Navigating Dating Situation - Crush on Other Person Edition
December 28, 2016 5:38 AM   Subscribe

I have been with my partner for 3.5 years. We are largely happy - good sex life, lots in common, and are building a life together. That being said, there are issues, and they are being magnified by a new crush. I need advice on how to navigate this ethically.

We live together, though I keep a room at another apartment where I can go in the event we break up. My partner (31-year-old dude) was in a marriage from age 19 with a woman who eventually developed Bipolar I Disorder, and he acted as her primary caretaker for a long time. There was infidelity on her side during manic phases, and she eventually decided she didn't want to be with him anymore. We met shortly after their break-up.

Point being: buddy has a lot of shame surrounding his divorce. I have no doubt he loves me deeply, and he's willing to talk about the future. He wants a future with me. But whenever decisions RE: the future come up (moving fully in together, getting engaged, kids, etc), he clams up. He wants to wait. And it's exhausting. Because I love him so much, and I want to build a life with him, but it's so hard to want to take next steps and to feel certain about someone when they express uncertainty about you. I think because of the way his marriage went down, he's worried that things will fall apart, and he wants a guarantee that it won't happen. But there's literally no way I can guarantee that. And he says that he understands that, but he keeps making his criteria more and more extreme.

So, there's that.

Recently, I met a dude at an event. Nothing untoward has happened at all, but there's lots of chemistry there, and I like him. A lot. If we're being honest, he looks and acts a lot like my boyfriend, except he also happens to be interested in one of my major hobbies. I haven't had a crush like this on anyone since dating my partner. And I'm trying really hard to not conflate the two - to not let my frustration with my partner be amplified by the crush and not let the crush be driven by my frustration with my partner.

I don't know how to navigate this ethically. If the crush weren't in the picture, I wouldn't be considering a break-up - I've told partner that eventually, I will need him to decide what he wants, and if he can't, even though it will suck and be sad, I'll have to go. I think for me the natural point of that would be in around a year or so, but of course that's hard to say. I do love him deeply, and I think we have the potential to build a wonderful life together, but I'm also terrified of spending my thirties with a dude who will never be certain if he's willing to take a risk to be with me.

Anyway, I'm sad and stressed. I've cried a lot about this over the past few days, and I'm uncertain what to do. How do I decide when to say, "I'm sorry, I love you so much, and I know you love me, too, but I need more." How do I keep the feeings I have for the other dude from influencing my decision making process?

Thanks, AskMe.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think the most ethical thing to do is tell him exactly what you've written here. Either he starts moving on these issues (therapy?) or you will leave him either to pursue new crush or at the least, life with someone who doesn't just say he wants to be with you but demonstrates that he does through his actions.

Just bear in mind:

1. Current guy is not who he is + issues -- the issues come with him, so if he doesn't work on them hard, he's not the right guy. That said --

2. New guy is half fantasy...you don't know what issues he has yet. So he's not like your current guy - issues + hobby. Your feelings for him are information, but not facts about the future.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:55 AM on December 28, 2016 [25 favorites]


I think it's admirable that you want to be supportive of your current partner, but you know what? He's unsupportive of you in a pretty profound set of ways: He's unwilling to commit to you + he keeps changing what/how being truly supportive towards you (committing to the relationship) is defined for him.

I think the tears are that you know this guy you are trying hard for isn't trying as hard for you.

It's been almost 4 years. It's enough time to know. It's OK if you say those words. It's a kindness in a lot of ways, plus I have to be super honest with you -- men who hold onto issues from past relationships make the worst long term partners because there is a core immaturity inside that person your love can not reach or help evolve. It's bad timing, and I hope you make room for a better relationship for the stage in life you are in. You will be doing your current guy a courageous gift. He needs to face himself without anyone else in the mix. We all have to reach this point, there's no blame on him. You are two people at different stages in life.
posted by jbenben at 6:05 AM on December 28, 2016 [44 favorites]


How do I decide when to say, "I'm sorry, I love you so much, and I know you love me, too, but I need more." How do I keep the feeings I have for the other dude from influencing my decision making process?

Those 2 things ARE mutually exclusive. If you aren't the cheating type then end all contact with the crush. If you plan to leave the boyfriend tomorrow end all crush enabling contact. If you left one for the other you wouldn't be giving it a fair shake anyway. I'm sorry, the crush isn't meant to be, not today anyway.

As for the boyfriends lack of commitment someone above said he isn't 2 things: himself and his issues. They are one. Id add that there is occasionally a fair reason for someone to tiptoe around a relationship a bit and his previous marriage sounds like a solid reason to be scared of commitment at some level. You've been fair with him and if you need to leave for you that's well understandable but if you want to give him a little more rope no one would blame you for that either.

Have you considered therapy for your and together to work through this? I think that something like that is going to be constructive for the relationship and very informative for you in particular.
posted by chasles at 6:17 AM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


he's willing to talk about the future. He wants a future with me. But whenever decisions RE: the future come up (moving fully in together, getting engaged, kids, etc), he clams up.

This sounds like the opposite of willing to talk about the future. It sounds like the two of you had a good run, but that it's time to move on. Building your future is important. You have goals and strong ideas about what you want and if he's not willing to move forward on those, it's time to move on.

As for new crush, give yourself some time & space after breaking up. You will need time to process the end of your relationship.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:17 AM on December 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


I don't want to sound at all patronizing, and this is probably up for debate, but one of the things I learned in my 20's/30's that prepared me to be with my awesome, perfect spouse, was to differentiate between little-picture things and big-picture things, when it comes to relationships.

except he also happens to be interested in one of my major hobbies.
LITTLE-PICTURE THING
posted by ftm at 6:53 AM on December 28, 2016 [32 favorites]


I really dislike this trend of calling someone a partner when they're just a boyfriend.

You guys started dating right after his divorce, and you still keep an apartment in case you break up even though you live together. He's a boyfriend.

Now it sounds like this boyfriend relationship isn't going anywhere. The ethical thing to do here is break up so you can explore your other options. Do it soon to spare everyone the agony. Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:04 AM on December 28, 2016 [25 favorites]


You don't mention how old you are except that you're in your 30's. When you're a woman in your 30's, and you want to move forward with a future, don't try to do that with someone who's telling you that they are unsure. This is perfectly reasonable behavior for someone who's 25, or who JUST got out of his marriage. Don't wait a year. It may be time right now to split amicably. People in their 30's who want the big capital F Future together move faster than 3.5 years on it, in my experience.

The other dude: eh, crushes happen when you're in a long term relationship.
posted by Pearl928 at 7:46 AM on December 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


If I were making up a dialog about marriage for two puppets, representing you and your partner, he would be saying "just the word marriage makes me nauseous." (I'm guessing, of course.)

I suppose that he's not at the point where he can even imagine entering into the bonds of matrimony in any kind of joyful way.

While you are thinking about guy #2, one ethical tip would be to find someone who does your hobby who you aren't attracted to, and spend enjoyable time pursuing that hobby. Like an afterschool program for kids, kind of, having something cool to do *can* keep you out of trouble.

And if you get really tempted to cheat, then before it happens, tell your partner you want to be with someone who is enthusiastic about marriage and family and being with you for the long term.
posted by puddledork at 7:52 AM on December 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


We live together, though I keep a room at another apartment where I can go in the event we break up.

This is all I need to know. You are not committed to someone if this is a true statement.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:59 AM on December 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


You keep a room in another apartment in case you break up. Unless you're equally cautious with everything else, at some level, you know this won't work out.

Unlike everyone else here, I think the crush may tell you something. I'm incredibly monogamous -- I know the relationship I'm in is ending when my attention starts wandering. Maybe you're the same way.

Even if your crush isn't meaningful, the apartment you keep on the side is. You've been preparing for this for awhile.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:04 AM on December 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


I find it odd, and maybe a little telling, that you've been keeping a backup place in case you break up. It seems like the uncertainty about the relationship's future has been on both sides.

Three years is long enough to figure out if you're all in. And it's long enough for you to get comfortable enough with each other to have those uncomfortable conversations about where you're going and what you need. If you wait a year and revisit the subject, chances are he still won't have figured out what he's willing to give you in terms of commitment. But you will have put another year into the relationship, and it will be that much harder to cut your losses if you decide to leave. That will be one less year for you to get where you want to go. I think your deciding moment should be sooner rather than later, and it should be based on the evidence you have now, not what your boyfriend promises in the future or how he might feel in another year.

And keep in mind that whatever he's carrying from his previous relationship is not your responsibility to fix. You can't reset his balance by doing the opposite of whatever his ex did. Your commitment won't undo whatever happened in his previous marriage.

You're right that your dissatisfaction with the relationship and your new crush are feeding off each other, and that you need to separate the two. The best strategy might be to go letter-of-the-law: you are currently in a committed relationship, and so the crush is a distraction and a non-starter and should be treated as such. End all contact with the crush, perhaps except for the minimum "we are still on good terms" stuff (e.g. mute all his social media stuff but don't unfriend him). Once you've gotten a few weeks of no-contact in and given your crushy feelings some time to blow over, revisit the question of continuing your current relationship. The issues you have with it will still be there, and your perspective should be a little clearer.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:04 AM on December 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


Metroid Baby's comment is one for the ages. Gold nuggets:

whatever he's carrying from his previous relationship is not your responsibility to fix. You can't reset his balance by doing the opposite of whatever his ex did. Your commitment won't undo whatever happened in his previous marriage.

If you wait a year and revisit the subject, chances are he still won't have figured out what he's willing to give you in terms of commitment. But you will have put another year into the relationship, and it will be that much harder to cut your losses if you decide to leave. That will be one less year for you to get where you want to go.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:11 AM on December 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


For those pointing out the OP is demontrating a lack of commitment by keeping a room in another apartment, that seems to be the Boyfriend's choice - not her's:

But whenever decisions RE: the future come up (moving fully in together, getting engaged, kids, etc), he clams up. He wants to wait.
posted by saucysault at 8:33 AM on December 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


I was about to say something about how I'm not totally surprised he won't commit if you're still keeping an escape-route room open, but then I read the bit you said about how he clams up "whenever decisions RE: the future come up (moving fully in together" - are you keeping the room at his insistence?

Crush-as-a-catalyst happens. You shouldn't see it as exchanging one for the other, but now might well be the time to say "I'm sorry, I love you so much, and I know you love me, too, but I need more".
posted by corvine at 8:37 AM on December 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


Is your boyfriend actually doing any work to get over his issues? Like, actively? Is he in therapy, or this like an "I'll get to it some day" thing?

Because IME working through the big issues that a (very) bad past relationship leaves you with is not a passive endeavor. It's something you have to deliberately work on, like a hobby or a part time job. If he's not doing that, nothing is changing. Nothing will change.

3.5 years is a long, long time. Long enough to have worked on those issues and come to a decision.

He's not doing that work because he doesn't want to, and his not wanting to outweighs the ways it's fucking with your life. That is...kind of shitty, TBH.

I think "crush as catalyst" is a good phrase for this. I'm really, really sorry. I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear, because it promises a whole lot of immediate pain. But I think it will be far, far more painful in the long run to stay in your current situation as you've described it.

The good news, is there's more people out there for you. Maybe (probably) not crush dude, but there are other people who will do that work to try to make a future with you. You deserve someone who shows up for that.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:05 AM on December 28, 2016 [18 favorites]


Not to be overly simplistic, but I think this may have a simple answer. Crushes are a given. Chemistry-with-occasional-others is a given. Unless you're under 23 years old, you know this going into any relationship. And unless you lock yourself in the basement, the issue will flare up in every relationship you're ever in, ad infinitum. This is part of it. Not surprising, unexpected, or special.

If your feeling is that crushes are SIGNIFICANT, and not just errant blurps of your hormonal system, and should be acted upon because it's, like, providence....then you ought to live that belief, and stop feigning monogamy, inevitably creating turbulence for yourself and pain for your partners. You can then hop every time it strikes.

Another given is that your partner will always be problematic and imperfect. You seem to be looking to that to support your impulses, but you state, flat out, "if the crush weren't in the picture, I wouldn't be considering a break-up." That puts to bed this entire side of your mental conversation.

So, what's it going to be? "Crushes = Providence and must be respected", or "Crushes = inevitable, but commitment [YOUR commitment; that's all you can vouch for] supersedes"? It really boils down to this.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


If he won't commit, you shouldn't commit. JMO but I know not the way women are supposed to do things. Women are supposed to wait around while their options get narrower and narrower without a peep of complaint or a hint of curiosity about the alternatives. That's not my bag and it's not what I'd do after 3.5 years of good time. But that's up to you.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:12 AM on December 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


I waited a very, very long time to get engaged, but 3.5 years seems like a long time to keep your own place in case you break up (no matter whose request).

Definitely "crush as a catalyst" as stated upthread, but maybe it's just opening your eyes. Remember that these are two very separate issues. Good luck.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:32 AM on December 28, 2016


but he keeps making his criteria more and more extreme.

like....what are some of them, then? It's hard to imagine what unreasonable extreme criteria he might have when the only one you've hinted at is that he might want a guarantee you won't go for someone else and leave him, the way his ex did. and this is exactly what you are presenting as a current temptation. So what is he demanding that you can't/won't/shouldn't promise or give?

I think you are probably going to end up breaking up with him and might as well do it soon. but don't try to convince him it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, that his fear of being cheated on/left is what made it happen. you want something/someone he can't give or be, that's your right, that's really all. Unless you absolutely have to start seeing the crush the day after the breakup, I really really don't think you should tell him you're leaving him for someone else. it would be honesty for no point except to make him feel awful and completely justified about his fears, simultaneously. (although you should be very clear in your mind what you will do if he reacts to the breakup as if it's an ultimatum and says OK, if I have to commit to keep you, I'll commit. don't be so surprised that you say Yes even if you don't even want that anymore.)

unrelatedly: it changes things if the fallback apartment is his idea, and he better be paying the rent on it in that case. but all the comments assuming it was your idea, telling you he wasn't really your partner unless you were willing to wreck your life for him - fuck that. like a woman isn't committed to a man unless she puts herself in a position where her life is a disaster if they break up. You might as well say people aren't really married if they have a prenup, or they have a death wish if they make a will. What you're doing is financially impractical for most people but it's smart as hell and all the agonized askmetafilter questions about oh god how can I break up when we're both on the lease/how can we live together as exes ought to make that obvious.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:54 AM on December 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


It sounds like your boyfriend needs to get serious about dealing with his marriage trauma. And, he needs to do it through a vehicle like therapy instead of making you responsible for making him feel like your efforts and dedication will magically ensure that he never gets profoundly hurt again. That's his issue to fix, not your burden to bear. If he's not serious about taking control of his own baggage, I'd leave. He's not going to be able to be a partner if he just makes his issues your problems to solve. That's not an acceptable approach. You can't be expected to wait around in limbo for years and years in hopes that he's able to get through his personal issues.

Tell your boyfriend that you need him to make an honest commitment to fixing his stuff in a meaningful way if he wants you to stick around. Make it about him and you and not about someone else. Mentioning someone else will be a major distraction and the truth of the matter is that your issue is with boyfriend and his inability to move forward past his history with his past marriage and the damage it caused him. If he isn't willing to see that he needs to address this, you should leave.

Your crush has just forced you to look more realistically at what needs are not being met in your current relationship. Use this opportunity to see if you can get your relationship to the level that you want. If you can't, walk away.
posted by quince at 12:42 PM on December 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


3.5 years? And he still isn't over it? And you think he might someday be over it and ready to be an eager, committed husband to you?

Spoiler alert: he won't. (And you know this deep down.)

Don't let anyone shame you about serial monogamy, either. Some people do need time alone after the end of a relationship to process, yadda yadda. But many dating relationships (which is what you are in) end because someone meets someone more compatible. Your boyfriend hasn't committed -- despite your offers -- and you shouldn't either. Get single and get dating.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:10 PM on December 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


Hey all - I'm the OP. Thank you so much for the feedback. Some clarifying info:
1) Me keeping a separate "just-in-case" place is 100% at his insistence.
2) I get that crushes happen in long-term relationships. This one does feel different, but I also think that part of that is that I'm starting to accept that maybe me and current partner will not work out in the long-term. For right now, I'm putting that aside.
3) RE: changing expectations - basically, he keeps saying that he needs "6 more months" or whatever to decide. And it's exhausting.

I don't know. We had a major talk today about it; he understands that I'm in the "I'm really, really, really close to leaving because I am so sad and frustrated" stage. And that scares him a lot. I'm going to give it a little time and try to give this another shot, because I do love him dearly. It's hard to balance the need for readying myself to have a comfortable life after him with wanting to be optimistic and give this a shot, and I'm struggling to find the right way to go about that. Thank you so much for your advice.
posted by superlibby at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


“If you want it then you should’ve put a ring on it!” All the single 30+ ladies who’ve been strung along for 3+ years should listen.

Tell your boyfriend you are done waiting and go for the other dude. Your bf might suddenly become ready to commit to you. If not, now you know it was never going to happen.

(Yes, crushes happen in committed relationships and should be ignored, but this is NOT a committed relationship!)
posted by LakeDream at 7:10 AM on December 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


"1) Me keeping a separate "just-in-case" place is 100% at his insistence"


I have a difficult truth for you to hear, and I hope you can hear my life experience and empathy speaking to you...

Dump him now. He's that guy. I'm sure he was hurt, but he is also currently selfish and manipulating you. He's stringing you along as revenge for what he perceived as an egregious betrayal from another woman. You were not there for that relationship, we don't know what went down between them. We do know they married at 19 years old and he has not used good sense to realize we all make mistakes when we are young, instead he's holding a grudge.

I'm sure you object to my characterization because he's genuinely hurt? I know I sound awful! However, this Internet stranger is pointing out to you that if he were genuinely hurt AND a decent person, he would not be in a relationship with you where he keeps you on indefinite hold, at arms length. If he were a decent person, he would not make you keep an escape route (rented room) I'm sure YOU are paying the rent on, not him.

Respectfully. Underneath it all, whatever mental gymnastics he does, he's upset right now because he's very comfortable and you speaking up means his comfort might change. He's not concerned about your feelings or discomfort in any way concrete. He keeps showing you this. It's all about him. That's not a marriage worthy relationship. Get out of this while you can. Run.

Go date the other guy, in a few months. Or feel sparks with someone altogether new when you are ready.

I've been through this. I have seen this amongst friends. The guy you are with who is using his past as an excuse to keep you at arm's length? He never ever turns into a prince, or even close to being the partner you put in the effort to enjoy. He may not realize it, but he's immature, is showing he has an undeveloped sense of decency towards others, he has a lack of character, and he's a user that is using you. A better human would not put you in distress like this.

Take your life back. Dump this guy. You may love him, but he doesn't love you. This is not worth it. Real love worth sacrificing for goes both ways.
posted by jbenben at 8:55 AM on December 29, 2016 [19 favorites]


OP, given your update, I...yes. jenben said it better than I would have. The only other thing I would say is that we understand behavior in ourselves and others based on the stories we tell ourselves and others about why we behave that way -- and sometimes those stories are wrong, wrong, wrong.

And it doesn't matter why he tells himself, or you, that he treats you this way. Because *he'a treating you this way.*

I have to say that my head is basically screaming "run! For the love of God, get out and find someone who won't make your life a constant conditional limbo hell!"

But I think a more practical suggestion might be: use that fucking room you pay for. Take a break. Take a really long, clean break without contact. Set a time limit -- call it 3 months. (Or more!) you've waited for this person for 3.5 years; you get to take 3 months (or whatever) to figure out what you want on your terms.

And I would suggest using that time to really think about what you want your life to be. Honestly interrogate the possibilities without him.

I'd also say that when he inevitably makes promises? He's been making promises all along. The changes you need are big, deep changes that will take him years to accomplish, and only then with a lot of work.

So maybe interrogate if you want to wait another however many years while he becomes the person you need him to be, because that is the best case scenario, and it is...a gamble.

Use your escape hatch.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:56 AM on December 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


What's already been said here, 3.5 years is about 3 years longer than it should have taken to deal with a past relationship. Even if there are lingering issues or regrets, that's not something you dump on your potential future life mate. At this point, it's just an excuse to avoid making a commitment or other life changes.
posted by diode at 10:05 AM on December 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not only should you move out today to that room he wants you to go to, you shouldn't take him back even if it does wake him out of his comfort-torpor and he begs you to.

Here's why: marriage is hard. It can be wonderful, but it comes with inevitable hard challenges for all modern couples. There are times when even the most committed, most trusting couples get salty, and disappointed in each other, and lonely. At those times, you really, really don't want to be with someone who's only there because he feels you badgered him into it. And you don't want to feel like you had to beg him to be with you. You will be second guessing yourself for the remaining decades of your life, whenever anything tough comes up.

This disqualifier is in addition to the fundamental lack of character his behavior until now has indicated.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:21 AM on December 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


After your update I would like to amend my advice because of these:

1) Me keeping a separate "just-in-case" place is 100% at his insistence.
2) I get that crushes happen in long-term relationships. This one does feel different, but I also think that part of that is that I'm starting to accept that maybe me and current partner will not work out in the long-term. For right now, I'm putting that aside.
3) RE: changing expectations - basically, he keeps saying that he needs "6 more months" or whatever to decide. And it's exhausting

...And that scares him a lot.


Yeah, he's That Guy. Moving the date 6 months out is nothing like doing the actual work of recovering from a bad marriage; making you keep a separate place for his peace of mind, not yours, is not cool; and worse of all he feels "scared." That's bs designed to make you feel like the bad person for scaring him...was he scared when he moved the goal posts or insisted on your apartment? Did this fear result in him saying "you're right, you're not my ex and I would like to formalize our relationship today/go to therapy RIGHT NOW/etc.? No?

The exhaustion is your intuition telling you this relationship is a suck on your life energy. Time to get out.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:49 AM on December 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


This also sounds like the kind of situation you're likely to feel quite angry about once you're out of it--but when you're in it, you don't really have the freedom to feel all the things you want to feel, because it "scares him."

I'm sure he doesn't mean to be like this. But most people who hurt others don't mean to. That doesn't make it any better. He's privileging his comfort over your very reasonable, basic needs, and he's not being honest with either you or himself about that, and that is both cowardly and shitty.

I just...please give yourself some space. I think it will change your perspective.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:17 PM on December 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


3) RE: changing expectations - basically, he keeps saying that he needs "6 more months" or whatever to decide. And it's exhausting.

6 more months will do nothing to change this unless he uses that 6 months to aggressively and earnestly deal with his issues. Not deal with them by manipulating you, but deal with them in serious therapy. If he can't see that his inability to move forward is HIS issue and he's not willing to get serious about dealing with his baggage, you should just go now.
posted by quince at 3:23 PM on December 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah. He's comfortable with how things are. Things are how he wants them, so he isn't going to change them. That's why his criteria keep changing. He might well be scared to change things but he's scared because he isn't sure about committing to you. It might be because of his ex, it might be you, it might be both and it really does not matter.

He has you on the hook and I promise you that he will keep you there until you leave. When you leave, he might change his mind and offer to move in with you then but I wouldn't do it. You shouldn't have to threaten a commitment out of someone.
posted by Polychrome at 7:20 AM on January 4, 2017 [3 favorites]


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