When almost perfect is too complicated
August 19, 2009 10:17 AM   Subscribe

A late 30s divorced guy: Should I commit to one person or continue to go on dates? It's long and complicated, as always.

I've been divorced and dating for a while now, but I'm unsure how to proceed with relationships. I've been dating several people consistently for months. When does one know when it's the right time (if ever) to commit to one person? When does one know if a particular person is the right person?

First, some background information:

A while back my 14-year marriage dissolved into a heartbreaking, but friendly divorce. In the months that followed I began dating, and over a short period of time I met four wonderful women who connected. I've been dating those same four women since then, and I've made each aware that I'm dating other people and that I'm not ready for commitment. They all seem fine with that arrangement. I don't believe that any of the women are dating anyone else. Two of the women live several hours away, one lives locally and one lives an hour away. I see each of them regularly, a few days a month, and daily we exchange text messages and emails. We're all busy with our own lives (work / kids / etc), so this amount of time seems to work well for everyone.

I know I'm very lucky to have all of them in my life, and any could become a great long-term partner. But, here's the problem: they're all great in their own way, but they all have flaws. I have a huge wish list of traits for my ideal partner, that oh-so-non-existent person. I want someone in my life who's kind, responsible, intellectual, laid-back, funny, career-oriented, sane, supportive, sexual, attractive, kinky, adventurous, etc. Plus, they would ideally share my values in life and have similar life goals.

Without going into too much detail, they all seem to match many of my ideal traits, but in different ways. For example, I find myself veering toward the one when I'm having a bad day. One is great for going to museums or cultural events. One is a much better for cuddling and loving. One is much better for just hanging out and talking. And, of course, they fit in other ways, and they all overlap in compatible traits.

I'm really confused as to what to do at this point. I sort of want to be with just one person. Why? I'm not sure why - perhaps it's just out of habit. Perhaps it's because I want more simplicity and trust. But, I believe I would have challenges in giving up time with any of them. They all mean so much to me in different ways, and none of them could totally suffice for the others.

Also, because of the ease at which these relationships had formed, I sort of have this obsession that I could find someone even better. But, rationally I don't believe that. I mean I'm late 30s. I'm running out of time, right? Also, I'm not fully confident in relationships, and I fear that without these women, I would be endlessly lonely. Should I slowly separate from all four, take a deep breath, and then make a decision?

Finally, I'm not sure I truly understand the dating rules of 30-somethings and beyond. Are we supposed to just date like this forever, because of our other life commitments?
posted by TheOtherSide to Human Relations (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you're happy and you're honest with everyone you're involved with, then don't worry about "normal" and "right". The only thing that matters is what's right for you.
posted by inturnaround at 10:27 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think perhaps you might be over-thinking this. You don't mention how long you've been involved with these four women, but I'd be surprised if it's been over a year. I don't think you can 'pick' one without always questioning whether or not it was the right choice. Chances are, over time, one will come out as the front-runner, or you might meet someone else entirely. It's great that you are able to maintain these relationships with openness and honesty, but I think if you are searching for just one person, then you have to let it happen organically.
posted by greta simone at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2009


Why are you pushing yourself to make a decision to pick one for a long-term committment? Maybe none of the four women would want that for themselves. Maybe you don't want that for yourself? I think if you give yourself permission to not have to make a decision on this, you will naturally gravitate toward what--and whom--you want.
posted by Eicats at 10:34 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pick the one whose faults you can put up with. Everybody has faults. Every woman has faults - upsides and down sides. You need to find out what things they do that they refuse to change or compromise on, and learn which of those are things you cannot stand.

If you began dating "in the months that followed", does that mean you didn't have a significant period of time alone? Do you know how you are with loneliness issues? If loneliness at 40 will be an issue for you, then I suggest what I mentioned above. If not, then sure, tool around for a couple more years.

In all seriousness, if you choose to keep dating for another 5 years and just being open, let me know how that works out - I'd think one would get fatigued from all the relationship managing.

It also might make a difference what these women are looking for or not looking for.
posted by cashman at 10:36 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes you probably should pick one. If you only date someone "a few times a month" then you're going to find it quite difficult to get to know someone well enough to know if there is a future.

Pick the one you like the most and then step it up to 2 dates a week. You'll know pretty soon whether it's going to work out or not.
posted by mr_silver at 10:58 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do any of these women want children? If so and if they're anywhere near the same age as you, you should make a decision about them quickly so that they can move on and perhaps find someone to have children with.

Otherwise, it's more difficult to say, but I'd be inclined to suggest that you actually date a few more women at this point as I'd say that if none of the four jump out at you as being a partner you couldn't live without, you probably haven't met the right person yet.
How long is "a while?" If it's more than, say, a year and you're not in love with any of these women, none of them is probably right for you. Maybe try eHarmony (I know that's a controversial suggestion but since you're so clear about what you're looking for you might find the experience of being "matched" quite interesting, if nothing else.

By the way, it's definitely not too late for you. Men your age and older are highly, highly in demand in the dating pool so don't worry for a second about that.
posted by hazyjane at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see each of them regularly, a few days a month, and daily we exchange text messages and emails.

Shouldn't you already know by now? Boy, I can just smell your deep, lifelong passion for these women. If you don't have your answer, maybe you're setting the bar too low. My advice: Drop these women, and go find someone else whom you actually *want* to spend all your time with and whom you *want* to make a commitment to.
posted by moiraine at 12:11 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do any of these women want children? If so and if they're anywhere near the same age as you, you should make a decision about them quickly so that they can move on and perhaps find someone to have children with.

I think that these women are adults who can make their own decisions about whether or not their relationships are going in the directions they want.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:43 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rules won't make you happy. Go by how you feel for people, not as if you're following a business plan.
Finding flaws against an ideal model? You'll never be happy, and it implies that you aren't dealing with these women as people, but as, well, business models, for lack of a more apt metaphor. When you meet a person who makes you happy - and who you make happy - for god's sake don't put her on a balance sheet.
Also, dating multiple women simultaneously over several months suggests that you don't particularly care for any one of them.
posted by Billegible at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm really confused as to what to do at this point. I sort of want to be with just one person. Why? I'm not sure why - perhaps it's just out of habit. Perhaps it's because I want more simplicity and trust. But, I believe I would have challenges in giving up time with any of them. They all mean so much to me in different ways, and none of them could totally suffice for the others.

Have you considered the possibility that the reason that you can't pick just the one of these particular women to keep is that you deep down don't want any of them?

It sounds to me like a) the women you're seeing now are all "almosts" rather than "just right", or b) you are only thinking you should be with just one because you feel like you should, not because you want to. You say yourself that "you're not sure" why you feel you want to be with just one person, and suspect it may just be "out of habit." Consider whether this may be the case first -- take a look at your own self.

If you really are thinking monogamy is just a habit for you, rather than something you really want, then maybe you don't need to do anything, so long as all of these women know you're not seeing them exclusively. If you decide that you do want something monogamous, then...maybe you should break things off with all of them, if you feel like you can't pick just one, because they may all just be "almost but not quite" distractions from the person out there who IS just right and whom you'd think "yes, this is EXACTLY the person who is better than the others."

But it sounds more like you're only trying to be monogamous because you feel like you should be by now. Maybe you're not ready to do that yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:08 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]



Consider who is the best and healthiest at communicating and addressing/resolving conflict.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:14 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a huge wish list of traits for my ideal partner

I have never known anyone for whom this worked out particularly well, even though I agree that all of the qualities you are looking for in a partner are fine qualities for relationships (well, the "kinky" only works for relationships with fellow kinky folks).
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:35 PM on August 19, 2009


Are we supposed to just date like this forever, because of our other life commitments?

Also, this. If that person is right for you, you would actually give up, or find some way to work around your other life commitments, instead of focusing on your other life commitments and dating half-heartedly. Because that special woman would means so much to you, that you would want to do what it takes to make the relationship work.
posted by moiraine at 3:06 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Theories that might apply to you:

(a) Possibly being of a polyamorous bent, you realize that one woman may not be able to give you every thing you need, and you don't seem to feel strongly inclined to spend tons of time one-on-one with one woman anyway. Dating four women casually works for you because you get your needs met, but you don't have to book up all your time to be with any one woman.

(b) You don't seem terribly passionate about any of these chicks, and should maybe find a chick that you are more passionate about to date instead.

My impression reading this is that other than the "shouldn't I be monogamous?" cultural thing hanging over your head, you don't seem too miserable with the situation as is, or on fire to commit to somebody/anybody. If everyone else is happy with things as is, don't feel like you need to pick just one of them to conform to standard. That said, I figure things will weed themselves out if anyone feels like committing more than they have so far (to you or some other dude), so I wouldn't worry about it. Maybe you'll meet one woman who has it all, but what's wrong with things as they are until then? Clearly the ladies you're dating don't seem to mind either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:15 PM on August 19, 2009


My general answer is that if you can choose between multiple people, the answer is none of them.

Saying that, you don't need to break up with any of them as long as you continue being honest with all of them and you don't believe any of them have unrealistic expectations.
posted by whoaali at 3:29 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nthing what whoaali said. I've always found that flipping a coin and seeing whether I was disappointed or not was a good way for me to figure out how I feel about something when my rational self kept arguing with my heart. So heads it's x, not y and a, not b. Find out if you care enough to bother seeing any of them. I'm guessing that 'the one' isn't in the group and you need to look elsewhere.
posted by x46 at 3:56 PM on August 19, 2009


Sounds to me like they're ALL the wrong woman, or you wouldn't feel so ambivalent about picking one over the others.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:09 PM on August 19, 2009


Seconding Jacqueline. I'm in a similar situation, dating several women and still sleeping with my ex (who suddenly wants to reconcile. wtf?!) If any of them did it for me, I'd happily be monogamous. You sound like you're in the same boat.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:12 PM on August 20, 2009


Did I miss the part where the OP says how long it's been since he split up with his ex-wife? If it's within a year or two of the end of a 14 year(!) marriage, this is still well within rebound territory. Don't make any commitments for a while.

I agree with the folks who say, essentially, you'll know your next serious relationship when you're in it, and it sounds like you're not in it now.

If you feel pressure to make promises you can't keep, even from your own self, it's totally fair to graciously step away from any or all of these relationships.

So far as I can tell from watching other folks navigate new lives after divorce, with kids and careers and all the adult stuff to manage, there are no rules. You make it up as you go along. Sort of like the rest of life.

Good luck. Seriously!
posted by Sublimity at 5:45 PM on August 20, 2009


I agree with the rebound comment - could be way to soon to make a decision.

One thing I'd like to know - are you sure that any of these women would be happy with you full-time? Maybe they like things the way they are now.

To me, this is a big red flag, "I fear that without these women, I would be endlessly lonely." Fear of loneliness is what you need to address. And the right kind of woman does not want to be in a relationship that's based on your loneliness.

My advice would be to relax and go along as you have been until you are more settled with who you are.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:00 PM on August 22, 2009


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