Alias (DO NOT USE A REAL NAME!!): Uncertain
Comment: Dear Moxie,
Apologies in advance for the length of this letter.
I have been with my boyfriend for 4 happy years. We share the same values and goals, such as stability, family, environmental stewardship, etc. We never wanted to cohabitate and as such are financially unentangled, with each person paying half of all dates, etc. He has supported me with utmost love through the first two years of my PhD, and I’ve been there for him during his serious health and career crises. (He is an actor and a teacher.) I find him physically and intellectually very attractive. He professes the same, and continues to be as funny and affectionate as ever. If you asked me two months ago about the state of our relationship, I would have said it was excellent, a beautiful and well-tested union that’s 1-2 years away from marriage. The only difficulties we’ve dealt with are a difference of religion/culture (the details of which we’ve worked out ad nauseam) and long distance (we used to live in the same city but have been living 2 hours apart for the past 2 years, seeing each other every weekend).
6 weeks ago I met someone new, a grad student in my department whom I’ll call Jonathan. I was drawn to him immediately. He is similar to my boyfriend in the important ways—both are equally smart, kind, principled, and down-to-earth. Some differences: Jonathan swears and drinks a little (my boyfriend does not, I do), his hobbies and values don’t align with mine as well as my boyfriend’s do, he’s a couple years older (boyfriend is younger), he is a biologist like me.
None of this matters when I see Jonathan, whom I befriended by inviting to platonic group gatherings. I’ve become obsessed with him, his demeanor, his voice, his stories, his texts, his humor, his eyes … I spend every waking moment thinking about him.
He knows I have a boyfriend and has no reason to believe my relationship is unhappy (because it isn’t). He himself is single. I don’t think he’s pursuing me, but I know he enjoys my company, because he tells me so; he rarely turns down a chance to hang out and has invited me in turn to meet his friends, etc.
My question is a cliché: How does one know when to stay and when to leave? How can one tell if this is a frivolous crush to ignore or not?
On the one hand, I’m certain I can have a wonderful life with my boyfriend. Nothing is wrong (and much is right) with us. On the other hand, I am not giving my all to my boyfriend right now because I’m so smitten with Jonathan. I can easily imagine an amazing life with him too … I find myself impatient to find out whether he and I would be good life partners for each other.
(PS I’ve written once before, ages ago. I don’t remember what email or device I used but I’m certainly not trying to hide the fact that I’m a regular reader and occasional letter-writer. )
I think this is as simple as you’ve out grown your boyfriend. It happens, especially when a person’s significant other isn’t around or available.
You met your boyfriend when you were 24. Now you’re 28 and you’ve done some living and developed an identity outside of your relationship. It makes sense that you’d be feeling restless in your new relationship. This is why I scoff at relationships where one person has already gone through the transitional period we all experience from ages 20-25 and the other is just beginning that phase. People’s tastes, interests, personality,etc change greatly between 20 and 30. Rarely are we ever the same person we were in college by the time we hit our late twenties.
There appears to be two factors playing in to this situation. First, you’re maturing and figuring out what you like and don’t like. Second, your partner isn’t there 80% of the time, and so it’s easy to slip out of relationship mode thinking and into single mode thinking.
I have to say that two years of only seeing each other on weekends sounds pretty tedious. There’s something in the details surrounding that decision to move away that I think holds the key. If I’m reading this correctly, it sounds like you left to go to school, yes? If so, then I think maybe you’ve been keeping this relationship going out of habit and comfort.
Personally, if I thought my boyfriend and I were headed towards marriage and that’s what I wanted, I’m not sure I’d have up and moved 2 hours away. Combine that with the fact that you’re ga-ga for someone who isn’t your boyfriend and going so far as to hang out with this guy knowing you are attracted to him, and I think it’s safe to say you’re no longer in love with your boyfriend. People face these obstacles all the time and survive it without developing huge crushes on someone else.
Don’t hang on to your relationship because you think you should. Whether or not Jonathan is your soul mate or whatever is irrelevant. He’s just the outlier of what’s really troubling you, not the cause. You’ve already checked out of your relationship, whether you realize it or not. Now you just have to do the hard part and tell your boyfriend.
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