I'm in love with two men

How do I choose between them? Do I have to choose at all?


Cary Tennis
November 29, 2006 4:00PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am facing a problem I never thought I would have -- I am in love with two men at once! I am a 31-year-old woman, never married. I'd never been in a really serious relationship, mainly because I was so busy with school and work. But last year I met two guys through an Internet dating site, and now I find it impossible to choose.

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One, let's call him Robert, is incredibly attractive to me. He's a scientist, probably one of the smartest people I know, plus a guitar player in a fairly popular local rock band, plus a competitive runner. I love the admiration I have for him. He's good-looking, easygoing, and says he loves me. But, and here's the but, he doesn't much like talking about his emotions. Or mine. He's passionate about many things in his life, of which I'm one, but I don't know if I'm the most important thing. If I hadn't also met Joe, I'd probably be marrying Robert.

So let's talk about Joe: Engineer in a large electronics company, smart (but not quite as smart as Robert), good-looking (but not quite as good-looking as Robert), volunteers with sick kids, he's kind, warm, loving. He makes me feel like I'm the most amazing and beautiful woman to walk the earth. I feel like I can count on him always. But sometimes I feel like he doesn't have a life except for me. He spends his Saturday nights at home, watching DVDs or reading books. If I hadn't met Robert, I'd probably marry him.

I met these guys at almost exactly the same time, and they know about each other. It's come to the point where I really have to choose, and I find myself paralyzed! When I'm with Robert, I miss the amazing warm feeling I get from Joe, the feeling that someone cares for me and will always be there for me. When I'm with Joe, I notice all the little imperfections, the ways in which he doesn't stack up to Robert. Whichever I'm with, I can't help thinking about the other!

I've tried spending a week by myself in the country, meditating on what I really want. And yet, I still couldn't decide, and moreover, I missed both of them horribly! I feel like I'm balanced on a knife edge, and I feel so guilty for torturing two wonderful people.

Torn

Dear Torn,

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Instinctively we want to choose one or the other. We choose light or dark, we choose life or death. But choice can mean many things. We can choose, for instance, simply for today, to continue a course of action. We will see what happens.

Choice implies the definite. It implies the forever. But shrink the time frame. Choice becomes easier: It might be just a choice for today. Today you are seeing Robert. Or today you are seeing Joe. Or today you are seeing Robert and then Joe, or Joe and then Robert.

Does Robert insist that you not see Joe today? Does Joe insist that you not see Robert today?

What is this torture you refer to? Is it the torture of not knowing? If so, who does not live with the torture of not knowing? We do not know the deepest secrets of even the closest lover, the one who sleeps next to us: What is she dreaming? Is she dreaming of laundry in the fettuccine? Why is she dreaming of laundry in the fettuccine? Does the laundry represent our relationship? Is she dreaming of me? Am I the laundry in her fettuccine?

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So before we proceed on the assumption you have to choose one or the other, let's ask: Why do you have to choose? Do you have to choose now, or can you wait until it becomes clearer? Can you choose, just for today, to continue as you are?

In the meantime, let's pretend that you don't have to choose. Let's pretend that you have the self-assuredness to tell each of these men that you are an unusual type of person, with an unusual abundance of interest in other people (highly extroverted?), that you in fact need both of them and plan to continue seeing both of them.

Such an idea appeals to the utopian in me, the one who believes that social arrangements can, in the end, be warped to suit our nature. But it fails to find favor with the experienced realist in me, who knows how our nature changes, how when we get what we want, then we want something else. Sometimes we choose simply to simplify. It is too hard to keep things straight, so we clean house.

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But let's clear away some preconceptions and prejudices. This isn't about sex. It's about what your spirit needs. Your spirit is large and expansive. Maybe you have enough spirit for both men.

See what happens. If one man refuses to see you, then he has chosen for you. Perhaps the one who chooses not to see you is the one who lacks patience. If you are thinking long-term, maybe you want the man who has the patience to outwait his rival.

I can see this is no help to you. I am telling you to do exactly the thing that is causing you so much difficulty. I am telling you to stay in the soup till it gets hotter.

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OK, so if you were required to decide, how would you decide? I think you would decide by making a hierarchy of your needs, and figuring out who supplies which needs, which are expendable, which are essential, which are short-term, which are long-term.

Let's make a guess. Let's say that you are an extroverted feeling type, that Robert is an extroverted thinking type and Joe is an introverted feeling type. You relate to Robert as an extrovert but not as a thinking type. You relate to Joe as feeling type but not as an introvert. So which is the stronger pull?

I don't know for sure if you are a feeling type or a thinking type, but I am guessing that Robert's lack of expressiveness and Joe's depth of feeling stand out for you because you are at least mildly on the feeling side of the thinking/feeling spectrum. You are probably extroverted, as well -- I doubt that an introvert would find herself in such a situation. So if you were with Joe, the introvert, you would need to be out in the world having fun and he would have to accept that; you would have to leave him home sometimes. He would be your constant partner, but not your constant partner in world-conquering. He would be your soul mate of home and hearth, your anchor, your earthbound companion. The tension here would be between your desire to fly and his desire to stay rooted.

On the other hand, with Robert, you say you love your admiration for him. Admiration is Apollonian, full of wonder and uplift. It excites hunger; it does not satisfy the deep need; it does not satisfy the need to be admired; it is a bit of a one-way street. The problem would be your need to be No. 1 in his eyes, your need for deeply felt emotional expression. You are attracted to -- maybe a bit dazzled by -- his extroverted, innovative, world-beating personality. But you might feel left out emotionally as he plays his music and deciphers the mysteries of the universe. Being an intelligent, ambitious person yourself (being a feeling type does not mean you lack intelligence), you might also begin to feel competitive with him, as he is the shining star. You might find yourself always in the one-down position, pursuing him, asking him for things, wanting wanting wanting.

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Which of these weighs heavier in the quest for a long-term mate? My feeling is that the soul mate of hearth and home is what you are really looking for now. But it will have its drawbacks -- chiefly that you will become bored if you sit around with him at home too much. You will have to go out without him. He will have to understand your need for extroverted excitement -- that you go out in the world and mingle with people and shine your light on them, and then you bring that tingle back into the relationship.

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