demanded) that commitment?

Not necessarily.

Did she?

From the OP: "My partner definitely wants to get married."
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:27 PM on March 28, 2009

Seconding TrytheTilapia's story. Someone once wrote in an answer to a similar question (and there have been many) that one or both people in lotsa couples out there were entangled with someone else when they first met. You describe The New Girl like I would've described my current SO when we started getting to know each other. Like you, the yearslong relationship I was in was fine, few up n downs, not a lot of passion, but really very okay. We were living together when I met my current SO, who pursued me even though. I broke up with the ex, lost a few friends, went with New Guy and have NEVER been happier. The starry-eyed infatuation phase gave way to a beautiful ever-deepening love phase that grows even now years later, despite my fears. He is not a cheater. He found what he wanted. (I actually used to be when I was younger.) Now, there is no one else that even comes close. Best friend + passion. Sometimes the grass really IS greener and sometimes the minute you spend real time in that new pasture, you just know it's the pasture you've been waiting/looking for.
posted by Jezebella at 7:33 PM on March 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

Optimus Chyme has it.

Whether your new relationship would work out or not, there is one thing you know for sure: your partner wants to get married, and you don't want to marry her. Tell her this, please. You are in your mid-30s. If your partner is also in her mid-30s and wants to be a mother in this life, there is much more at stake for her than for you.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:32 PM on March 28, 2009 [7 favorites]

I get that you feel the grass is greener, but maybe it's just you that's greener - not the new woman. It's such a depressing pattern. It seems that person A does all their learning about how to fail at a relationship with Person B, promptly leaving when a shinier version of themself is projected by person C. Relationship 2 is then lavished with all the investment and emotional engagement that Relationship 1 was deemed unworthy of, and relationship 2 is claimed a forgone success by all concerned as a result.

Leave if you have to, but don't pretend that it is your current partner who is lacking. It's easy to be exciting and adventurous when your erstwhile other is encouraging and supportive. Much harder when the person you love is cold and distant and you have no idea why. People are not their complete selves in a vacuum.

So go for it, but understand why this is happening. Person C might be a better fit for you, but only because she came along at a time when you had a clearer idea of what you wanted in a partner, and is equally willing to break up her own relationship. Neither of which has anything to do with your current partner.

Hope it all works out for the four of you.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:58 AM on March 29, 2009 [6 favorites]

Ask yourself this: if all passion were drained from both relationships what would I do? Because you will lose that early passion in this one too. Do not trust your feelings now. Because this is how you felt about your current relationship.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:18 AM on March 29, 2009

follow up from the OP
Thanks to everyone for the responses. I've never shared anything in a forum like this, and the amount of thought that people have put into helping me out is humbling and truly gratifying.

In my efforts to edit my original post down to something less than epic length, I think I've muddied some details that I think are worth noting:

I do love my current partner. The bit about leaving the door open to marriage came out sounding a bit flip; it's more complicated than that. For most of my life I felt that marriage wasn't something I was interested in; I (perhaps unreasonably) saw it as part of a conventional life pattern (get married, move to suburbs, have kids...) that I didn't want. In discussions with my partner, I was open and clear about this, and for many years she accepted it. In more recent years, my stance on marriage has softened a bit; I'm not categorically against it, but I'm still leery of doing it for the wrong reasons. I thought that when I was ready for marriage, to make that commitment, I'd know. When I left the door open, I did so truly thinking that I could feel ready at some point, and that when I was ready I'd know for sure. (And I've said this to her.) I've tried to adjust to the increased importance she's placed on marriage in the last few years, but both of us need to spend some more time working through this issue. I know I need to talk about this with her, and I will.

The relationship with my friend has been, for nearly all of its years-long existence, been just as friends. It's only been in the last month that we've discussed anything more than that. I may have given the impression that there was fooling around or something going on, which there wasn't. We work together, so much of our contact is about work stuff. The weekend emails/texts were mainly the two of us sharing jokes, links, etc. that we knew the other would enjoy. This is not to say that we aren't emotionally close

My friend is definitely not a homewrecker; she's been more cautious than I have. I initially wanted to try to preserve the friend relationship _as friends_, but she was more realistic than I was, knowing that it'd be too difficult for us to stay within those bounds. I've come to understand this too during this last agonizing month. Neither of us is taking this lightly. The decisive tone of my original post doesn't really accurately reflect the inner turmoil that I've felt and continue to feel about the situation.

The poster who suggested I think I'm a great prize couldn't be further off the mark. On the contrary, I sometimes tend to have a deficit of self esteem. I certainly didn't mean to suggest that my current partner would never get over me, and I think it's perfectly reasonable to assume that a breakup of a long-term relationship would be painful for everyone.
posted by jessamyn at 6:31 AM on March 29, 2009

Mod note: Another followup from anonymous.
One more thing that I failed to articulate well the first time around:

The reason that I'm even considering this drastic change of course is that the way I relate to my friend is different than the way I've ever related to anyone else, including my current partner. I feel more able to be open, be myself, than I ever have before. I feel like she gets me more than anyone else I've ever known, and I think she feels that way about me too. I think that's why we fell into communicating so much -- we both wanted to share the little details of our daily lives with someone who would appreciate and understand them the same way. I know that the flood of emotions in a new relationship doesn't stay at that level forever, but I also see plenty of people in this thread and in others who _do_ still feel passion many years into their relationships. I want that, and I feel that I have a better chance at that kind of relationship with this friend than with anyone else I've known.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:02 AM on March 29, 2009

The poster who suggested I think I'm a great prize couldn't be further off the mark. On the contrary, I sometimes tend to have a deficit of self esteem.

Please read the book Codependent No More. I really think it might help. One of the key elements of having codependent programming is vacillating between low self-esteem and feeling like you don't matter to others and an inappropriate sense that others would be lost without you.

Also, your focusing on that particular part of my comment is telling, because it allowed you to avoid dealing with the main point of my comment--that you owe it to your partner of 10 years to tell her what the fuck is going on.

If I knew you personally, I would be calling you every day saying "Have you told her yet? Have you told her yet?" You need to tell her.

I don't care if you think I'm the biggest bitch alive--you need to tell her. You need to tell her right now. Every day you don't tell her, you are being dishonest and disrespectful to her. She deserves better.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:53 AM on March 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

I've read the followup information, and I don't think it adds any information that would change anyone's initial response to the situation.

feel more able to be open, be myself, than I ever have before. I feel like she gets me more than anyone else I've ever known, and I think she feels that way about me too. I think that's why we fell into communicating so much -- we both wanted to share the little details of our daily lives with someone who would appreciate and understand them the same way.

That's nice. I have friends like that too. Thank goodness, because one partner can never give you everything. Again, I wonder how often you've reached out to your partner recently to "share the little details of your daily lives." When was the last time you asked her about what struck her funny today? What she's been dreaming of lately? When was the last time you really put that kind of energy into connecting with her? When was the last time you shared one of those little details yourself?

Of course it's nice when someone shows interest in and approval of you, especially if you haven't been feeling that at home. You're in what my therapist used to call the 'discovery' phase with the new girl, where everything about the friend seems fascinating and great. Again, though, this isn't magic or predestination, it's a predictable phase in infatuation in any new relationship. Don't be fooled by it. I'm sure your new friend is a great person, but you're giving and receiving attention and energy from her that you are not giving or receiving from your girlfriend. I still think you need to work on your relationship with your girlfriend, because it's the neglect of that relationship, what you're not doing to support it, have created the fertile ground in which this affair is being allowed to bloom. Stop putting energy into the new relationship until you solve things with your partner. Just stop. That energy needs to go into the resolution of your current relationship. Put the conversations on hold, stop texting and talking to her on weekends, communicate only about work at work. Tell her you owe it to your present relationship to concentrate on it and resolve things, tell her you can't carry on sneaking around and considering leaving without giving it a real shot. Take the time you need.

If she's as lovely a person as you think, she'll accept it, and maybe even feel more admiration for you - what a truly good person you are, what a strong sense of honor and fairness, what consideration you have for your primary relationship and the commitments you've made! I know that's how I would feel, even if I felt sad that it meant I couldn't have what I wanted right now. So don't worry about asking for the space and time to deal with your real relationship. Just tell her you need to do this because it's the right thing, and if you find you're free after resolving the situation with your girlfriend, you will reach out to her.

But seriously, you're infatuated because you aren't satisfied in your primary relationship - not because the infatuee is so fabulous. Resolve the relationship first. Your course of action after that will be much more clear, and will have been chosen by you, with you in charge - not with sweeping, grandiose emotions in charge. Your relationship with your partner may still end, but if it does it will be honest and clear and not muddled by an ill-thought-out reaction to a sudden infatuation that's really in alrge part the product of your own poor relationship skills.

Tell your friend that you can't continue down this path right now. Come clean to your partner ASAP. And start sorting it out.
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on March 29, 2009 [12 favorites]

I know that my current partner's going to be blindsided by this

Just to say that your partner, if my experience is anything to go by, already knows that something is wrong, and might very well have identified what it is. Don't be surprised if she isn't nearly as ignorant of the situation as you think. Tell her what is going on with you, and do it today. Her reaction might not be what you expect.
posted by jokeefe at 1:10 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

My heart goes out to your current girlfriend. She's pretty much wasted years of her life waiting on an immature person to grow up and commit to her, not realizing--or having a self esteem too low to accept--that her partner was really just holding out for something he thought was "better." I ache for her, truly. I also ache for your soon-to-be girlfriend or mistress because if she nabs you in your current state (ie pre-therapy to figure out why you fear committment), she will likely find herself 10 years from now in the same state of the current girlfriend. *sigh* My best advice: take a break from both relationships and get some therapy to gain some perspective, talking it out with an objective party will likely do wonders for gaining some clarity. I think after a small break (a few weeks or months), you will see what's /who's missing most in your life. My bet is that you will find you miss the "boring" routine of the HOME you've made with your current girlfriend more than the mysterious abyss of possibility of the new catch, but I could be wrong. But it really doesn't matter right now. What matters is that you take some time out for yourself and your thoughts to make the best decision possible for your life. Good luck.
posted by GeniPalm at 2:20 PM on March 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've tried to adjust to the increased importance she's placed on marriage in the last few years, but both of us need to spend some more time working through this issue. I know I need to talk about this with her, and I will.

For the LOVE OF CHRIST, do not sit down to have a serious discussion regarding your evolving feelings on marriage - something your partner has stated she wants, with you - while you are sitting there secretly pondering leaving her for another woman.

You seem to think you can compartmentalise this and deal with your current relationship outside of the fact that you are having an affair.

Take some freaking responsibility for your life and tell this poor woman what the hell is going on. That is the ONLY conversation you need to be having here.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2009 [6 favorites]

There is a difference between being in a 10-year relationship and being in a 10-year marriage. Many people here seem to think they are interchangeable; I don't believe they are.

Sure, but there are similarities too. 10-year relationships take a while to recover from. 10-year relationships have reached a point where it's not unthinkable that your partner, friends, family, etc., expect that you will be together forever. When considering a break-up, they deserve the same gravity.

Poster, first things first. Deal with your partner first, and the potential new one later.
posted by heatherann at 4:31 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's entirely fair to say that the OP's feelings for this girl are only because she is new . . . the NRE, is it? Of course, I agree that DOES exist. But then again . . . maybe she really is that great, and they ARE a better match than he ever was with his current SO. Maybe his feelings are a combination of both of these things. How do we know? How will he know unless he pursues it? Tilapia's story may be fairy-tale-ish, but that stuff must happen occasionally. It reminds me of pointilist's story where he got married, then years later ended up with the minister from his own wedding.

Don't get me wrong- I don't think the OP should continue to string along the woman he is so apprehensive about marrying. If she wants marriage, then she deserves the opportunity to find someone who would be excited to marry her. But in breaking it off, is it really necessary to include the part about how he's all into another woman? If it were me, I'd really rather not even know. OP, I don't think you're a bad person, but I think you need to do the right thing, and soon.
posted by lblair at 5:17 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Major seconding of Miko's latest comment.

I want to be clear with you, OP - though I advocate for pursuing one's own happiness, above all I advocate for integrity. Look, the point here is to make whatever decision you make with a clear, open conscience and heart. I shared with you my friend's story to point up that very important choice she made - to give herself, her previous boyfriend, and their relationship the respect and regard they deserved before simply jumping ship. She has no regrets. Yes, it was hard not to know more quickly the happiness she now feels with her husband. This was made much easier, though, by her own admission, because she did not invest in her current husband outside of her relationship with her previous boyfriend. She did not become emotionally or physically intimate with him in ways that made it more painful for her to extricate herself from that new relationship while she worked on her relationship with her boyfriend. It was hard regardless, but her maturity and integrity saved her, her previous boyfriend and her now husband from additional pain and humiliation by dealing with the reality of the relationship she was in before exploring the relationship which was, at the time, merely a possibility.

And yet it was still horribly painful and devastating for everyone involved when she left an 8 year relationship.

There is no way around pain in this situation, OP. You are going to have to start dealing with the problems in your relationship, your own problems with commitment, the potential complete change of your life as you now know it, the acceptance of your current life and the consequences of your choices to date, and a very hurt and pissed off ex-girlfriend if you do decide to leave. That is just a fact. And the longer you shilly-shally around, believing yourself to be doing the best thing by attempting to minimize pain rather than tell the truth, the longer you prolong everyone's current and potential pain in the process. DarlingBri is very right here - assume responsibility for your life and start having these very difficult discussions with your current girlfriend and seek either individual or couples therapy, or both, to help you through this.

It may, indeed, be impossible to have the sort of relationship you want with your current partner. This other woman might very well be the woman you should be with. But let me point out, too, that SHE IS WITH SOMEONE ELSE, AS WELL. Both of you have safety nets right now, and I can tell you from experience that once these safety nets are gone, there will only be you and her and the fallout from the people you hurt and the loss that you feel if you leave your current partners for each other without really and truly exploring whether or not these relationships deserve a better faith effort to save them. Assuming, of course, she doesn't freak out and run like hell when you announce, "So, I left Linda and am now staying in the Motel 6."

Be smart and kind here. I wish you the best of luck. If you move on, you'll be able to do it with a clear conscience. If you stay, you and your partner will be all the better for finally being truly honest with each other and not taking each other for granted.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:53 PM on March 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

OP is in a ten year relationship, sharing a mortgage. Depending on the state, OP may be legally married under common law and not even realize it.

Definitely go with the girl you're having an affair with. She's comfortable with cheating, so are you, you're perfect for each other. There may be a rocky patch (or a sheer cliff) down the road for the two of you, but that comes with the territory.

Go with your heart, it'll take you to where you belong.
posted by mullingitover at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

An analogy:

you know that friend/acquaintance who just got dumped by her spouse or SO (for whatever reason)? And you see them out in public a couple of weeks after the breakup and they've lost weight, dress nicer, and dare I say, are just more appealing physically? And two thoughts might have come across your mind:

1) Wow! Good thing that relationship is over. Being on his/her own looks good on him/her. Or...

2) Wow! If he/she just took care of him/herself like they are doing now, maybe they wouldn't have gotten dumped in the first place.

Replace my physical descriptors with the emotional ones, somewhat akin to MIKO's post above (i.e., connecting with your current partner). Give an attempt at an emotional connection with the current SO; if that doesn't work...move on.
posted by teg4rvn at 11:02 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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