I wish I was ready to settle down, but I'm not

My girlfriend may be the perfect match for me, but I need to get more experience.


Cary Tennis
October 5, 2005 1:35AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

"I love you, and I want to break up with you." That's how I'm going to tell my girlfriend, for the first time, that I love her. Or, that's how it goes in my mind when I'm trying to amuse myself about my situation.

I've been dating my girlfriend for a year and a half now. We share many rather idiosyncratic idiosyncrasies -- we see things in ways that are obvious to no one but us. Example: Would you look at a model of the human brain, turned upside down, and think that it looks like a nice armchair? I have. And I think that she would too, if she saw one. I find it simply incredible that the universe would bring into existence two such people, so close together in space and time, that they would couple up. So unlikely and incredible in fact, that perhaps the universe somehow wants, means, for us to be together. Space-time wanted to create a perfect couple.

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So why am I thinking of snubbing the universe and breaking up with my possibly perfect mate?

Simply and crassly put, I want to sleep around. I am a graduate student at a large university filled with beautiful, smart young women. Temptation is everywhere. But it's not that simple. That crass, maybe. But not that simple.

When I met my girlfriend, I was in my mid-20s, and very nearly a virgin. I matured, socially and emotionally, late. Part of this maturing process was sexual, and I was hell-bent on having sex and/or a relationship with any decent-looking woman. Preferably a series of decent-looking women. Well, not just any decent-looking women. I was rather picky about appearance. When I met my girlfriend, even though she's moderately pretty, I thought I could do better. But we warmed up to each other, and things took their course. I thought that this would just be a casual relationship. A year and a half later, here we are, perfect couple still.

Except that I still have my original yearnings. I look at people around me; I look at my friends who have had many relationships and flings; I look at all the beautiful young women walking around campus, and I feel like I'm missing out. I have only about two or three years left of my graduate education here, and I realize that it will never be this easy for me to explore again.

Complicating all of this is the fact that I think I have real feelings for my girlfriend, and the thought of hurting her hurts me. I think that perhaps if I had met her later, after having many flings and relationships, that I might want to stay with her permanently.

I have understandably never shared these feelings with her. I have had them for most of the time I have been with her. It makes me feel as though I'm acting, as though I'm not really in a relationship, but only pretending. This thought prevents me from fully enjoying my time with my girlfriend, and it makes me feel guilty when I think about how good she has been to me.

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Something has to give soon. A year and a half is too long to leave this hanging. My girlfriend has recently moved across the country, and there is someone else I have in mind whom I would like to date. There will be many future opportunities for us to be around each other socially. I can tell she likes me, and I think I can win her if I try. I may not be able to help myself when the time comes, because I am so strongly attracted to her.

I have tried to think of how to bring this up with my girlfriend, but I can't even imagine how to broach the subject. Perhaps I shouldn't outright break up with her, but try "taking a break" from our relationship, as I've seen friends do with theirs? It might be possible for me to cheat on my girlfriend, but I don't want to do that. I appreciate her enough that I don't want to go sneaking around behind her back.

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Cary, please help me straighten this out.

Tied in Idiosyncratic Knots

Dear Tied,

Given that we know what you're going to do -- and we'll get to how we know that in a moment -- is there one course of action that is clearly superior to the others? Yes, I think so. The best thing to do is break up with your girlfriend now. It will be painful but it will be honorable. It will be much better than the alternative, which is to kind of just let things happen, like, I guess my zipper must have slipped open or something and the twins just kind of fell over into the bed! (shaking your head like a dazed accident victim sitting between two naked ski champions).

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If you like, you can tell her that you love her and that's why you're breaking up with her, but that's a little much to process, you know? Just tell her that you're not ready to settle down yet. Don't muddy the waters by suggesting that you take a short vacation from the relationship and come back to it later. That could happen, but it's a slim possibility.

Suppose both of you have IQs of 4 million and you see no logical reason why you can't each separate from the other for a predetermined amount of time and agree to come back together at the end of two years? OK. There's no law that says you can't propose that. But you may not realize just how unlikely such an outcome is. I'm not saying it's wrong or impossible; I'm just saying it's statistically unlikely to work out that way -- so many attractive bodies walking around campus, so many potential life partners still to fuck.

So how do I know what you're going to do? Well, I can't prove it. I've just observed that when people start talking the way you do, it's pretty clear what's going to happen. An intention, like a crime, incubates in the warm bed of desire and opportunity. It forms slowly, below awareness. Sometimes we come to know what we are going to do gradually before we do it, as you have; other times we awake, as from a dream, to find we're having intercourse with our secretary. The seduction proceeded organically, almost of its own accord, before we became aware of what we had intended to do for quite some time.

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So often in these cases, because it may be hard to justify, or inconvenient; because it may not fit with our other plans -- which are of course well-laid, justified, reasonable and agreed-upon; and because it may break a commitment, we do not treat the gradual unfolding of our intention as a real plan. We treat it as something we're thinking about that might happen but probably won't, and probably shouldn't -- until it does!

How do we process this knowledge that we're going to do something that we don't wholly approve of and which we know is going to cost us and cause pain to others but which we really want to do? Well, it seems to kind of seep into consciousness, not fully formed but bit by bit -- and that is probably one way we find ourselves just doing it before we're even aware of it, because the idea sometimes hasn't even become clear to us.

And then there is always the agonized explaining-away. Because we cannot make it fit with who we believe ourselves to be or who we want to be or who others believe us to be, we pretend it isn't happening. We don't take responsibility for it.

You, obviously, are a thoughtful person and so you are aware, at some level, of what you're planning to do. You still couch it in terms of the possible, but I think you know what you're saying.

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I think you've done an admirable thing. You want to do this thing, which isn't in itself a bad thing. And so rather than bottle it up, you tell somebody. You're saying, essentially, Hey, I know I'm going to do this thing, and it's not going to be popular with everyone, but it's my life and my decision and it's what I want. And the question is, How do I do it in the most decent, up-front, responsible way?

I wish I'd been that grown-up at your age.

You obviously have the smarts to see the problem; I hope you also have the courage to do the right thing. All it means, really, is paying in advance for what you are going to purchase anyway. Paying in advance gives you, if you will, a significant moral discount.

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