Is this normal, or a sign my relationship is failing?
September 16, 2011 11:43 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend thinks about being with other women. I don't mean sexually. Is this normal?

Backstory: my boyfriend and I have been friends for years, and have been dating for over a year now. We've decided we want to get married in the very near future; he was the one who brought it up initially, and I was right there with him. We're by no means perfect, and we fight like any couple does, but we're very happy together.

Or so I thought.

Recently a mutual friend approached me and told me that my boyfriend confided in her that he has some concerns about our relationship. (Before you get outraged, she thought these were things I deserved to know. She's not the type to just blab secrets.)

The main issue is that he has "wandering thoughts" about other girls. I know sexual fantasies about other women are perfectly normal, and often innocent, but these range more toward "what if I was with this girl, who is smarter and more successful?" and "what if I was with a girl who is more outgoing?"

To me, this is not sexual in nature. It's more like he looks at girls who have similar qualities, but sees "improvements" on me, and wonders what it would be like to date them instead.

I was shocked, because he's never brought this up with me, and we usually have fantastic communication. My immediate thought was that he was a jerk, because this is clearly something that needs to be discussed! When I calmed down I started to wonder if maybe he hasn't brought this up because it's not a pressing issue to HIM, or if it's more of the typical "grass is greener" type thinking. Or maybe it's cold feet, and he's not quite ready to get married and settle down.

Is this normal? Do guys have these types of thoughts, or is this a sign that I'm not doing it for him? I'm certainly not going to stick around if he's shopping around for upgrades or if he thinks I'm not "good enough". I know that I am, and I'd really prefer to have a guy that knows it, too.

I need advice or opinions, or both! Please shed some insight on this.
posted by metaphorik to Human Relations (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Doesn't everyone wonder this sometimes, when they've been in love for a while?

Well, it seems normal to me, FWIW.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 11:55 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

The thoughts are normal. The telling of the mutual female friend could be much less so, but it's hard to know for sure and depends mostly on what his intentions were for telling her. If, as you say, she's likely the type to keep what's said in confidence, then maybe he mistakenly thought she would do just that and needed someone to talk to. It could be he was secretly hoping this got back to you for one reason or another, but couldn't bring it up with you directly.

Speculation as to his intentions are just that: speculation. I'd suggest if you can't get along without talking to him about this, then do it, but be prepared for strong denial if he actually doesn't want to talk about it.

If you just want to know if these are normal thoughts, yes they are. Like any other thoughts, if they are becoming obsessive or otherwise getting in the way of him being happy there's a problem.
posted by ODiV at 12:13 AM on September 17, 2011

It sounds like random grass-is-greener kinds of thoughts to me, not a sign that he's unhappy with you. He could even be unconsciously asking himself, "If I tie the knot with metaphorik, will I someday wish I'd married someone [more like X]?" for a variety of X and deciding no, he wouldn't. I can't get inside your BF's head, but it seems to me that people with cold feet before a commitment don't tend to browse abstractions like that, they tend to find the first person who can fit through the chink in their denial and go for it.
posted by hattifattener at 12:16 AM on September 17, 2011

Seems fairly normal... I mean, I do that. Love my partner but, what if he were more outgoing? He's not. And I love him. But... *sees other guy we know, tearing up the dance floor* If I were dating HIM I'd get to go dancing AS OFTEN AS I WANTED. But my love has two left feet - he's still my love. But that doesn't mean I have to think he's perfect.

It also doesn't mean I tell him these things. That'd just be cruel and manipulative. And your boyfriend shouldn't encourage these thoughts or tell you about them either.

If they're strong enough that he can't kick 'em and is talking to friends about them, it may be a sign that that trait is really a problem for him; it might be worth asking him if your (X)ness is a problem, if you can have the conversation productively.
posted by Lady Li at 12:18 AM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

It depends on how he feels about it.

Because if he's having these thoughts and then sort of inwardly shrugging and going "Oh, but nobody's perfect, and the woman I'm with is awesome too," then you're fine. If he's catching himself thinking about other women and then going "Oh crap, does this mean I'm dating the wrong person? Are we secretly incompatible? Should I leave and find someone else?" then you've got a problem.

The thoughts themselves, yeah, are totally normal. And I think a big part of adjusting to married life is learning to just sort of live with them. No panicking, no getting all mopey about What Could Have Been, just saying "Hey, my spouse is awesome, I'm confident I made the right decision, and I'm gonna stick with it."
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:21 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Talk to him.

It's normal to think that a little bit, sometimes, and maybe he was just at a low point at the time of the conversation.

One other thing: Until quite recently (and I'm over 30) I too thought that fighting sometimes was a normal healthy part of being in a relationship. Since meeting my current gf a couple of years ago, I've realised it isn't - and finally I'm experiencing what my most happily married friends experience. A revelation.
posted by dickasso at 12:36 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, count me as incredibly surprised that this kind of thought is apparently normal. I've been very happily married for 8 years FWIW. I don't think this is immediate DTMF territory, but I think you guys should talk so you can find out what's behind this. Personally I would not want to get into a lifetime commitment with someone who had these thoughts on more than a very fleeting and occasional basis. I mean, if you're not that sure, why bother?
posted by crabintheocean at 1:23 AM on September 17, 2011 [12 favorites]

Is there any chance he was crushing on your mutual friend and confessing his doubts about you to gauge her interest in his possible availability? I mean, it's a little suspicious to me that he went to her first. Also, I think there's a huge difference between thinking "What would it be like to be with that other woman" and thinking "I could do better than what I have now." The former is an innocent act of imagination that leaves plenty of room for drawing the right conclusion (i.e. that he's still happier with you). The latter is a poisonous judgment that demeans your relationship.

I think you should let him know that you trust him and give him the benefit of the doubt on this, that you're OK with him having an imagination and whatnot, but that you want to come to an agreement about what's not OK in a monogamous, committed relationship: sending out availability signals; emotional entanglements with others; comparing you to others rather than accepting you, sui generis, and seeing you as beyond comparison because of the time and trust that exist between the two of you; and thinking he can do better.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:27 AM on September 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

Sounds like a completely normal guy to me.
posted by joannemullen at 1:29 AM on September 17, 2011

If I were doing relationship "what ifs" in my head, I'd make sure I wasn't it doing them out loud with a mutual friend. It seems kind of tacky and clueless, IMHO.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:11 AM on September 17, 2011 [28 favorites]

It seems a little strange to me. For one thing, I find that as time goes on, I actively try harder and harder to break the habit of comparing anyone to anyone, and so I certainly do it less than I did, say, five years ago, and I'm even less likely to do it with a mutual friend. Second, I would never do it with a mutual female friend.

Also, did anyone else read the "being other women" part in a radically different way than what the post intended?
posted by goodglovin77 at 2:30 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The thoughts sound in the range of normal. I'd personally be unhappy that he confided in the friend though.
posted by gaspode at 4:52 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm confused about telling the mutual friend, too.

On the one hand, if the guy has no non-mutual friend confidant, therapist, priest, doesn't know about askmetafilter, what have you, I guess it makes a spot of sense. Makes more sense if he's young/this is his first, or one of his relationships.

On the other hand, fuck, if my friend came to me and said, sorry I have to tell you this ... but... I would be hurt that my boyfriend trotted out this worry to to her. Now, I have my own problems with insecurity, but I'd feel icky on a variety of levels. And I would not be happy with the guy for GOING TO YOUR FRIEND ugh. My immediate (insecure) wonder would be if he'd meant to send some sort of message to me.

Maybe your bf thinks you are a paragon of security and thinks that in the event your friend conveyed his confidences, you would like 'oh, he's going through a thing, it'll be okay" about it.

That is one motherfucker of an assumption, though.
posted by angrycat at 5:35 AM on September 17, 2011

your friend was wrong to tell you this, especially without giving your guy a heads up. he seems perfectly normal to me.
posted by nadawi at 6:27 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The thoughts are 110% normal. But telling your friend (and, if that was in confidence, her telling you) seems much less normal. I mean, I probably wonder this about almost everyone I meet, at least momentarily and somewhat abstractly. But I'm not going and elaborating those fantasies to anyone, any more than I tell them about my fantasies about winning the lottery and buying an enormous estate on the Mediterranean coast. And if I did, and they told my partner, I would imagine that both she and I would feel hurt as a result.

tl;dr: talk with your boyfriend and see where he is going with this.
posted by Forktine at 6:46 AM on September 17, 2011

Pretty normal, not so smart to talk to a mutual friend about it. I think your friend is pretty out of bounds talking to you about this kind of thing, but that's probably an unpopular opinion.
posted by empyrean at 6:50 AM on September 17, 2011

Wow, count me as incredibly surprised that this kind of thought is apparently normal.

Me too! Unless he was just pondering, like "I wonder what my life would be like if I'd never moved to New York?" or, "Would I be a totally different person if I'd been born in another country?" Maybe he never brought it up with you becase it's just sort of philosophizing, and he and that mutual friend like those kind of conversations. That's normal. But you categorize it as "concerns about your relationship," which sounds potentially serious to me. Is it possible your friend took what your boyfriend said more seriously than he intended it? Like crabintheocean, I'm not saying to DTMF or anything. But if this was me I'd worry that he thought we were incompatible in some way, or was sort of holding out for that elusive "perfect" person someday. Your friend put you in a weird position, because now you have to bring it up, but I do think you should talk to him about it.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:30 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't trust that "friend" as far as I could spit.
posted by spitbull at 7:37 AM on September 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Hmm. The situation is weird (telling mutual friends), and it's also complicated because it's a game of telephone now. She heard what she heard. Although, clearly she is alarmed enough to come to you, which means something. Annnnnd now you're all in a terrible position. If I were in your shoes though, I'd need some kind of resolution to this. Which could come in many forms (direct v indirect) but potentially really messy to get to. (Hence I encourage an indirect approach to feeling secure here, I think?)

For what it's worth, one man's opinion, in response to your actual question about men: last night I was watching a movie and was like "Oh, I've never dated a hot French guy, now I'm married and I'll never get to, I wonder what my life would be like if I was with one of those hot French dudes with the big Gallic noses!" Then I let my mind babble it out and it passed. I think the rule of healthy relationships is that you let your mind do its thing ("hey that guy my friend is dating seems so awesome and alluring and funny and has x quality that I don't get at home! Okay, whatever!") and acknowledge it and move on, because there's a million reasons you're with who you're with. But you have to feel great about who you're with to make that work.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:29 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

When someone gives me 'helpful' information I always ask myself "What's their angle?"
posted by fraac at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

Keep in mind that this is second hand info. This is your friend's interpretation of what he said. Unless she copied and pasted from an IM chat window, I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Who knows what frame of mind he was in when he talked to her? Most people have moments of wondering/doubt/thinking about other possibilities.

With all due respect to your friend, is it possible that she might be upping the drama level here? She might think she's doing the right thing out of concern for you, but she's put herself in the middle. What did she think you were going to do with this info, besides worry?
posted by pourtant at 8:49 AM on September 17, 2011

My first thought was that with a forthcoming wedding, he might be thinking out loud about past relationships or missed chances, and not because he isn't looking forward to being with you. Being married is supposed to be forever, which is both an exciting and daunting thing to think about, and different than being in a monogamous relationship. Serious relationships should last, but there isn't the same expectation of forever as there is with marriage.

Also, you say you fight like any couple - during or after those fights, do you think about "what if we weren't together"? or any past real or possible relationships? Not like you'll call a past flame and leave your current BF, you're just mentally comparing this experience vs prior ones, and possible ones. Or like Lady Li said, idly thinking of BF's shortcomings vs your current goals. You're not thinking of leaving BF, you're just thinking. Minds wander, but that doesn't mean you're plotting an exit or regretting your choice to be with BF.

But this is all speculation and hand-waving. Talk to your BF about how he feels about getting married. If you've had any second thoughts, even fleeting, you could tell him, and then tell him that your friend told you about what BF said. At least, that's how I'd approach it. Because you don't know 1) what he actually said (memory is tricky like that - words and meaning twist quickly, especially with second-hand information), and 2) what he meant (only he knows that).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:22 AM on September 17, 2011

Having those thoughts: normal.

Voicing them to a mutual friend: not normal.

Talk to him and see what's up. It could have been a brain fart; it could be something deeper.
posted by AV at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it's normal in an established or "mature" stage of a relationship. If you're about to get married, the assumption (that I have) is that you'd be in the passionate and infatuated stage, 'cause you'd probably like a high point to later devolve from or what have you. Of course, if you've been friends for years, it's possible that infatuation didn't suddenly happen, and instead you've got a companionship-based relationship that isn't heavy on sex and hormones, the very same hormones which tend to (early on) prevent guys or girls from thinking about others except in a sort of fearful/insecure way, vs a wondering-what-if way.

Let's put it another way: it's normal to be worried and afraid, but not normal to be genuinely less than enthusiastic about the person you're about to marry. Regardless of whether it's normal, I personally would not find it acceptable due to the level of emotional commitment I would seek in a partner at that stage. Wandering minds are to be expected once one cools down, but, well, that's why generally there's a honeymoon period.

Anyway, I'm not saying this is 'bad'; it really depends on what your relationship is like and what you two are like. The fact that you were friends first, like I said, lends some credence to the idea that your relationship may be more on the 'companions' end of things, at least for him. Or not. You can talk to him about that abstractly; one thing I've found that helps is talking about all sorts of things abstractly that may turn out sideways if one named names, so to speak. It's normal to have cold feet; again, it depends how close he is to that person, though I'm not sure it's that close if her loyalty to you trumped her commitment to him as a friend. Then again, 'cold feet' is not the same as wondering about other people, per se: it's driven by anxiety, not simple curiosity. So much depends on how how he feels (anxious or curious?) and your relationship (passionate or still friendship-based) and his reasoning for getting married (doing so is not necessarily a 'sure thing' if you're in love and happy).

Another thing that people think about differently (depending on who they are) is the idea of happiness; to you it may be more straightforward than it is to him (impossible to tell). Some people, for instance, don't really do 'happy' and are self-and-other critical by nature, naturally neurotic. Such a person could be wildly in love and still pick apart every little thing (though this is a female stereotype). Some people aren't romantic and are too practical to think seriously about happiness, and think of marriage as a partnership of best-suited individuals that have long-term stability potential. Some people don't let themselves be happy 'cause they interrupt any contentment with a litany of doubts, and the happier they are, the more they fuss and worry, driven by a need for control (again a female stereotype). In summation, what is 'normal' depends on who you are. Like, people above have been saying that thinking these thoughts is 'normal' because (I'm guessing) most of them aren't currently wildly infatuated and about to marry, and/or haven't been in such a state for the last 5 years with someone-- this is rare but not impossible; if it happened, such a person would not be a freak of nature, since emotional make-ups are highly variable and individualistic. In other words, the only way to know if your relationship is ok is to actively explore your relationship and his feelings with your fiance, without any preconceptions.
posted by reenka at 10:25 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's not that these types of thoughts are totally out of the ordinary, but there are two things that (as a male) jump out at me:

1. I can't believe that he would tell these thoughts to a mutual friend. I mean, he had to know there was a pretty good chance that they would be relayed to you at some point.

2. I would be hurt to find out that my partner's little fantasies consisted of imagining being with someone they perceived as being "smarter and more successful," than I am. That is a far cry from saying that you wonder what it would be like to be with someone more outgoing or someone that likes to go dancing a lot.

I don't think these kind of thoughts are necessarily deal-breakers or even red-flags, but I think you should probably talk to your partner about your concerns.
posted by Nightman at 11:19 AM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wondering if there is someone out there who is better for you is probably normal. But telling a mutual friend that you wonder about finding someone smarter and more successful than your partner is a jerk move, in my opinion. He may as well tell one of your friends that he doesn't think your smart/ successful enough to marry. It's just disrespectful behavior.
posted by mudlark at 2:04 PM on September 17, 2011

Is there any chance he was crushing on your mutual friend and confessing his doubts about you to gauge her interest in his possible availability? I mean, it's a little suspicious to me that he went to her first.

Ding ding ding ding!

And I wonder if your friend isn't trying to alert you to this in a way by telling you.
posted by winna at 4:00 PM on September 17, 2011

My question is did he volunteer this to the friend, or did he shrug and agree when she asked him???
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:09 PM on September 17, 2011

The context of the conversation seems very relevant. Was it a "I need to have a talk with you" conversation, was it a joking "I'd like to get with [insert famous celebrity's name]", was it your friend pestering him with "What if this, What if that, would if this..." bullcrap hypotheticals where he was just giving answers to be nice/make conversation...

There is so many different was this conversation could've gone down (I'm not expressive enough to list them all), and only one way that should be considered flag raising. If it's any of the other ways at all, then making it the topic of any conversations, ever, would create huge problems where there were none at all.
posted by BurnChao at 8:25 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm all but certain there's no attraction to this friend, and to be fair, she was his friend first. Most of me thinks this was him needing to vent these fears/doubts/whatever you want to call them. I don't believe he thought it would get back to me, and I will stick up for my friend by saying again she is not the type to just break confidence. However, she thought these thoughts of his were worrisome enough that she needed to give me a heads up to them, and if he felt the need to express them, then yeah... I'm thinking it's something to worry about. Maybe she's wrong for telling me, but I won't blame her for wanting me to know there's a potential problem that he's not bringing up. After all, he's not the only one committing to marriage here.

I'm surprised there were so few people that found issue with the fact that these what ifs were based on "improvements" on me. I understand the what ifs of past loves, or things you've never tried, but this is more "what if she was better in these ways: ?" Even if he never intended me to hear that, it makes me feel like I'm not cutting it for him, and I can't help but question what future we have if he's wondering about something better. And, if that's the case, do I want to be with someone who doesn't see me as smart enough or outgoing enough.
posted by metaphorik at 2:14 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am also shocked at the number of people who think this is normal. I do think it is normal to occasionally compare others, daydream, or emotionally crush on others, but not on the level you are describing. To me, it hints that he thinks he's settling and I know, when I was in unhappy relationships I was unconsciously always on the hunt for another partner, a sign I've only come to recognize after finding a solid relationship. If he doesn't think of you as smart, that's a sign he doesn't respect you and lack of respect is a very bad sign for a relationship.
posted by avagoyle at 7:27 AM on September 20, 2011

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