Puzzling relationship pattern
October 3, 2012 6:04 AM   Subscribe

General relationship pattern question about the end of limerance as well as some specifics, with some concerns about monogamy/nonmonogamy. Somewhat long.

(I am a mostly heteronormative dude.)

I have this pattern where, around 6-8 months into a relationship, once or twice as late as 24 months, something clicks. I still see the person I'm with as an awesome human being, maybe I'm a little more aware of their flaws, but I still think they're awesome.

But, I want to spend much less time with them, and I think a lot about "what if," and I desire emotional and physical exploration, learning, growth, and novelty. At such a point I am typically highly ambivalent about staying together.

Ok, textbook END OF LIMERANCE/INFATUATION, right? But, what do I DO?

Am I polyamorous? I don't really experience jealousy, and I'm a good communicator and careful about boundaries. My experimental forays into polyamory felt pretty good. It's just that, most recently, I met a an amazing human being who wasn't currently comfortable with non-monogamy, and I wasn't seeing anyone a the time, so I explained my relationship history, and we agreed on boundaries and expectations that we were comfortable with. As always, at that stage, there was the possibility of a monogamous forever.

For about eight months, it was fine--I couldn't really imagine how I would want to be with anyone but her. Then, here I am, back to the same old pattern.

I am moved, to some degree, such that her happiness is my happiness. I care about her a lot. Breaking up would tear me up inside, at least temporarily, but I think I might then feel relieved. I do want to have my cake and eat it to, I guess. And I suspect, within certain parameters, she would want us to stay together, all things being equal. At the beginning of the relationship, she noted that she wasn't against open relationships in principle, she just didn't want one with me at the time. So there are conversations, possibly painful, that we could have.

In any case, I want to continue to explore emotionally and physically. It's not that I don't like her anymore--I feel nothing but steady warmth and regard. But it's like I need to keep growing and learning.

But perhaps more to the point--what does this predictable 6-8 month click mean for me? How do I manage it? Or what is it telling me?

Do you experience it? Do you not experience it? How do you manage this? How do you communicate (or not) this likelihood to potential partners? Are you monogamous or nonmonogamous?
posted by zeek321 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

Some people are not just wired for long-term relationships. It's not (necessarily) a character flaw; that's just the way that some people are.

However, it is a truism of all relationships that the novelty and newness wear off as relationships mature. Longer-term relationships are rewarding and wonderful in ways that are different than those of new relationships.

You may want to consider looking at this as an opportunity for personal growth by pushing past the lack of novelty and newness and making an affirmative decision to try and learn to appreciate the blessings of a stable relationship with a longer-term partner.

I jumped relationships repeatedly when I was a young adult and usually did it in such a way that damaged the hearts of the women I was with. I met the woman that would be my lifetime companion when I was 25. We are still together some 18 years later and she's my best friend in the world.

That's worth a thousand new relationships to me. Your mileage may vary.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:12 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Relationships are work. At about 6-8 months, the shine wears off and some of the work begins. I'd say power through it, just to test yourself a bit, and see what happens in the next 6-8 months. I think you'll notice that the work of staying with someone will pay off, whether you choose to stay monogamous or open up this relationship to others.
posted by xingcat at 6:19 AM on October 3, 2012

You're 31? Yeah, in my experiences with people, this is a little shy of where values and priorities start to change. (Get ready for 33! It's a doozie!) Seeking for newness often becomes less interesting as you age. (And conversely: for those who haven't had... let's say "robust" younger lives, this can often become when one reasonably craves adventurousness.)

50% of long-term monogamy is a great match. The other 50% of long-term monogamy is basically making a decision that you've seen enough of other peoples' genitalia, because, in the end, it turns out that no floppy and bouncy bits are all that different. And that seduction is repetitive.

Long-term monogamy isn't a "preferred" or "better" state. It's sometimes hard and rough and you won't be like "OMG THIS PERSON IS AWESOME" every single day. But there's also a lot of value and reward to having a "two against the world" relationship. There's maybe more to learn there than from doing the same thing over and over.

Still, the only thing you can really do is be "true to yourself." If you start getting resentful of a monogamous situation, well, that's poisonous. So if that means you have to dump a great person, so be it. It's usually better to regret someone you have done than someone you haven't.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:21 AM on October 3, 2012 [16 favorites]

I think it really depends on how you view relationships. If you view relationships as states of feeling, then you're always going to be chasing that feeling. The weird thing about feelings is that they're temporary. Happiness is temporary, unhappiness is temporary. If you make the other person responsible for your ability to feel a certain way (infatuated) then you'll always be looking for that, because it's not sustainable for the long term.

I think that most people, when entering a relationship are looking for more than the feeling. They're looking for someone with whom to partner, someone to be at their side, someone who has similar goals and ideals and values. Sure, the initial infatuation stage is important, but after that abates, you have to have a solid foundation to build a lasting relationship on.

I partnered with Husbunny because we had a mutual attraction, regard, respect and we love to be in each other's company. Not because we're all mushy about each other, but because together we're better than we are separately. We wanted to build a life together, to own property together, to throw in with each other and to go where life takes us together.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:32 AM on October 3, 2012 [21 favorites]

You have already had a conversation about non-monogamy and she knows your views on it. I would never bring it up again. If she wants to, great, it means she has thought long and hard about it and feels secure enough in your commitment to bring the topic up (even if during the conversation she decides it is not for her). There is no way for you to bring up the topic of non-monogamy again that won't be seen as pressure or whining or rejection to someone hard-wired to monogamy (and if they are on the fence it generally pushes them into the monogamy camp).

Around 6-8 months is also when limerance is replaced by vulnerability. Is there any chance that being truly vulnerable and learning deep truths about yourself is scary to you? As mentioned, not everyone is meant for long term relationships, especially when in your twenties. But, when you are older, a lot of people are not in cyclical short term relationships because they want to be but because they are repeating unhealthy dynamics. That is certainly something to look out for as you should always leave the person you are with better off than you found them.
posted by saucysault at 6:50 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My understanding of polyamory is that it is very much not a solution to boredom ("the end of limerance") as much as it is a solution to finding yourself wanting to be in a love based relationship with more than one person.

Opening a relationship to include sex with more than one person is also an option, but again, my understanding is that this usually entails having a really rock solid relationship with your partner such that you are able to navigate the mountain of potential drama that having sex with more than one person can stir up. Not a solution to losing limerance 8-9 months in.

There is casual sleeping around too, I guess.

Serial monogamy is what you seem to enjoy. I would take the advice of the previous posters and maybe give serial long term monogamy a shot at least once to see what happens when you get past the shiny new newness phase.

If you stick to your current game plan, though, I'd consider not telling your potential partners about the falling out of love with them timeline right from the start because jesus man that is a mindfuck if I ever heard one. Maybe instead just say that you love dating but have zero interest in marriage and then also avoid the super far in the future planning stuff and you should be fine.
posted by skrozidile at 7:18 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

When you first get into a new relationship, you experience a dopamine high. Your body literally produces very powerful chemicals that make you happy. Like any drug, this feeling is powerfully addictive, and some people effectively end up as addicts - they chase this rush forever, moving on to a new relationship as soon as the limerance high ends.

The best thing to do (in my opinion) is to view this as any addictive drug. Does it tend to have a negative influence on your life? Are you genuinely happy in the moments when you are not experiencing your high? Based on your answers to this, you may require treatment (in the form of therapy).

Being poly may be one potential way that you can pursue this high while still maintaining a healthy relationship. Be warned, however, that being poly is much messier in practice than it is in theory. I also consider myself a reasonably open-minded person and I do not suffer from jealousy, but I would never even consider a poly relationship unless there were several weeks of preliminary negotiation as well as a written contract that specifies exactly what the boundaries are in very clear and unambiguous language. (Obviously this would not be a legal contract, simply a personal agreement written in contractual terms.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:27 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

After six to eight months, you're comfortable, and the grass on your side stops looking as green. That's pretty much all that's going on here. You're idealizing experiences outside of your relationship, because they have the one thing that your relationship doesn't: the thrilling potential of the unknown.

The grass is pretty much always gonna look a little greener in some ways on the other side. That's just the nature of it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:49 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

But it's like I need to keep growing and learning.

There's nothing wrong with being a serial monogamist if you're honest with the other person about it. But in what ways have you grown, and what are you learning? Because it seems like you're just doing/thinking the same thing, so unless you left something out of your post, maybe stop thinking of moving on to the next person less "growing and learning" and more just "time to move on to the next person."

Sorry but growth and learning takes effort and is challenging and although I don't judge your choices, I don't think framing them using the concepts of "growth and learning" is entirely honest.
posted by headnsouth at 8:17 AM on October 3, 2012 [9 favorites]

I know this may sound like it is out of left field but do you have a good relationship with your mother? Your parents? What kind of relationship did you see growing up? If this issue is causing you to question yourself and your choices, then perhaps explore it in therapy.
posted by Wilder at 9:05 AM on October 3, 2012

But, what do I DO?

If you'd never had a longer-than-8-month relationship I'd suggest you give it a couple years to experiment with your own habits and see how you react to changing them. But you had relationships go on for 24 months "once or twice"; where those with people who demanded monogamy? Did you want to leave them, or did you want other partners as well? If the former, your habits currently tend more towards serial monogamy. If the latter, they tend more towards poly.

In both cases what you do is accept that you can't have the best of all worlds; you can bring this up with her, but you have to expect that conversation to be a non-idle gesture with actual consequences in terms of your relationship. Do not pressure her to conform to your notion of how relationships "should be". If you want something, consider its possible and likely costs in the actual situation you're in, realize you can't wave a magic wand to avoid them, and if you're willing to pay that price then ask (politely).

Non-monogamy and serial-monogamy each come with serious costs in terms of relationship-longevity, relationship-work, candidates-in-the-population, etc. (As does long-term monogamy). Making a choice, you have to accept the associated costs; reality will impose them by force if you don't accept them on your own.

(Aside: just guessing, but I suspect "heteronormative" may not be the word you're looking for)
posted by ead at 9:30 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the one hand, I think these answers (urging you to stick around and give it longer than eight months) are sound and well-advised.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I'd want to be the girlfriend who becomes the unwitting participant in your experiment to better yourself by attempting to stay (faithful) with her long after you've started itching to explore new waters.

I think you need to be honest with her about the internal struggle you're waging. It really should be her decision if she wishes to support you in your increasingly difficult battle to convince yourself to stay with her, and to stay faithful to her.

That kind of honesty (if delivered with kindness, care, and compassion) actually might be the mortar upon which an amazingly solid, long-term monogamous relationship is made. So, you know. It could be the catalyst for your renewed enthusiasm for this relationship. Or it could expose fault lines and incompatibilities (in communication, in worldviews) that mean this relationship wasn't long-term material after all. Which is good to know, and actually leads to my final thought...

It may be that you've just dated people who, while absolutely lovely, weren't compatible for you in the long term. Eight months is about the time when the "masks" start crumbling and you start seeing the issues/problems that will characterize the relationship forever. Maybe your interest wanes because you haven't found someone who's compatible yet in the key ways you require.

Ultimately, I think there's no point in beating yourself up over it, but I do commend you for interrogating yourself vis-a-vis this pattern. That's certainly one form of personal growth!
posted by artemisia at 9:42 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I can't help wondering if your short relationships haven't become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Usually 6-8 months, when the shiny starts to wear off, you've met the parents, you've started to integrate your friends circles, maybe you've taken up a new hobby together. You aren't necessarily living together, but you've started to change up your places to make them friendlier to the needs of the couple, and maybe you've started talking about moving in together. You've taken a vacation together, or weathered a minor crisis together.

In short, you are embarking on some major "emotional and physical exploration, learning, growth, and novelty", of you two, as a couple, bringing your lives together. This is new, exciting, and scary as hell.

But, if you've been going into your relationships expecting them to be temporary, are you laying the groundwork for this new phase of growth, or are you consciously or unconsciously making sure that you and your partners' lives stay sufficiently separate that you always have the option of a clean break?

What makes a long-term relationship rewarding is the sense of being part of an "us" that can grow and explore and experience in ways that you couldn't do alone. So the first trick is finding someone that inspires that sense of opportunity in you. But then the second trick is entangling your lives so deeply and thoroughly that all of the difficult work of going forward together seems easier than trying to break up the couple and go it alone again.
posted by psycheslamp at 10:36 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, I'm nonmonagamous, but I wanted to address that separately so my post didn't turn into a short novel.

Most of the stable and happy poly couples I know fall into the general pattern of having met, fallen in love, decided they wanted to be together for quite a long time if not forever, and then, for various reasons, felt that being together permanently wasn't incompatible with exploring other erotic possibilities.

There are absolutely other ways to be poly, and I don't want to discount them. But my gut instinct with the situation you described is that if you opened up your relationship, and then met someone new and exciting, you would bail on your current girlfriend, because "steady warmth and regard" is not a lot to hold you together in the face of the sort of excitement you tend to feel for someone new.

I'm not saying that poly isn't for you - from how you described yourself it could very well be. But I do think that monogamy is not the only answer to why your relationships don't last, and if you can't crack the nut of how to continue to feel a sense of growth and exploration with your current partner after the limerance wears off, then going out to find it with someone else is a recipe for drama and heartbreak.
posted by psycheslamp at 10:56 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree that you have classic "grass is always greener" syndrome.

Eventually, most of us learn that while a new infatuation is exciting at the beginning once that wears off you have to have more to go on than just physical attractiveness. We want more than just someone fun or pretty to pass the time with.

When we find someone who brings out the best in us and wants to be their best for us, someone we trust, someone we can really share all our faults and our vulnerabilities with and whose faults and vulnerabilities we gladly accept in return as part of the tradeoff for having such an "awesome" person in our lives, then we realize we have something special that is worth nurturing and fostering. And we do that, by hanging in there and working on making it even better.

You haven't reached that stage yet, OP.

When you get over the limerance stage, you start looking around and making comparisons, comparisons based on purely idealized conjecture. You've seen your SO angry, depressed, without sleep, without makeup, sick, etc. and you see these other attractive people removed from all that. Naturally, when viewed in the best possible circumstances, dressed up for work or a night out, being as charming as they can possibly be, the strangers look appealing, and your eye starts to wander.

Don't kid yourself that this is all about you "growing and learning". You're repeating the same patterns, after all. This is about you thinking that every time you are attracted to someone else, you need to act on it. You break up with one girl to pursue another. The longer relationships you had were likely just a result of you not meeting another someone you were physically attracted to until later on.

You talk a lot about what you feel and need, but you are ignoring what your partner already communicated to you she needs from this relationship. She wants a long-term monogamous partner. The only way for you to satisfy that need is to cowboy up and realize that she is worth making the effort. Are you up to that challenge?

All this crap about her happiness being important "to some degree" and the sly little suggestions that you could persuade her to be polyamorous because she cares so much for you suggest to me that you still have a lot of maturing to do, so personally I doubt it.

Next time, maybe be a little more discerning going in, and don't get involved with someone just because it's convenient and she's attractive. That's fine for a one-night-stand or NSA sex, but you're taking advantage of these women when you string them along, knowing you aren't prepared to go the distance with them.
posted by misha at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

What you describe doesn't sound like polyamory, it sounds like casual sex and short-term relationships. If my boyfriend told me that after 8 months or so he loses interest and his solution to this problem would be continue our relationship, but also open it up, I would naturally assume he wanted to keep holding onto the branch he has while hoping to grasp a new one.

You say your taste of polyamory felt good to you, did any of it last longer then 8 months?

In a healthy long term relationship, for me, limerance settles into comfort. The in-jokes, time spent, and knowledge about each other becomes more important to me then any thrill of newness would. If it doesn't settle into that (and it often doesn't), the relationship isn't a fit and it ends, one way or another.

If you don't believe that is how you work, be honest with the women you date. You want a casual non-committal relationship. (At your age a lot of the women in the pond are wanting to get it on with babies, it would be cruel to waste their time. Fertility windows and all that.)
posted by Dynex at 1:28 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

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