How can I convince my girlfriend that this is as good as it gets?

She's younger, and she's restless, and she wants that spark of the new.

Published July 8, 2008 10:55AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've been in a relationship with my girlfriend for over a year and a half now. I'm 26 and she's about to turn 24. We have similar interests and backgrounds, and we've grown to become best friends. I feel connected to her in a way that I haven't in my previous relationships. Maybe it comes from our similarities, but I feel like we have something genuinely special together. I haven't felt as strongly about that specialness in other relationships, which makes me think this one is different from the others I've had that ended, in one way or another, because of incompatibility issues. We haven't been contemplating marriage at this stage, but we really do love and care for each other. In contrast with some of my friends who argue all the time, our time together has been relatively free of major disagreements.

The problems started happening after the honeymoon phase ended. After about nine months, the newness of the relationship started to wear off. You've heard all the signs before: The mystery isn't there, we know each other so well there aren't a lot of surprises, and so on. Those feelings started to manifest themselves in a lack of sexual interest on her part. She still found me attractive, but she only found herself aroused by the type of excitement that comes with a new relationship. We didn't completely stop having sex, but it was much less frequent, and she had difficulty getting into it as much as before. She began feeling bored in our relationship, and she focused on the excitement that used to be there but now was gone. I expected this to happen eventually, but I felt that since we were such good friends, still loved each other, and lacked any other serious problems, we could make things work. We continued our relationship, in part because we cared so much about each other and enjoyed being together, but also because we thought we could fix things and make them as they once were.

We tried the traditional ways: going on vacation, changing up sex routines, adopting new hobbies together, but they haven't reignited the same feelings as before. I think that's normal over the course of a relationship, but I respect the fact that she wants a change from the routine and familiar. That we've been trying for so long and those honeymoon feelings haven't returned though, makes her feel that things will never improve or change, and that we shouldn't continue seeing each other. She and I both still love each other, and I think that we have the foundations of a happy, long-lasting relationship. But it takes work to have that kind of relationship with someone, and she's not sure she wants to or can do that. She wants to see other people, and feels that's the only way she can grow as a person and recapture excitement in her life. I think it would be terribly sad and wrong to throw away something that has all the right elements for us and could continue to be a great relationship.

Is our problem "right people, wrong timing"? Am I trying too hard to convince her of something that really should be self-evident to her? In the past I haven't had trouble letting go of a relationship that wasn't working, so the fact that I feel so sure about this one and want it to continue makes me feel I should follow my instinct and my heart.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you can offer some advice here.

In It for the Long Haul

Dear Long Haul,

You face an age-old romantic problem.

Indeed, as you suggest, it may be a case of "right people, wrong timing" -- for the moment, anyway. Maybe she needs time to find out for herself that normal, loving relationships do cool over time. She may need time to realize that what she has is the best thing that will ever happen to her.

So I suggest you do the romantic thing: Offer to wait for her.

Our forebears faced these same questions, and, moreover, in times of war, they faced them with the added stress of war's uncertainty: If I commit to this man, will he return from war? If I commit to this woman, will she be true to me while I'm gone? How do we signal our commitment amid such contingencies? Sometimes keepsakes were used -- here, I will break this amulet in half, and you take one and I'll take the other, and if you come back and you bring it with you, that means we will be married. And if you meet someone else, or you are killed, have the other half sent to me, and I will know then that I am free. Or it might be a photo of the two of them, torn in half.

That kind of thing. Sepia tones. Very romantic.

Stake your life on it. Tell her that you are so sure this relationship is the right one for you that you will stand back and wait for her, say, six months or a year. You will not commit yourself to anyone in that time. You will remain, as it were, engaged to her, whether she is engaged to you or not. Now, in this way you might lose her. That's possible. But you might lose her anyway. From the sound of it, you are on the verge of losing her right now. At least this way you preserve an option.

There need be no guarantees either way. You might get lonely and fool around, sure. Even though you tell her that you will wait for her, it is possible that in your loneliness you may fall for someone. You may be ready to get married and find yourself unable to wait. That could happen. We are not infallible. We make promises but things happen. You might soon find yourself in even more confusion, writing to me again saying, "Now what?! Look at the mess I'm in now!"

But by offering to wait, at least you leave the door open. It is a way to acknowledge that people do fall in love at different stages of their lives, and that we can, as thinking humans, find ways to accommodate these differences in timing. After all, there is magic in the world, but sometimes it needs a little help.

And, if I might say so, it's an impressively romantic gesture. It conveys to her the depth of your feeling and your readiness to accept her. And assuming she comes back to you -- and I hope she does -- it will make a nice story when you're both old and gray.

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