First real relationship questions!
I'm nervous about commitment and am confused about how seriously I should take this as a potential life partnership because of my lack of experience and other factors.
I'm 21 and am in my first real relationship. I'm also a queer cis girl dating a straight cis dude. I've been with this guy for almost a year and I love him and my relationship, a lot, but I'm nervous about commitment and am confused about how seriously I should take this as a potential life partnership because of my lack of experience and other factors.
My boyfriend is kind and generous to everyone he meets, not just me or people he's trying to impress. He challenges and pushes me intellectually but reciprocally admires my intellect and we respect each other. He's self-reflective about his privilege and thoughtful about queerness, feminism, heteronormativity and patriarchy and how those all apply to our relationship, and also in general his politics are very left like mine, which is important to me. He's incredibly open and communicative about his feelings, and makes such a safe space for me to vulnerable. He's also super good in bed for the same reasons - he communicates a ton and therefore pushes me to be a better communicator and advocate for my own pleasure, and he makes me feel super hot even though I hate my body while also acknowledging that hotness does not equal self-worth.
We've had disagreements and grumpy evenings and all that too, but I feel like we've figured out how to kindly, productively, respectfully argue and resolve disagreements and mismatches in needs. He's incredibly goofy and makes me laugh and my friends love him - they think he's really good for me, and they also genuinely want to hang out with him because they think he's a cool person. I seriously keep expecting for/looking for something to be wrong, but the only things that aren't perfect are super minor or day-to-day things that we work through together if needed.
But I'm actually really afraid of what all this might mean. If I was older or if I had had other experiences, I would be thrilled, but in the back of my mind I'm a little bit worried because I can't bring myself to believe that my first relationship could be this perfect. I know I'm young and I've never dated anybody before - am I deluding myself?? I know it's too early to think this could be someone I might spend the rest of my life, but it really feels like that. We've moved past the early stage of our relationship where we were totally googly-eyed and that "crush" feeling has faded, and now I just feel super comfortable and content with him. How do I know if I'm being naive?
In addition, now that my securities about being unlovable and unfuckable and having missed the boat on "learning how to date", I wish I'd had more experiences besides him. I sort of feel like I'll be missing out if I end up only having one relationship in my whole life...and that's compounded by the fact that I'm queer. I used to be terrified of crushing on girls (or anyone, really), but now that I have this newfound confidence in my ability to date I wish I had the opportunity to date (and sleep with!!!) girls. (This sounds dumb, but I just really want to try eating out a girl at some point in my life, especially now that I think I've acquired the communication skills to be good at it! And then there are all the insecurities about whether my sexuality is valid if I've only ever dated a cis dude, but I know that's probably a whole separate thing to unpack, although of course it's related.)
I've thought about it a lot, and I'm really not interested in an open relationship (at least right now). I really don't want to leave him, but I'm worried I'll be resentful if I "miss out" on having more experiences with different people while I'm still young, and I'm also worried I'm romanticizing our relationship because it's my first and I've never really had people like me back before without being complicated selfish jerks. How do I work through these fears and doubts so that they're not in the back of my mind as we get more serious?
There is a very simple answer to your conundrum (with a bunch of hard work behind it). I just want to warn you that while the answer is straightforward, putting it into practice will be…difficult as shit. Here it is:
Stay as long as it’s good.
That’s it. That is the fuckin’ beginning and end of being in healthy, fulfilling, longterm relationships. (If that is your goal!!!!)
Now when you first hear this rule, you might think of the first, most obvious meaning which is, “If it gets bad, leave.” But I implore you to think of the other side of that coin which is, “Don’t leave if it’s good.” Both of those things are often nearly impossible to do, so please don’t misunderstand the simplicity of this rule as ease of implementation. I implore you to let the relationship be as good as it can be, and stay while it is good.
None of the above will solve, or even frankly address, the issue of you feeling like you’re missing out on experience. As a pretty late dater myself and someone who grew up nerdy and overweight in a school where neither was very cool, I ONE HUNDRED PERCENT get the anxiety / longing that comes with the feeling of having missed out. It’s not just you and me, either. LOADS of people feel this way. Tons of us who were late bloomers or had strict parents or couldn’t afford to not have jobs or who had health issues etc etc feel like we missed out on key parts of youth. A plurality, perhaps the majority of people, feel like they didn’t get the true young-person experience that they expected and they’re somewhat upset about it. A lot of times, this feeling leads to people corrupting their adult lives later on in order to feel young again. They either miss the small doses of youthful excitement that they got, or they want to try it out for the first time. So they blow shit up in their adult life, hoping it will satisfying their craving.
And sometimes, it probably does. Sometimes, it probably feels really great to cheat on your partner, buy a jacuzzi, or get a full back tattoo of the movie poster for Ratatouille. I’m not going to lie to you and pretend like being irresponsible or indulging in every whim you haven isn’t balls-to-the-wall fun. It is. But life is not just about fun or excitement. And usually, those feelings don’t last or connect you to other people very well.
I personally think there is something inherently valuable about living a life you want to have lived. A life that when you look back on it, will make you feel like you did your best. That you treated people well. That you were loved. That you loved people.
No matter what you do, though, you will miss out on something. This is inevitable. You will miss out. Life is about 80 years if you’re lucky, which is fucking bullshit because there are so many books to read and hot people to kiss. It’s ridiculous. And it means that you will miss out on things.
One of those things you might miss out on (I don’t know!!!!) is being with a woman romantically or sexually. That sucks because obviously being with anyone romantically and sexually is fun and great and of course women are fun and great. HOWEVER, as I’m sure you know!!!, that does NOT make you any less queer. Eating a pussy out vs simply fantasizing about it is not going to make you more queer. You’re queer. You’re probably great at eating pussy because you’re a good communicator! There are tons of people who have gone down on women A LOT and suck at it. My point is, I’m sure you’re great. I’m also sure it has no bearing on your queerness. That doesn’t make it not a hot and sexy fantasy that you should enjoy, but I don’t think you need to blow this relationship up just so you can prove to yourself that you’d be willing to go to eat a woman out. You already know you are.
This brings me to the first part of what you should do with all of your feelings of longing and missing out and indecision: relax into self-trust. Trust that you’ll know if your relationship is bad which is vastly different than stuck in a rut, which is also vastly different from I’m feeling like I didn’t get to live my youth and now I want to place the blame for my feelings of discontent at the feet of my relationship rather than figuring out what I really need. Trust that you won’t cheat. Trust that you’ll have crushes on people and keep them appropriate. Trust that you’ll leave if the relationship is bad. Trust that you’ll stay until then. Trust that should you mess all of this up, you’ll pick yourself up and keep going. Just let yourself trust in yourself a bit. One of your biggest questions right now is, “What if I’m making a bad choice?” Well, maybe you are! But Current You, who has the most information possible, doesn’t think it’s a bad choice. She’s having fun! She loves this guy! Trust her! Please stop trying to guess what 5-years-down-the-road-you is going to think or feel.
Here’s the second thing that I think you need to do with your feelings of missing out: FEEL THEM. Feel it! Feel sad. Feel lonely. Feel upset that you haven’t dated a woman. Have a mild crush on someone. Fantasize all you want. Have your heart actually hurt because you will never get the chance to marry Tessa Thompson or Bruce Springsteen or whoever your celeb of choice is. Grieve that you only get to live one life and sometimes that life will be boring or slow or limited. That’s all fine!!!! But address those feelings with yourself. Go over them with yourself. Ask yourself questions. Be curious about your sadness, your longing, your pain. Get to know it, because she is going to KEEP. COMING. BACK. It might not ever end. You might—like me— be a person who is built out of longing and want. It’s a painful existence and not one that I might recommend—it’s probably very nice to feel content a lot of the time!—but you might not become that person. Maybe there are ways you personally find to cultivate contentedness. Maybe you age out of it. I don’t know. In the meantime, I do know you’ll need to figure out how to deal with unmet desire. So feel your fucking feelings.
The last thing I think you need to do? Talk to your boyfriend. Please PLEASE do not go to your boyfriend and say, “Hey, I can’t stop thinking about fucking other people. Thoughts on if we should be together forever?!?!?” What you say could look something like this, “Hey, I’ve been struggling recently with feeling a bit panicked about commitment, and I think part of it is that I don’t have much experience. I really do feel great about you and I, and I don’t want you to feel like this is reflection of us, and I hope you haven’t felt that way. I’m more giving you a heads up of why I might move a little slower.” (The conversation should be longer than this, but this is a starting point. You get it).
None of this is to say that you should or must stay with your boyfriend. I cannot tell you that that is the best path for you. Only that most peoples major gripe with life is that you cannot run tests and see which outcome works the best, there is no control group. You can’t try life with your boyfriend and then go back and be 21 again.
I suspect (could be wrong; I’m wrong a lot) that you aren’t going to find someone markedly better than this guy as of right now. That he is about at your cap for what a good partner is. I’m sure you can find different right now— other people who will also be at the tippy top of being a good partner. But where does that get you other than right back where you are now? With a different, but still singular partner who is really good to you?
Now, there’s a chance you read that and think, ohh the problem is actually that I don’t want just one partner over the course of my life. And that’s fair. But why not enjoy what you and this guy have for now and see how life shifts and changes. See where you two grow together and grow apart. Don’t commit to 45 years with this guy. Just say, “We’re here right now. We’re having a great time. We’ll keep doing this as long as we’re having a great time.”
There’s also a chance you read this and think, “I just want to be able to date anyone with no attachment at all. I want to be single and trying everything and experiencing everything.” That’s fine, too. I will warn you— although I’m sure you know this at some level— that most of being single for most people isn’t an abundance of dating/ sex / parters but rather a lack of dating / sex / partners. It’s often lonely and isolating. But it is also often exciting and hopeful in a way that being in a relationship sometimes lacks.
One other small note: when you start dating someone, when you start liking and loving someone, pretty quickly they become this entity that is larger than the sum of their parts. You don’t think of your mom and think of “woman, brown hair, really curly, has an MBA and can bake amazing pies.” You think of how it feels to be around your mom. Same with your friends. And dating partners. Dating someone new with different “facts” about them—be it gender, hair color, sexual orientation, hobbies, name, hotness level—will not bring with it endless excitement. Because once you love a person, they become that to you. A form of love that you have with them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t different relationships, just that shiny new people don’t stay shiny and new for very long, they become something much better: beloved.
What you can do—pretty much the only thing you can do—is live how you want to live as often as possible. Pick some of the hard things, pick some of the fun things, but always pick the good things. Life is very short, yes, but it’s also the longest thing you’ll ever do. You have time to grow. To change your mind. To have a 25 year long relationship with this guy and then start over and eat a woman out. To quit your job and dye your hair a terrible color that isn’t flattering at all. To stay with this guy forever. To stay with this guy 4 years. To get a back tattoo of the movie poster for Ratatouille.
You have time. Trust yourself. Miss things, be sad about them, grieve them, and then, when it’s time, get up and keep going. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to stay with people too long or too short. It’s ok. You’re allowed!!!! You’ve got full permission to make a real mess of things as long as you’re kind and good to people and to yourself.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.