SWEETIE GEM EXTRAORDINAIRE:
Hi, I’m only 21 years old, so basically still a kid, but boy is my head spinning over my potential romantic future and I need a nudge in the right direction!!
So right now I’m with my boyfriend of about 8 months and he’s wonderful, really. He is absolutely head over heels for me and he is so caring and genuine and shares all my political views (even though he’s like waaaaaay way obsessed with politics and it gets.... wearying) and he’s pretty cute and totally selfless to a genuine fault. He’s also my first relationship, ever. Right now he’s in a REALLY rough spot in life and we’re planning on moving to another town together soon, which is both exciting and terrifying. Not because of normal life stuff, really (we both already have good work lined up there), but because of the... commitment, I guess?
I had been freaking out before about whether or not I would end up spending my life with the guy even though that’s totally ridiculous at this point in my life, but I thought que sera sera and moved on; but now it’s back to the forefront of my mind because WE ARE GOING TO MOVE IN TOGETHER!! Maybe this doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, especially because we get along so well and have a lot of fun together, but there’s another problem. I just don’t have a crush on him??
I love him to death, he’s one of my best friends, I care about him deeply and we have pretty good sex. I just don’t feel that feeling I get for, like, a hot anime character. We have pretty open communication and I bit the bullet and told him how I feel and he’s understanding and encourages me to meet other people, but I also don’t really want to (I don’t want to hurt him and I’m scared of people) and I don’t think I am able to (this is the only relationship I’ve ever snagged in my 21 years of life).
I don’t want to leave him, because he’s an amazing partner and he deserves the world; I don’t want to date around because I couldn’t bear to hurt him (he’s been through a LOT and he just got out of a relationship with an abusive ex); but I am terrified of locking my life down now to be in a lukewarm marriage for the rest of my life?? I really want to know what it feels like to not just love but be IN love. And his mom is my boss. (It’s a good job and she’s a lovely woman, fyi).
I’ve read your letter a couple times now to try to get the idea of which side of the fence of loving your boyfriend I think you’re actually on, and of course I have no idea. If I knew, I’d have had an easier time a couple years ago when I was going through something similar. The good news (questionable) is I have a lot to say on the topic because I’m an opinionated mess of a lady who has felt a lot of the same feelings you describe (namely: terror at the thought of committing to someone, even if they’re great).
First things first: YOU CANNOT STAY WITH SOMEONE BECAUSE IT IS UNKIND TO LEAVE THEM.
The myth of mutually agreed upon, painless breakups where both people just sort of “grow apart” persists on TV/film, but I have yet to see one happen in the wild because breakups hurt like a motherfucker, even if you’re the one initiating. They hurt, they suck, even if you’re the one asking to end things, the pain of hurting someone else is heavy. Just as in the rest of life, you do not come out unscathed. This is true even if you don’t break up with someone, unfortunately— if you stay together forever and ever one of you dies and it’s awful, too. (Spoiler!) The simple fact of loving someone a lot means a painful end is on its way and you can’t stop or mitigate that. This fact is, in my humble opinion, very bullshit.
My point is this: there is no person alive whom you could date and love who would be happy that their good, loving, healthy relationship was ending. So yes, this guy might need a lot of support, and yes, he may have had a lot of hard times in his life, but that does not mean that you owe it to him to stay with him forever. Or until he’s doing better. Dating you is not a reward to be doled out to those deserving of happiness.
Leaving a relationship because it does not work for you is not cruel, it’s not a crime, it’s not a punishment. It’s an incompatibly that hurts. Anyone who makes you feel like ending a relationship with them is cruel is themselves a selfish dipshit. Part of getting into relationships is the agreement that you might get hurt, that you might be left. It is unavoidable. People have broken up with Lupita Nyong'o (probably) and she’s practically perfect. This is not to say that you leaving this guy would not hurt him. But you do not owe him dating. You are not ruining his life by not moving in with him.
You’re a perfect sweetie angel and if you need to leave and if it is the right thing to do for your life, you will. You might not leave right away because leaving someone seems much much much much scarier than staying, but then one day the scales will tip in the other direction and staying with someone who is not meant to be in your life, who should not have all of your energy, whom you don’t love love love love will become far more frightening than the simple task of leaving.
I don’t know that you need to leave (at least not yet) because what I think is happening from your letter is that you’ve reached a point in your relationship where the chemicals/hormones in your body have decreased and what was once exciting and horny is now just… nice. Our bodies make sex/lust chemicals for the first approximately two years that we know someone (sometimes less, sometimes more!!) and then after that, dopamine is replaced with things like oxytocin and vasopressin. Anyway, the feelings kind of don’t compare, which frequently leads people to have a knee jerk reaction which is, “FUCK I FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH THIS WONDERFUL PERSON FUCK FUCK WHAT !!!!”
But they didn’t. You say you don’t have a crush on him— OF COURSE YOU DON’T!! Half of having a crush on someone is wondering if they like you back; you KNOW he likes you back!!! Imagine putting on a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer and expecting it to feel like going on a roller coaster. Those are two VASTLY different things and if you expect a roller coaster every time you put a blanket on and get all cozy, you’re going to be disappointed. If you went on a roller coaster and it just felt like sitting on your couch all cozy, you’d probably ask for a refund! (I mean, I wouldn’t—I hate roller coasters, and frankly I’m questioning why I used them for my corny ass metaphor—but imagine if you loved the adrenaline rush of a roller coaster. YOU GET IT).
Bad news bears: Love is pretty fucking boring.
Long term love is delightful and fun and silly and sweet, but a lot of the time, it’s boring as shiiiiiiiiiit to do the day-in-day-out crap of life with someone. In fact, that’s kind of the point because often the excitement of early love (WHICH IS MY FAVORITE THING ON EARTH, I’M NOT TRYING TO SAY OTHERWISE) is really about anxiety. The anxiety of if someone likes you, if someone’s going to make out with you, if someone wants to move in with you, etc. The excitement comes from not knowing what’s going to happen, and now… you know. You know that your boyfriend is going to be there. You know that he’s going to support your goals. You know that he has similar political opinions. You know that you two have good sex. You pretty much know what’s going on, so it feels less stomach-droppingly thrilling.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t change. Sometimes the scariest thought isn’t that a person or relationship will change, but that it won’t. That this is all there is… forever. I promise you, that is not the case. I also promise you that you’ll probably feel bored on and off for all of the years that you’re dating this person. And the next person. If the other options of who you could date are simply different and not markedly better, then that should give you a lot of insight.
That said, maybe you don’t want to be in a longterm committed relationship right now; maybe you realize that this level of stability feels stale to you and you want the single-life excitement. You are rather young (I think being in a committed relationship under 30 years old is very young) and it can feel chafing and suffocating to date one person. It can also feel rewarding and lovely and dream-like. It most likely will feel like both on and off, on and off, on and off for all the years that you two are together. I’m sorry. That’s just what love is. It’s a dumb cliche, but being in love with someone is really falling in love with them again and again. It’s often less exciting than the first time, but there’s a reason we’re not all setting off fireworks all year long in our living rooms. You can’t have that much excitement in daily life all the time forever and ever.
So, here’s the thing: he is not permanent. No one is asking you to commit to this person for life!!! Moving in with someone at age 21 is not a pre-commitment to end up engaged and married. But you also do not need to stay with someone simply because they are a good partner. Your relationship will change and will end somehow. Maybe it’s 79 years from now when you both die together in your sleep on the same night and maybe it’s 7 weeks from now when you realize that living together and being together isn’t right for you. Neither option is better than the other. And of course, those aren’t the only options by a long shot!!! There are infinite options. There is no Right Choice, but there is also no Wrong Choice (obviously excluding being abusive/harmful/mean).
You’ll know in your gut if this is a bad person for you. You’ll know if you simply cannot get rid of the idea of running away from commitment. But I encourage you to sit in your discomfort for a bit, to sit in your boredom, to give yourself time to fall back in love just so you know that it can happen. Because if you do stay with him, this will happen on and off for years. Love is not a constant state of certainty or joy or excitement.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as 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 email@example.com.