Unobtanium suddenly becomes obtainable; drat! complications!
October 14, 2012 10:13 PM   Subscribe

I have two romantic interests in my life: one who adores me and is giving herself to me wholeheartedly, and one who seems to be a better match but lives 850 miles away and is just getting out of a relationship. What should I do?

I am a woman, late 30s. I have been dating Lynn (not using real names, obviously) for 6 weeks. She is wonderful, the best girlfriend a girl could ask for. She's giving, sexy, smart, funny -- almost everything I've been looking for, except for a big thing: she has a small child and I'm not interested in being a parent. Her having a kid would ordinarily be a dealbreaker for me, but I set it aside to see what might happen with Lynn, because she is otherwise a really, really great match.

And behind the scenes, there's Ariel. We dated briefly 17 years ago, but I never forgot her. She and I reconnected on Facebook (as you do), but she had a girlfriend and so did I, so it was just as friends (with an undercurrent of curious flirting). I re-read her love letters to me from 17 years ago and some of my old poetry I wrote about her, and it reminded me of how much I had been convinced at the time that she was really right for me. After some lengthy correspondence, I told her in February of this year that if she and I were ever single and living in the same town, I was totally going to ask her out.

Then this summer Ariel and her girlfriend started having trouble, and she and I started talking more. Just me being a friendly ear at first. We started talking every day. I started having feelings for her again. She started having feelings for me. We started planning for her to come visit me. By the end of August, it was driving me crazy. She had this girlfriend and lived so far away, yet I couldn't stop thinking about her. It was limerence.

And then I met Lynn. And she was available, and into me, and it was great! I poured out my feelings to Ariel, and we agreed that 1) I was free to date whomever I wished; 2) she would still come visit me (as a friend); and 3) we would stop talking all the time. But after only a couple days, we started back again. I was still thinking about Ariel all the time, sometimes (to my own shame) in bed with Lynn. Ariel was still somone I thought of as my perfect unobtainium. I didn't think I had a shot with her, but I wanted one.

Over the past 6 weeks, Ariel and her girlfriend broke up, we finalized concrete plans for her to come visit, and we continued to bond. At this point, we've both declared our mutual interest in each other and desire to see if there's a chance for us. She's coming here next weekend, staying for 6 days.

I feel guilty about all the time I've been spending thinking about & talking to Ariel, but I haven't broken up with Lynn. She and I have vacation plans involving airfare at the end of the month (we leave 2 days after Ariel leaves). Also, until a couple days ago, I really wasn't sure Ariel would actually come, and would actually be interested in giving me a shot, and would consider moving up here to be with me. But now she says she's considering it. Depending on how the visit goes, and she's hoping it goes well. So am I. I've told Lynn that Ariel and I used to date a long time ago, but that now we're just friends. I really thought Ariel could probably visit me platonically until about a week ago, when it became apparent that that was unlikely. So I know some people are going to say I should probably just break up with Lynn right now, but that's why I'm not...

Also, to be completely honest, I'm still hedging my bets. If Ariel and I don't actually have any chemistry in person this time around, or we don't hit it off for some reason, I could still have a relationship with Lynn. And that wouldn't be a horrible outcome. As I said, Lynn is great, I love her, we have a great sex life, and I can totally see a future with her. I don't know if it's the future I want, but I bet I could make it work. If Ariel weren't in the picture, I would have doubts, but I think I would still be gung-ho to give it a shot.

There's more, but I will stop there. Have you been in a situation like mine? Do you have any advice for me? I still have a chance to not fuck things up with Lynn, by backing away from Ariel and keeping her visit platonic. I worry that I will have regrets either way, no matter what/whom I choose. What do you think, o wise Mefites?
posted by sockpuppetryarts to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a dyke single mom and have done a lot of dating and I can tell you, if you don't want a kid in your life, break up with Lynn now and stop wasting everyone's time.

Actually, even if I didn't have a kid and I wasn't a dyke and whatever else I have in common with your situation, using someone as a bet hedger pretty much sucks no matter what. It actually doesn't even matter really that there is this other person in the picture. Do you feel equivocal about Lynn for whatever reason? The respectful, kind thing to do is figure that out and make a choice one way or another.

But yeah, it's worse since you're putting a kid's feelings on the line too.
posted by latkes at 10:20 PM on October 14, 2012 [49 favorites]

I think you're being really shitty to Lynn and I think you know that.

Break it off with Lynn if you want to test the waters again with Ariel. Or break it off with Ariel if you think Lynn is what you want. You can't have both and it's not fair to Lynn to fuck around with Ariel while you two are still together.

And Lynn comes with a kid which is not what you want. Be honest with yourself and everyone else.
posted by inturnaround at 10:24 PM on October 14, 2012 [17 favorites]

Agree 1000% with Latkes. Think about the child. Break up with Lynn.
posted by pearlybob at 10:25 PM on October 14, 2012

If you try to have your cake and eat it too, the shit is way more likely to hit the fan. Be fair to these ladies.
posted by horizonseeker at 10:27 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lynn and her child are a package deal. If you're not interested in that, I agree with everyone else and suggest breaking up and moving on.
posted by heyjude at 10:27 PM on October 14, 2012

Best answer: Also, to be completely honest, I'm still hedging my bets.

I really don't mean to be flippant here but honestly: Flip a coin.

I've come to the decision that in situations like this making some choice is vastly more important than making the "right" choice.

You're always going to have regrets. People who fell in love at 18 and got married and are happy still have regrets that maybe they missed out on something. If Ariel didn't exist it would be some other "what if".

Maybe you dump Lynn and then it doesn't work out with Ariel. It's not like you won't meet someone else. Maybe you stick with Lynn for a while to see how it goes, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to break up with her in 6 months if it doesn't work out. The only thing you're not allowed to do is string one or both of them along.

Remember: "The One" isn't a person, it's a relationship. It could be with either of these people or neither of them, but it certainly isn't one or the other. So flip a coin, pick one, and put your heart into it.

(Addendum: If you flip a coin and it lands on Lynn and your first reaction is disappointment, then you know this really isn't a question after all).
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:30 PM on October 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

Picture yourself in five years, ten years. Who's there?
posted by pink_gorilla at 10:32 PM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is pretty easy.

1) Break up with Lynn. Pay her any costs she's already out for the vacation you will no longer be taking with her. Hedging your bets and using her as backup is not fair to her, nor her child, especially since you have not been forthright with her regarding your current interest in Ariel.

2) Whatever happens (or doesn't!) with Ariel can now happen with a clear conscience.

2a) Try to keep your expectations in check. Poems and love letters exchanged seventeen years ago are not going to predict future success, and it's a little concerning that you've mentioned them. It sounds more like revisiting a young crush rather than acknowledging the realities of an adult relationship, and all the changes you've both gone through in that time.
posted by 6550 at 10:40 PM on October 14, 2012 [19 favorites]

The correct answer to "this one or that one" in romantic relationships is often "neither."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:57 PM on October 14, 2012 [20 favorites]

Break up with Lynn and cover her travel costs since you were never honest with her.

Don't tell Lynn this is about Ariel. That would be triple shitty and quadruple hurttful, and you are already behaving badly enough without compounding your current errors at Lynn's emotional expense.
posted by jbenben at 11:03 PM on October 14, 2012 [11 favorites]

You will never regret doing the right thing, even if it hurts. Break up with Lynn and eat the costs of the trip. She deserves better than someone who has been having an emotional affair behind her back.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:05 PM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you determined to have a monogamous live together relationship? Or are you and Lynn both ok with something less exclusive? Because you don't have to be in a parent-like role for her child depending.
posted by zippy at 11:16 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have two romantic interests in my life: one who adores me and is giving herself to me wholeheartedly, and one who seems to be a better match but lives 850 miles away and is just getting out of a relationship.

Oy. Can I revise this for you?

It seems to me that you have two romantic interests in your life:

One, who you seem very very happy with as a person, but she has a child which you emphatically do not want;

One, who you don't know at all, and you are fantasizing that she is a better match. Yes, I said it, you don't know her at all, yes I read everything you wrote. You met this woman and dated her briefly when you were college-aged, and then you lost touch with her for 17 years. You don't know her. Yes, you had an extended correspondence since you got back in touch, and since the summer you have been having hours of conversations. You don't know her. Trust me. The only way to know someone is to observe them, for a long time, in person. I don't care how long you spend talking to someone, when you actually experience them in person, you're going to learn many things that you would have never learned otherwise.

I think that often, people get into these long distance infatuations getting obsessed with people they don't know. because they are avoiding something in their own lives. I think often what they are avoiding is boredom or loneliness. I think in this case, maybe it is a way to avoid this problem with Lynn, that she is "wonderful" and "almost everything you've been looking for" but she has a kid which is a dealbreaker for you. How can you give up something so wonderful? How can you continue in it when she has a kid? The kid is not going away. This problem is not getting solved. So maybe your brain is just trying to sidestep the whole thing by focusing on Ariel instead. And you can tell yourself that it is just that Ariel is this wonderful match and the two of you are almost destined for each other.

No. I mean, who knows, but I doubt it. I think you should stop with the avoidance, and resolve this issue with Lynn FIRST. Resolve it either way. Decide the kid is a dealbreaker and break up. OR, decide that you are going to give it your 100% best shot to try to be happy in a situation with a kid involved. (That means no more escapism with Ariel behind the scenes, it means really giving it your all). THEN, after you have made that decision, if you find yourself single, that would be the appropriate time to take up with Ariel again. But I wouldn't be surprised if, after that, you found your infatuation rather diminished.
posted by cairdeas at 11:17 PM on October 14, 2012 [19 favorites]

Please break up with Lynn, she and her kid deserve someone who wants them both, not someone who is using them as a backup plan. Especially the kid angle, a kid does not need someone who doesn't really want them.

Good luck with Ariel, I hope you guys rediscover something. If not, then it's time to move on to something new.
posted by Joh at 11:33 PM on October 14, 2012

You are in a relationship. You want to explore a different relationship. You need to break off the first relationship. It doesn't matter at all if things work out with Ariel; you are clearly not that into Lynn or there wouldn't be an Ariel.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:43 PM on October 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I worry that I will have regrets either way

Yes, you will. The question to ask yourself is whether you want to regret only what you lose, or what you lose and how you treat people along the way.
posted by ead at 12:04 AM on October 15, 2012 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Based on my life experience, it most likely won't work out with Ariel. B-u-u-u-ut, I also understand that you feel you have to try, and that you'll probably have to learn this the hard way. And since she's lingered in your mind for 17 years, I do think that you have to face this Ariel thing. If you just say to yourself "no, I'm dating someone else," without actually getting over your underlying desire for her, I could easily see you having regrets.

So, to preserve your integrity and avoid physically cheating on Lynn, you probably have just two options: (1) preemptively break up with Lynn without mentioning Ariel, as most people in this thread seem to be recommending, or (2) at a bare minimum, level with Lynn about things with your ex- suddenly heating up and how you have to see what it means, either putting her through a bunch of drama or causing her to break up with you. In Lynn's shoes, I'd prefer #2, that you very gently level with me and leave me the option to either break up with you or wait for a few weeks to see if you figure it out.

I do think people are undervaluing your relationship with Lynn. You only got together with her 6 weeks ago, and your excitement over her caused you to (try to) stop the romance with Ariel and to reevaluate whether you could act as a parent. Those are both big deals. So, I don't think you dislike Lynn; I think that Ariel is a fantasy that nobody can compete with.

You might have a third option: realize what a fantasy Ariel (probably) is before you eff up this good thing you have with Lynn. If it's at all possible to do, it'd be best. You know Ariel so little now; some barriers or incompatibilities probably do exist. But in my experience, it's basically impossible to think yourself out of limerance, particularly one from 17 years ago. I don't know that there's any way to fast forward yourself to not just thinking, but really knowing that things with Ariel won't actually work. But I'd try. Consider why you broke up the first time. Consider who you are now, and how different that is from who your 20-year-old self. Consider all your doubts about her.

Separate from all of this, I would be extremely honest with yourself about whether you can co-parent. That alone would be good reason to break up with Lynn.
posted by salvia at 1:32 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Only you can say whether children are a complete dealbreaker or not for you, but there's an anecdote that I'd like to share. Time and again when people have found out that I don't want to be a parent (for many reasons, including disabling health problems), they'll ask me, "But what if you meet Mr/Ms Right and s/he wants children? Or has them?"
By this stage, I know the answer to that:
"If that person wants me to be a parent, then s/he isn't Mr/Ms Right for me."

A small child sounds like one who will be living at home for another decade at least. If Lynn is looking to build a family, she and her child deserve a partner who is willing to commit wholeheartedly to them, not someone who'll "make an exception" for them and see what happens. That seems a complex enough question to grapple with even before you put someone else in the picture.

There is someone else in the picture, though - someone whose love letters you've been hanging onto for almost twenty years. You know that Ariel might have changed, but you're still willing to risk what you have for the possibility of what might be kindled with her. Six weeks into a (presumably monogamous) relationship with Lynn, you shouldn't be thinking about other people and what-ifs with them. But then, you were carrying this torch when this relationship started, and its flames have only gotten brighter since.

You know the answer here, surely: it's shitty to be making someone your everything when they're treating you as a fallback option.

I value honesty, so I would suggest you come clean about all this to Lynn; maybe it will make your decision for you. But whatever you do, please don't keep stringing her along - and don't let the sunk-cost fallacy enter into the decision when it comes to the trip costs.

Pick one woman or the other, and give her your all.
posted by Someone Else's Story at 2:55 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Whatever you do during and after Ariel's visit, do this beforehand: cancel the trip with Lynn. Do it now. It would be traumatic and unfair to go on this trip two days after a potential other love leaves after a visit. So, to save everyone that drama, cancel that trip with Lynn now. And if you don't want to, investigate that motive within yourself.
posted by the fish at 3:42 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It reads to me like Lynn would be a good choice if Lynn didn't have a child. Lynn has a child. Therefore, Lynn is not a good choice.

It's just that simple, isn't it. There is no fairytale world where you get to have Lynn all to yourself and never have to deal with Lynn's child and everyone is happy and well adjusted.

Make your sincere apologies to Lynn, sucking up whatever financial costs you are responsible for, and take your shot with Ariel.

Even if it doesn't work with Ariel, you won't be trying to live in a fairytale world that does not exist.

In other words: whether or not there is an Ariel, there shouldn't be a Lynn.

I'm sorry.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:44 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

And that wouldn't be a horrible outcome. As I said, Lynn is great, I love her, we have a great sex life, and I can totally see a future with her.

Do you really love her if you are preparing to meet someone with romantic intentions or are you fooling yourself? I second the notion that you don't know Ariel after 17 years. A fantasy might be more attractive than a real relationship, but it seems you don't value Lynn as much as you think you do, not to mention that her child is part of the equation.
posted by ersatz at 5:05 AM on October 15, 2012

"I can totally see a future with her. I don't know if it's the future I want, but I bet I could make it work."

The future you want is out there. Kindly break up with Lynn (because I'm willing to bet that the future she wants involves a partner that wants to be family with her child) and go find your future. Ariel isn't really relevant to your core problem here.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:42 AM on October 15, 2012

You don't have to break up with Lynn, but you do need to tell her what's going on with you. When you say I've told Lynn that Ariel and I used to date a long time ago, but that now we're just friends. I really thought Ariel could probably visit me platonically until about a week ago, that's not exactly the whole truth, right? You honestly care about Lynn, and you need to talk with her. You are not 19 years old anymore and dramatic dyke drama has not gotten any more fun since then, I promise.
posted by rtha at 5:50 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If Lynn is so great, why do you want her to be dating someone who's not completely in to her? And who's treating her this way, as a back up plan? Doesn't she deserve better?
posted by gaspode at 5:53 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You seem to assume that Ariel's visit would resolve this dilemma. There is a strong chance it won't: you just don't have enough time to really get to know each other. There is so much sexual build-up on both sides by now you will probably spend that time together just enjoying the release.

There will be pain as an outcome, no matter what you do.

However, I do agree with salvia, this is something you'll need to learn the hard way.
posted by Dragonness at 5:54 AM on October 15, 2012

Nobody deserves to be a "backup plan."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:41 AM on October 15, 2012

And that wouldn't be a horrible outcome. As I said, Lynn is great, I love her, we have a great sex life, and I can totally see a future with her.

Think of how Lynn would feel if she knew that your thoughts about a future with her are that it "wouldn't be horrible." I think she would feel... horrible. Break up with her.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:22 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would you have wanted someone to treat your mother the way you are treating Lynn?

you are NOT hedging your bets.

you are betting equally on both sides, That is a guaranteed loser.

you are building a bomb. The fuse runs out when Ariel arrives.
posted by French Fry at 8:05 AM on October 15, 2012

I agree with everyone criticizing your "bet-hedging" comments, which are ugly and which you should examine closely.

BUT. You've only been dating Lynn 6 weeks. Six weeks! That's, like, no time, especially if she has parent-of-a-small-child time commitments. It's not enough time to even KNOW if you're excited about a future with her. Are you really in a monogamous, committed relationship that early? Can you both level with Lynn and, if necessary, dial it WAY back? If you haven't made any monogamy commitment to Lynn, then you're just dating multiple people to figure out what you and they are like in relationship to each other. If you have made a monogamy commitment to Lynn, then you do seriously need to revisit that -- you shouldn't be asking commitment from her when your feelings are so lukewarm. And you should, in the future, commit to YOURSELF not to get too serious, too quickly.

Also. . . limit your contact with her child until you're in it for the long haul.
posted by endless_forms at 9:46 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

How do you feel about polyamory coupled with complete honesty and transparency with all partners?

Such a situation can work, if everyone can come to an agreement they're comfortable with.

But if not, I agree with everyone who said not to use Lynn as backup. You may be (like myself) the type of person who needs passion to be happy in a romantic relationship, and it's evident that you have that with Ariel, but not with Lynn.

Of course you risk losing them both if you break up with Lynn to try to be with Ariel, and that ends up not working out. But the right thing to do is to (ahem, prepare for toughlove) suck it up, put on your big-girl pants, and take the risk.

It is simply wrong to make others unknowingly take your risks for you.
posted by xenophile at 4:36 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Put yourself in Lynn's shoes. How would you like to know you're a back-up plan?

But really none of that crap matters, because if you don't want to be a parent and you decide to stick with Lynn you will fuck that child up proper. Unless you're wholeheartedly into parenting, the kid will figure out pretty quickly your disinterest. And hopefully when Lynn realizes your disinterest she'll do the right thing and dump your ass, because no good parent dates someone who makes their child feel like they chose a partner over their own kid.
posted by Anonymous at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2012

Response by poster: I really appreciate all the advice. It was very helpful in clarifying my thoughts and feelings. Lynn and I had a long talk last night, and I'm going to stick with her and keep things platonic with Ariel. I didn't mention this in my initial post, but Lynn only has her son 2 nights a week. I will get some alone time on those nights, and we will limit my interaction with her son for now. Taking it one day at a time... as for Ariel, I found cairdeas' comment especially insightful, so thanks.
posted by sockpuppetryarts at 9:39 AM on October 16, 2012

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