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Torn Between Two Lovers, And Scared Of What I'll Do

Question:

So I’ve been with my girlfriend for almost four years now, and not once have I seriously considered another person, until a month ago. My first day of university this guy comes up to me and just randomly introduces himself with, "Hello, my name is _____ and I just officially got $&#! by the university. How’s your day?" Considering I was in the same situation and I had nothing to do, we started talking. Now it’s a month later, and I’m head over heels for the guy. I mean, he’s rude, completely not serious whatsoever, and painfully honest. Quite the opposite of my girlfriend who is quiet, moderately serious, and very polite. Unfortunately, this guy is also a "love ‘em and leave ‘em, the only place in my heart is for my friends" kind of guy. He has a lot of casual off and on things with girls he knows and very short lived relationships.

Now, I know he has an interest in me because he’s been quite open about it. And now I’m scared of what I’ll do. I keep telling myself it’s crazy to even consider breaking up with someone I love and have loved for over three years for someone who I wouldn’t have a long standing chance with. I know I wouldn’t be any different from the others. Except, perhaps, that we’re good friends and that’s where I stand apart from most of his casuals. This is where it gets really painful.

Even if I did decide I was to go for him, I could not bring myself to break up with my girlfriend. I mean, that’s cheating. The concept is horribly, horribly wrong to me; but I’m so sensitive to her feelings that I’m scared I’d be willing to ignore the future consequences to bypass the immediate ones. I’m wondering if I’m getting bored. Is that normal? This guy lacks so much charm that it’s charming. We have the same twisted sense of humour and we talk for hours. I don’t hug him because I’m worried that I wouldn’t be able to restrain myself from kissing him. That just sets the wheels in motion. I suppose the bottom line is I’m wondering A) what I should do? Is this a sign that I should break up with her at the risk of the emotional turmoil because it is no longer working out (hence the attraction to someone else), B) why I would give up something secure for a real jerk and C) do I still love her? I mean, it’s not like my affection for her is any different now as it was, say six months ago. It took a lot of work to get where we are. Please help,

Torn

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Answer:

Your situation is a pretty common one, Torn. You’ve got two people in your life. On the one hand, you have a solid stable and predictable partner for whom you feel great affection but not a lot of passion or excitement. On the other hand, you have a quirky, devil-may-care, spontaneous and exciting man who promises passion but not anything solid or lasting. You want both spontaneity and solidity out of an ideal partner, but you are finding that you have to choose, and that making the choice is surprisingly difficult. Adding to the complication is that you are away from your girlfriend in a new environment and it is now far easier for you to be around your boyfriend than your girlfriend.

In a marriage, this is the sort of stuff affairs are made of. Often it would be the stable spouse who is passed over for the exciting affair partner met through work or some other public sphere interaction. The situation is particularly tragic when it happens in the context of a marriage as children are often involved, and they suffer as a consequence of divorce, or the emotional estrangement that typically occurs if the partners – who now can no longer trust one another – do not end up divorcing.

In a college environment the consequences of "cheating" are different than they are in most marriages. Most college students are quite young and quite unmarried. My impression (based on nothing more than out-of-date college memories from the 1980s) is that most college students view college as a time for relationship experimentation and do not enter into long term relationships right away. In my own case, I entered college in a committed relationship and then was dropped by my partner who went off with someone else. I was broken up about it for quite a while, but in hindsight, that sort of thing is what happens.

Just because many college students handle this sort of situation by breaking up with (or cheating on) long term partners doesn’t mean that you need to do that too. I think the fact that you’ve not done so in the face of a clear desire to do so is commendable and shows that you are an honorable person with some self-restraint. The question does remain, however, whether you would be hanging in there with your girlfriend because you choose her, or because you want to do the right thing by her, which happens to be (you think) to remain loyal to her even if you very much want to stray. If the primary reason you are staying is out of loyalty, or out of fear that you will lose the comforts associated with your girlfriend then I think you need to think seriously about whether you want your life to be more about the avoidance of fear, or the pursuit of happiness.

If there ever was a good time to break up with someone, it is during the college years, when you are not married, not financially entangled, not living together and not sharing responsibility for children’s upbringing. If you go off with this guy, it will probably be pleasurable, but it will also be fleeting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the best things in life, such as the taste of a summer tomato with sea salt, are fleeting. They don’t last long but they are of high quality while they last.

I cannot tell you what to do or how to go about making this choice, but I will recommend something not to do. Please don’t cheat. If you pursue this boy, do it with self-respect, and respect for the feelings of your girlfriend who is an innocent bystander and who does not deserve to be run over or lied to. I think it is important that if you decide to start pursuing a relationship with this boy, that you break it off with your girlfriend beforehand, or at least tell her of your plans before you act on them and give her the opportunity to walk away from you. The easy thing to do is to have a fling with this boy and then not tell your girlfriend. And you might get away with it if you did that, but you’d know what you did, and based on the guilt you feel now even just contemplating an affair, I think it is safe to say that you’d feel guilty.

Why are you attracted to this man? Really, it’s not rocket science to know why. It’s because he is confident and brash and sexual and expressive. He is more fun to be around than your girlfriend. If you were to party with someone and you had to choose this boy or your girlfriend, the choice is obvious. The reason to stay with your girlfriend (or ultimately with whomever you may enter into a mature and truly long-term relationship with) is because parties don’t last very long and when they are over, we (most of us) want someone to go home to who we can trust. And this guy isn’t making any promises to anyone, it would seem.

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