Should I stay or should I go?

Is it wrong to keep seeing my college girlfriend even though I know she loves me more than I love her?

Published January 15, 2003 8:09PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have been dating my girlfriend for almost two years now. We both have little sexual experience outside of our relationship. She was a virgin before she met me and I had only had sex once, a long time before. This is, by far, my longest relationship and I care for her deeply, but I am sure of two things: that I am not in love, and that she at least thinks she is. I am 23 and she is 21. We both go to the same university and have few other friends here at school.

I broke it off with her at the end of the last school year and went to work with my brother out of state for the summer. I didn't meet anyone out there and when I came back to school, she seduced me. After we talked through our differences, I couldn't find any reason not to continue with the relationship, but I still don't feel like I'm falling in love and I don't know what to do about it because I really care about her and I haven't become interested in anyone else yet.

I could just wait it out since I will graduate at the end of this school year and she doesn't graduate until the next, but I want to be upfront with her. Any suggestions?

P.S. Don't say, "Just tell her how you feel," because I already have, and it didn't work.


Dear Misunderstood,

The intensity of what you feel for her is not as important as what your mutual understanding of the future is. It would be a shame to break it off just because you don't think your emotions register strongly enough on some abstract scale of "love" vs. "in love." It might hurt her deeply for no reason, and deprive you of her valuable friendship.

Now, if it really bothers your conscience that you don't feel deeply enough for her, if it's painful or causing you anxiety or guilt, then perhaps you need to break up with her. But it might make more sense to simply talk with her honestly about the future. Tell her that you are too young and inexperienced to know if you want to be with her the rest of her life, and ask her if she thinks of you being together in the future. You need to know what she expects. If she is dreaming of a future, with kids and a house and a lawn and a lawnmower and those bags on the side of the lawnmower that catch the clippings, and a man who comes on Tuesdays to pick up the lawn clippings, and evenings spent paying the bill for the man who picks up the lawn clippings, and a neighbor named Fred who borrows your lawnmower and dents the blade and never tells you about it, and you and she and the lawnmower and the neighbor named Fred all growing old together, then I think she deserves to know that there is no such plan in your head. But maybe she knows as well as you do that this is just a college thing, and perhaps you and she can continue to enjoy each other's companionship without having to abruptly end it on principle.

So get to know as best you can what she is really expecting. And if she expects that you two are in love and have a future, I think you need to break it off, because that kind of misunderstanding just gets worse the longer it goes on. But if she understands that it's just a college thing, then perhaps the pain of breaking up now isn't worth it; perhaps time and distance will separate you naturally, and no one will feel wounded by the other -- it will just be a mutual separation.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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