Grass is greener syndrome with first love after 7 years together
September 2, 2010 5:59 AM   Subscribe

First love, 7 year healthy relationship, grass is greener syndrome - how to proceed?

I met my girlfriend when I was 18 and she was 17. I am now 24. It was complete and utter fireworks for the first year, then it mellowed into a lovely relationship. In all honesty we have always been great together - same sense of humour, both loving, and the attraction was always there.

Over the years however I have slowly developed a growing desire to move on and find someone new. This is a large source of internal strife for me because I know our relationship is good, but I have a growing fear that I am 'wasting' my 'prime' by devoting it to the same person. Perhaps I should be finding out what it's like to fall in love with other people? Am I not far far too young to be committing like this?

And now at age 24, having been together for 7 years or so, I am probably going to get a mortgage in the new year. She is keen for us to move onto 'the next stage' and for us to commit to living together. It is clear that she want us to marry.

This impending change is really bringing to the surface what has been going on in my mind for years now. I am suffering from an extreme dose of 'Grass might be greener' syndrome, and I am not sure at all how to proceed because none of my friends have been through similar experiences.

About a month ago I decided to talk to her about it. She understood what I meant and agreed that perhaps we should have a 'trial' break up. She was very understanding, which didn't make anything easier for me. We started our break and I buckled after a few days, returning to her to say that I couldn't do it and that we would be throwing away so much that we had built over the years. It was so obvious that we are so well matched - which we really are.

And yet now, again, I feel terrible inside. As soon as I go out to a party or whatever without her, and I see glances from other girls, I can't help think 'I am 24, I should be free to experience other relationships'. I feel that if I really commit now, I will never do so, and this seems terrible to me.

So please, if you have been through this, try to give me some advice on what to do. How to proceed. What worked and didn't work for you.

Many thanks.
posted by lichen to Human Relations (38 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
First: this is very, very normal. I married at 21, and I KNOW about the gnawing yearning of "what if?". I feel for you. You're not being shallow or ungrateful or selfish, dude. You are NORMAL and it's TOTALLY COOL to be feeling what you're feeling. And you need to work through it rather than squishing it down. Trust me on this.

Now: by "other relationships", do you mean dating other people, or flirting/kissing/sleeping with other people? Both are perfectly valid desires, but knowing what you're ACTUALLY yearning for definitely helps.

If it's primarily attraction/sex with other people, AND (and this is a big "and") if your partner is pretty open-minded... you have options. Polyamory/swinging/opening up a relationship in any way is NOT FOR EVERYONE. It's not easier than monogamy by any stretch of the imagination. But for the right kind of couple, it can be the magical middle road in between "break up" and "be miserable and wonder 'what if?' for the rest of my life".

If it's dating... oof. That one's a bit harder...
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:14 AM on September 2, 2010

Think of it this way. The grass is always greener, no matter what. There always exists, somewhere, someone even better than you have now. There's no way to get to that one person, since there is always someone better.

The question is whether or not this relationship is better for you or not. Not whether or not any other unknown person might be better.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:21 AM on September 2, 2010 [11 favorites]

Yep, totally normal. Probably a little bit “grass is greener” and a little bit “growing up”. I know lots of people in your position who moved on, and found better relationships for them later on in life, and plenty of people who married their high school sweetheart and are deliriously happy, years later.

If this girl is perfect for you, and you’re in love, you don’t HAVE to go exploring for the sake of exploring. I can’t tell you whether or not you’ll regret it (or she will), but I think both of you are going about it in exactly the right way. Communication.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:23 AM on September 2, 2010

I was with my first relationship/sex partner/etc from 21-24. We were living together, it was a stable, fantastic, loving relationship, and all signs pointed to marriage. I got out for the reasons you mentioned and dated other people. As much as the break-up hurt (and man did it hurt) it was totally the best decision ever and in retrospect things would have turned out so, so badly if I'd dismissed my "grass is greener, sow my oats" worries as immaturity and stuck with it.

If you're someone who feels they don't need more experience in order to commit to a long-term (or life-long) relationship, it's quite possible the lack of experience won't ever cause a problem for you. But that's not you. The feelings won't go away. Be true to yourself and allow yourself to experience other people.
posted by Anonymous at 6:24 AM on September 2, 2010

Comedian Tim Minchin has some great perspective on this issue in this video: If I Didn't Have You. It sounds like he's acting as though his wife is replaceable initially, but if you listen to the whole thing there's some wonderful stuff about commitment in there.
posted by peacheater at 6:28 AM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Do it, break up. Do it now, especially because she's understanding about it. It will hurt and sting at times and you may always wonder "what if we had stayed together" but the life experiences you'll gain will be forever meaningful and valuable.

Do it, do it now.
posted by nomadicink at 6:28 AM on September 2, 2010

This tough problem has little to do with age. People will likely come into this thread and say, "Yeah! You're 24! Play the field!" And I'm not saying they're wrong. Still, that grass-is-always-greener syndrome is not a symptom of youth. There are people in their 50s and 60s who stray in deed and/or thought. So at some point in your life, if you're the sort of person who wants to pair-bond, you'll have to find a way to deal with yearnings.

For most humans, it's natural to have a strong desire to pair-bond AND a strong desire to stray. This is something we rarely discuss, because it's too uncomfortable, but I think it's the Human Condition. We like to say things like, "If you really loved me, you wouldn't cheat." That's bullshit. I am not condoning cheating. I think cheating is wrong. I'm just talking about feelings. (What's wrong is acting on certain feelings.) It's totally possible to be deeply in love and also stray or want to.

If you want to play the field now, that's fine. Better now than when you have children! But note that you're not going to "get it out of your system." You will just be pushing the problem into the future.

As someone who has been married for 14 years, I feel every day the gift of COMPANIONSHIP. True companionship is so hard to find. It's so precious. My wife is my best friend. Is your girlfriend your best friend? I'm not going to tell you what to do, but if I was in your shoes, and if what you say about your girlfriend is true, I would do whatever it takes to stay the course. You may not get this lucky in the future.

Have you considered counseling -- the couples version or the single version?

You have to be really careful with this suggestion, but have you considered talking to your girlfriend about the problem, maybe IN counseling? If you can work through something like this together, you'll come out the other end with an iron bond.

As has been noted, there are other possibilities: non-traditional (e.g. open) relationships, etc. There's also just sucking it up and dealing with it.

Good luck.
posted by grumblebee at 6:30 AM on September 2, 2010 [14 favorites]

Well you took the first step. You were honest with yourself and honest with your partner and had a very open discussion about it. VERY few 24 year olds would do this in my opinion. I'm of the opinion that no one should get married before they are 26 (arbitrary number I came up with but surrounded around finishing college and landing a fairly stable job) AND no one should get married without knowing themselves. What I mean is knowing who you are, what your limitations are and really being able to express yourself in way that will make your adult relationships and friendships successful. Based on the little you've shared I would be tempted to give you the early marriage exemption.

The feelings you have are normal and also are not just isolated to men. Women, your SO included, also have these "grass is greener" feelings. While I'm am mostly against High School sweethearts not experiencing other relationships before really settling in (due to my own failed experience), what I think you need to decide on is if your partner is enough. Do you need to experience another relationship to know that she is most definitely the one? I know that when I got married at 20 I had grass is greener feelings because I KNEW the grass could be greener and 10 years later I was divorced.

However, had I found my current partner at 20 I wouldn't have let her go in a million years because I know that there is no way in hell the grass could be more of a colorful mess that we make it now. Green all the time with splatterings of all the other colors of the rainbow. :) Good luck to you and yours.
posted by ThomasBrobber at 6:34 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

FWIW I am 38 years old, and I have known many, many relationships that started around 18 and stuck it for a very serious amount of time like yours. Of ALL those relationships, only ONE couple got married (and they are very happy, like 10 years later.) In every single other instance, the relationship split over a) infidelity, or b) grass is greener wanderlust, right before it was time to take the big plunge. So I think where you are is pretty normal for the course.

Relationships are not just about the relationship; they are also about timing. You could have the best relationship in the world, but if that relationship is not a match for your current needs as an independent person, it pretty much doesn't matter.

Maybe do the trial separation again, but this time mean it? No contact for a month?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:36 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you happy with your girlfriend?

Just because your relationship is good doesn't mean you should be in it. You talk about how good your relationship is, but you're really not committed to her. When you want to be with someone to the exclusion of all others, you know. It's perfectly fine to be in relationships with people and not be sure about the longevity of it, but these are not instances where you'd then want to make a long-term commitment. And while it is perfectly normal to wonder about other relationships or people, going out and thinking you should be able to bang girls you meet at parties and such is not what I would consider to be an indicator of a happy and healthy relationship. If you don't want to break up with your girlfriend but you aren't sure you want to be with her for the rest of your life, then I'd say moving in with her and getting a mortgage or marriage are really, really bad ideas. You need to talk about this with her. She might not be okay sticking around waiting for you to make up your mind.

And don't worry about "wasting your prime." You have so many, many, many years of "prime" left. If you're unhappy or dissatisfied with your life as it currently is, then that is a waste of your time and you should absolutely make efforts to change that. If you're constantly thinking about other women, though, I would say you're not satisfied with your current relationship and that what is causing the dissatisfaction is not something you and your girlfriend can fix together; it's your issue, whether it is that you need to find out what other relationships are like or if you're just not as into your girlfriend as you could be.
posted by Polychrome at 6:39 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom and stepdad were perfect for each other at 20. Three failed marriages, fifteen years and two kids later, they finally got back together, for real, and have been together for 25 years this December. Don't knock your current relationship just because it's your first one.

I think you need to figure out whether you want "freedom" or "another woman." Because that freedom itch can be met in lots of healthy ways without losing the good, stable thing you have now.

Another data point: my aunt and uncle married young, were together since at least age 19, and are still thrilled with each other 40-some years later. It can be done, you can be happy and healthy and normal and still with your teenage sweetheart. If that's what you choose to do.
posted by SMPA at 6:44 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

The grass will be greener when you're 34, 44, 54, etc. There will always be other attractive people and you will always wonder what it would be like to be in some other relationship. So no one else can really tell you whether it's worth giving up what sounds like a truly loving and healthy relationship so that you can sow your wild oats or see what else is out there. That's your call.

Definitely don't move in/marry until you've got this figured out--if you commit to her while having lingering doubts about your desire to remain faithful, that's really unfair.
posted by tetralix at 6:51 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know what? You make the rules. Both of you. Maybe you are both feeling "wow, what if?" So, make these rules: you guys are best friends, with benefits, whatever. You fully support each other's exploration of what life has to offer outside of your traditional monogamous pair bond. Experiment, try things, but most importantly: share your experiences with her as you're having them. Don't throw away your seven year perfect friendship -- keep it! And as you both explore and share what you've found with each other, maybe you'll grow closer -- or maybe not, maybe you'll find a better match. But you'll always have that friendship.

Please don't let anyone else dictate how you find your happiness.

-- personal story --

I married early a woman 7 years my senior. Circumstances sort of forced us together. We had a great run with financial ups and downs, made two lovely children (and lost a third), and after 12 years decided that while we were still very good friends, that we'd both grown (with each other's help) into new people who needed new experiences. So we separated, she moved with the kids to rural Georgia and I went on a cross-continent drive -- 14K miles over 8 months, couch surfing all the way -- seeing the world's natural splendour and meeting friends I'd only known online. Seven years later, I'm still good friends with my ex and my kids, and I'm really enjoying my new life in another country, married to one of those "internet friends" that I stayed with.

But I could not have done this without the support of my friend -- my first wife, who has done everything she could to help me do what I need to do, just as I continue to do what I can to support her well beyond legal requirements.

It might have ended up differently, but the one true constant was friendship and support.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:51 AM on September 2, 2010 [10 favorites]

The seven year point of a relationship is so traditionally tough that it even inspired a special term, "the seven year itch".

Honestly, all of my married friends who are in couples counseling SWEAR by it -- not as a way to resolve crises, but as a way to learn to talk constructively and sensitively to each other about everything in their shared lives. Counseling oughtn't be something you associate with being on the rocks, it's just a tool to help you get better at being together, in whatever way you decide to be.
posted by hermitosis at 7:21 AM on September 2, 2010

This is a very very personal problem that depending on your personality and needs may have different solutions.

I am only 2 years older than you but had a similar issue. Please keep in mind that the way it worked out for me might not best course of action for yourself.

I dated my high school sweetheart from 16-21. That was a 5 year span with many ups and down. She was truly my first love, and through her I learned a lot of things such as true friendship, what it means to have great sex, and how to work through a lot of jealousy issues. Nevertheless, we had a lot of problems one of them being that I wasn't quite sure whether she was the right fit for me for reasons that I could not explain at the time (as I hadn't been with anybody else to compare). We broke up, she was initially reluctant but since she had similar doubts it was not a tough sell (kinda like your gf's approval of a trial separation).

Six months later I found whom I thought was the woman of my dreams at the time (not before dating what seemed to be half of the Manhattan population in a small period of 4 months). Looks-wise she was everything I had dreamed for, and our personalities were extremely congruent. However 3 years later this relationship did not work out as she wanted to settle down and at 24 I just was not ready (we also had other issues, related to sex, family or whatever but not relevant for this post). I then decided to be single for some time, and let me tell you, during the last two years I grew sooo much more than the previous 10 years.

I learned how to make friends, how to be single, how to meet and befriend new people in shorts periods of time, what I like in a person and what are MY dealbreakers.

After two years guess what happened? I bumped into my high school sweetheart and we are now dating exclusive again. The relationship is now totally different from the first time around but in a much much better way. Things that I thought I didnt need during our first time around are now important parts of our relationship. Feelings that I didnt voice before for feelings of inadequacy are now common part of our communication patterns. In short, the relationship is so much better than anything I ever had.

With that being said, I am not sure whether this is my last relationship, but let me tell you. It is now much easier for me to deal with constant temptation (actually I am rarely tempted), before I had this need to see what was out-there, and now this rarely happens (though it does happen).

To get to the end of this story, I am glad I got my two years of sowing my oats. I am glad I am back with my high school sweetheart, but even if I wasn't with her (or if I am not with her in the future) I am going to be fine mostly because of what I learned when she wasn't around.
posted by The1andonly at 7:35 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

There is no should in this situation. That said (deep breath) here are some thoughts from a stranger on the internet.

There is a middle ground between breaking up on the one hand, and moving in together and getting a mortage on the other. It sounds like you don't want to put your energy as a couple into getting a mortage right now (which wow do I ever understand), and I do think that it's a mistake to head to living together/mortage/marriage because you've been together for x years and it's perceived as the natural Next Level somehow. Is there a project you would like to be doing together as a couple instead?

Just as a data point: I know people your ageish who have been together for years. They seem very happy together! I don't think any of them are ready for mortages, though.

Your lives must have changed a lot in the past seven years. I'm curious to know how you've navigated change in your lives up to this point, as well. Have you moved to different cities, made different friends, been to school and so on during that time? I feel pretty different from the person I was when I was 17/18, in terms of priorities, interests and social circle. The 20s is a time of a lot of upheaval, too. Perhaps you could think of this point in your lives as another transition period?

What experiences do you feel you would gain by being with a different partner? Is it to do with: sex/conversation/different social circle/different life experiences?

If it's hard to put your finger on any one thing which is lacking or flawed in your relationship, is it the idea of the new, or novel, that you're chasing? Would it be possible to channel the desire to experience new and different things, without it being specifically new/different partners that you're seeking? Like: making new friends, being creative, travel... ?

I'm not trying to suggest you smother feelings of doubt and build model railways instead. Could be these suggestions sound unbearable and way off the mark. But life experience is about more than capital-r relationships.

Do you feel like being with other people is a pressing need now, or are you afraid of having regrets in 10 years about some youthful experience you've missed out on? If it's the latter, maybe take a gander at this comment. Quote: "you ARE having life experiences. You have life experiences every day. You're not missing out "on life." That's not really possible. The life experience you're having may not be what you had in mind, but they certainly COUNT. You're surely getting something from them."
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 7:39 AM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Watch the movie High Fidelity. It discusses this topic very well, and is also hilarious.
posted by svdodge at 7:41 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do it, do it now.

I disagree. (And I don't get why someone would urge you to break up now now now -- that's not helpful).

I think you have to think about what you value and how you would want to be treated. What you have at the core of your relationship is true friendship. That honestly matters. In the US, people are encouraged to go out and sow their oats and have as many relationships as possible. In the end, people who have been deeply hurt by relationships don't always change for the better. And what doesn't kill you doesn't necessarily make you stronger. But the culture promotes that we believe that, just like we have to believe that everything happens for a reason and that everything we've gone through that has hurt is "meaningful and valuable."

Sometimes it's not meaningful or valuable, pain. Sometimes it just hurts and it changes us into bitter and unhappy people. And a lot of cultures encourage arranged marriages. It's about expectations and what you want for yourself in life.

You know yourself best. You aren't my experience or anybody else's experiences. You have to choose what you believe. Do you believe having a lifelong relationship with one person in which you grow and mature and change, develop loyalty and familial bonds? Do you want to get in and out of relationships that may end up badly, and do you think you'd come out of it stronger or worse?

Do you just want to have sex with other women, or do you want to feel like you're falling in love again and again? Or do you want real relationships with other women in which you make an honest go at LT commitment with a new person?
posted by anniecat at 7:54 AM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the many excellent responses. They have already been very helpful.

In a way I think you are correct that it is about a desire for life experience. I am the type of person who always has to be working on something - I have to be challenged somewhat. Perhaps I am no different in relationships. Part of me definitely thinks that even if we break up and it is a terrible decision it will be worth it just for the experience! Even as I type that, it sounds insane to me, but it is true that I think that.

Here is another crazy thought I have: Wouldn't it be nice if our relationship was actually bad, so that we would 'naturally' break up without me having to destroy something good? What a negative, unhealthy thought to be having. There is an almost self-destructive desire to ruin what I have in the off-chance that what comes next might be brilliant or at least might give me 'new experiences that I need'.

It is so difficult and painful, and it's on my mind all the time these days. I really don't know what to do, but I am inclined to imagine that this can't go on forever and that eventually I am going to have to do something drastic even if it is for the worse, just to try and appease this grumbling in the depths of my mind. Which doesn't make me feel any better.
posted by lichen at 8:24 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

The book "Sex at Dawn" addresses nearly exactly this question. The writing style of the two authors is irritating, but there's a lot of good content given that this isn't a well-explored topic/angle. If you're a reader, I highly recommend that you read it all the way through as you're pondering this. To summarize, the relevant part for you is that it addresses the evolutionary probability that men and women were not built to be entirely monogamous.

My own personal two cents would be to suggest an exploration of non-monogamy in a way that still prioritizes your current relationship emotionally and physically while allowing for exploration outside this current relationship. Be honest and communicative and compassionate. Be wary of 'new lover' hormones - these are delightful, but will fade in time just as has happened in your current relationship.
posted by lover at 8:42 AM on September 2, 2010

I don't know whether you should break up or not, but I will say this:

If you do decide to break up or have a separation or what have you, then really do it. Do not go running back to her again after a couple of days. Do not let it become a rinse-and-repeat cycle.

IMHO that is not only counterproductive, but cruel.

Get out there and have your experiences or get into the trenches and work through it. But do choose one.
posted by couch fort dinner party at 8:48 AM on September 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sounds like she knows you well and respects you enough to say "I'm okay with a break." Remember that you folded after a few days not her. Was that because you couldn't really be without her or you couldn't stand the thought of her with someone else. It's a serious question that you should ask yourself. I believe that you love her. I believe that you know that it really won't be greener. But I also know that human nature is always curious about what ifs. Which is why in my original response I asked if she was enough. I really feel that you should think on that. Is the "what-if" worth the risk of losing what sounds to be like an excellent friend and partner?
posted by ThomasBrobber at 9:01 AM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thomas,

I folded because I decided I couldn't be without her. The thought of her being with someone else didn't even factor into it.

I don't know if she is enough. How can I know without being without her? It's Catch 22.
posted by lichen at 9:35 AM on September 2, 2010

I don't know if she is enough. How can I know without being without her? It's Catch 22.

You can compare her to the other temptations you see. When you imagine dating someone else, what is it in your imagination that is different than her?

If you have needs that are being unmet in your relationship, it is more fair to talk about it with her, as you have done, and give yourselves the chance to work it out. If it is something she can't provide, then can you get it elsewhere without breaking up? Perhaps it is things you can do with friends or family? If not, and you are sure what you need is something she can't give, then it is time to move on.

I feel this is true at any age, not just when you are young. As you get older, though, it is easier to see what you really ned.
posted by procrastination at 9:49 AM on September 2, 2010

Love is not shopping. She's your lover, not a car.

There will always be someone more attractive, newer, more exciting you'll be "missing out on." Also, 24 is not "the prime of your life" unless you make it so. And that would be sad.

Sounds like your are comparing your life to someone else's screenplay. Your expectations about how the story is supposed to go are way unrealistic, if not uncommon.

Who would blame you for feeling the way you do? You’re young with a lot of energy and potential and a wide world of prospects in front of you. Your relationship with your girlfriend is no longer new and we all like that feeling of new.

But what makes us grown men and not boys is that we are not directed by our expectations and our desires. We take control of our desires, set our minds on something, and build it. But no matter what you set out to build, you have to build it past the point that it quits being new.

Someday you will be 53. What do you want that year to look like? What do you want to have built by then?

Not saying she is the one, but there has to be a better reason to dump her than expectations of unspecified youthful excitement.
posted by cross_impact at 9:59 AM on September 2, 2010 [8 favorites]

Anniecat: In the US, people are encouraged to go out and sow their oats and have as many relationships as possible. In the end, people who have been deeply hurt by relationships don't always change for the better. And what doesn't kill you doesn't necessarily make you stronger. But the culture promotes that we believe that, just like we have to believe that everything happens for a reason and that everything we've gone through that has hurt is "meaningful and valuable."

A thousand times this.

Our culture commodifies everything, even love relationships. As someone else upthread mentioned, she's your lover, not a car.

And as you said, you caved during your break because you couldn't stand being without her. This tells me you have genuine bond that it would be painful to break. You might find yourself knee-deep in grass that seemed greener, only to find it dead as straw.
posted by xenophile at 10:25 AM on September 2, 2010 [14 favorites]

I sent you a memail, lichen.
posted by lilac girl at 11:07 AM on September 2, 2010

What don't you like about your current relationship? Anything? Think hard, think deep, meditate on the subject. Give yourself the freedom to identify anything as unsatisfactory, whether it's "reasonable" or not. N.B.: This is only things about your current relationship that are objectively not OK, not thinks about some other hypothetical relationship that might be better.

Basically, the answers to that question push you off into one of two paths. In the first, the answer is "Nothing." Your current relationship is great, and there really is just a sense of wanderlust. If this is the case, get thee to a counselor to explore these feelings! Your point about "wishing it was bad" is really salient to me. The wanderlust alone CAN be enough to leave even an excellent relationship, but boy howdy, you want to make sure before you pull that trigger.

In the second, though, the answer is that actually, there are some things about your relationship that are fundamentally unsatisfying. If that's the truth, I'd say you should BOTH go to a counselor, together, to figure out if this is an incompatibility or something you can fix. Seven years is a lot to throw away.

My answers are heavily biased towards staying in your relationship, and that's for personal moral and experiential reasons of my own. I met my husband when I was 20, and had we been less committed to one another, we wouldn't have lasted until our current amazing point. The prevailing culture here (where "here" is "the urban United States") is not terribly pro-commitment, and I think it's a damn shame, to be frank. The positive effect of a stable, comfortable, healthy, long-term relationship is amazing, and it makes me sad to see people dismiss it so readily.
posted by KathrynT at 11:50 AM on September 2, 2010

You're absolutely not "far, far too young." What's the worst thing that could happen, you live together, find out you're not compatible, you gave it your best shot and you move on.

Substantively great relationships aren't always as easy to find as people might think and it seems that you have one. Consider yourself fortunate!

As evidenced by questions here and a slew of other things, there's no shortage of people with serious problems and relationships that suffer as a result of them... to say nothing of problems of basic incompatibility, one person not being kind and considerate, etc.

That's not to suggest staying with someone because they're not a mess or unpleasant, but good, healthy relationships with compatible people who don't have problems, are kind, etc., they don't come down the street every day.

It seems like you would be giving up a good, big thing for a big maybe.
posted by ambient2 at 12:07 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I know I have been very lucky. That is precisely why this is so difficult. If it was a bad relationship this would actually be far easier. It would be a painful break-up, of course, but at least I wouldn't have to deliberate over it for literally years and years as I have done. I doubt I would have paid to join Metafilter to ask for advice. (The advice is excellent by the way - far better than I had imagined. Thank you again.)

And that example about the guy who said "Are you kidding? I'm batting 1000!": That, to me, sounds like overcompensation for his own doubts. It sounds totally unrealistic, though maybe I am being a bit pessimistic.
posted by lichen at 1:47 PM on September 2, 2010

Have you heard of the idea of maximizers and satisficers? Here's how Barry Schwartz (whose work has been previously discussed on Metafilter) and other researchers have distinguished the two: if you turn on the radio and there's a song on that you really like, do you nonetheless spin the dial to see whether there's anything on that you like better? If so, you're a maximizer - you want the absolute best thing available.

You're probably thinking, so, a satisficer is someone who settles? Not exactly. A satisficer figures out what her standards are and takes the first thing that meets them. Not the ideal, necessarily, but something that measures up. There's evidence that people who make their decisions this way are happier with the outcome than maximizers are, even if sometimes that outcome might "objectively" not be as good (e.g., a lower-paying job) than what a maximizer would have found.

I'm not necessarily saying this to convince you to think about the relationship differently, because I think sometimes people need to learn this the hard way, and some people don't even consider happiness with the outcome to be the most important thing.

But, it might be worth considering whether this woman basically fulfills all the criteria you'd want in a long-term partner and you're just looking to maximize, or whether there's actually something important missing and so you wouldn't even be able to satisfice here.
posted by synchronia at 2:12 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm about your age and have had enough partners to suggest that "playing the field" is really not as much fun as it may sound. I date because I'm looking for exactly what you already have.
posted by ootandaboot at 2:53 PM on September 2, 2010 [10 favorites]

My husband and I both dated a lot (a LOT LOT LOT) of other people before we found each other and we're both solidly of the opinion "thank goodness we found each other and don't have to go through THAT anymore." Falling in love and getting your heart broken (or breaking others' hearts) over and over again isn't as glamorous and fun as you seem to think it is.

I don't know if you're actually new here or if this is just a new account, but I suggest you invest the time to read your way through the "human relations" section of AskMe. After vicariously experiencing all the hell that others have gone through trying to find what you lucked into on your first try might even motivate to propose to your girlfriend the very next moment you see her. :D
posted by Jacqueline at 3:06 PM on September 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine and I were discussing getting married earlier vs later. She made a lovely point that folks who get married later get more time to grow on their own and may feel more assured in themselves and their situation when they meet "the one," and people who get married young get the opportunity to grow together as a couple rather than individuals. My parents got married on the later side, and as happy as they both are with themselves, they get frustrated at not being able to change the other person. My husband and I got married at your age, and while we didn't expect each other to change dramatically (he will never be a neat freak), I'd wager we're more likely to change for each other to better the overall relationship than my parents are. So in the last 7 years, do you feel you've grown together? If so, take on new life challenges, and bring your girlfriend with you for the ride. If you find yourself becoming more distant, then maybe take the time to go your own way. Somewhere along the road, hopefully you'll find a happy medium of being yourself and being one person in a couple.
posted by Terriniski at 5:03 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

And as you said, you caved during your break because you couldn't stand being without her. This tells me you have genuine bond that it would be painful to break.

I've been in relationships like this, where being apart was cripplingly lonely, even when we were away from each other for just a few days. I can't generalize for everyone (especially because as I've gotten older, I've really grown to value my autonomy much more than I did at your age), but these have been some of the least healthy relationships I've been in. I'm not sure why, and YMMV and all, but it's important to remember that pining for someone may not actually be proof of anything besides having grown accustomed to spending time together.
posted by soviet sleepover at 5:29 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know if "I felt lonely" and "I couldn't live without her" is a good reason in of itself to not break up . . . I think anyone who has broken up with a long-term partner who wasn't a total asshole has had those feelings. Lord knows I had those feelings after getting out of my paltry three-year relationship, and that doesn't mean the break-up was a bad idea or we had a bond. We had a bond, for sure, but it wasn't right for either of us.

In neuroscience studies on love researchers have demonstrated a break-up is the same as withdrawal from an addictive substance. That's part of what makes it so painful, makes the other person seem so perfect, and why the post-breakup sex is so damn good. But that doesn't make the relationship a good thing.
posted by Anonymous at 9:53 PM on September 2, 2010

I'm 25, and I've been in a couple long-term relationships where I've felt the urge to get out and "play the field." Inevitably, I broke off the relationship, and while the resultant angst hurt like hell, I never regretted my decision. I recognized after the fact that these people were not right for me, and our relationships would not have survived long term. I'm not sure if this angst to play the field was a product of the problems in the relationship, but I needed out.

I think playing the field seems like fun because it introduces a world of possibility. "I have the freedom to meet people! Anything can happen!" It felt empowering because new people are great, and I was able to not have to worry about anyone but me.

For the past 3 years, I've dated around, had quick romantic encounters, and basically lived for myself. The freedom was great, but at the same time, it was frustrating to meet someone exciting who was actually a person with whom I was incompatible. Once the initial "HEY new person!" rush fades, people are often boring or stressful.

Part of the reason I see this dilettante approach to dating as unsatisfying is because I've recently entered a relationship with someone who is extremely compatible with me. Now that I'm satisfied in a relationship, it's easy to see how unsatisfied I was with dating around. And even though I was explicitly looking for nothing serious, there was always hope that something would click.

So, I have no specific advice, but I think you have to ask yourself a couple questions.

1. Is my relationship all it's cracked up to be? I know that when I was on the verge of a breakup, one of my big fears was "What if this is the best I will find?" After the fact, the answer was always "No, we had several fundamental flaws, and I would not wish to perpetuate such a relationship." It took a long time after the breakup to fully realize this, so if you do end things, try to give it enough time & space so you can look at your relationship objectively.

In the meantime, take some time and think about where you two are going, if you want the same life, career, location, if you could handle long-distance, if you're willing to work hard to understand each other. Ask yourself if she annoys you, if you resent doing things she likes to do, if you just wish you had more "me" time. Those were all big red flags for me. (Also ask if there is any spite. If either of you are spiteful toward each other, look down at the other for their actions or interests, GET OUT.)

2. Why do I want out? Is it to find something better? Is there a level of intimacy I'm missing in this relationship that I see in other couples/my relationship with other people? Or do I just want to make out with other people because I feel like I should be out there having wild fun?

Again, if you do step away, step away for a long time. Look at your relationship objectively. No matter what, there will be a moment of "AHH I NEED BACK" panic. The relationships I forged while dating the field were unsatisfying, but I also feel like I won't have the urge to escape and date tons of people now that I've been through it.

Dating around might prove to you that your relationship is indeed great and something you need. It might prove that your relationship has fundamental flaws, and you need something else. It might prove that you like to have lots of sex with lots of people. No matter what you do, it won't be easy.
posted by Turkey Glue at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't be an idiot. Dumping someone for a mental
idealism is likely to cause pain, hurt and regret.
posted by spaceandtime30 at 4:58 PM on September 5, 2010

« Older Oh, and that, and that, and maybe this.   |   Somewhere in the middle... eating and exercise and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.