I am a 23-year-old queer girl who has spent the last yearish in a polyamorous relationship that recently turned long-distance. When we first started sleeping together both she and I were involved with other people, it was pretty casual, we were good friends who cared about each other and were attracted to each other, so we figured why not, right? Anyway, time went on and while we were still both seeing other people (she had a few regular sweeties in other cities, I was seeing one guy who turned out to be seriously allergic to his feelings, as you would say, and having some random one-night stands in the mix), things grew more serious between us. In the build-up to her moving halfway across the country to a city where she doesn’t really know anyone, we started calling it LOVE and getting all misty-eyed and hand-clutchy. Shortly thereafter, I ended things with Guy and went through a Big Lonely Sad Month during which we Facebook chatted and Skyped several times a week. I started to feel like it was important to my mental health to cut this out a bit because, while I still care about her a great deal, I felt that I needed to ground myself in the city I live in and start moving on. Which I did. Boy, did I. I went right out and fell in love with somebody else.
It’s still new, like irresponsibly so. We are so ahead of ourselves and carried away, and normally I would be dead set against it, but this person is everything I have been waiting for in a partner. When I broke up with the other guy, it was a bit of a revelation as far as recognizing that I really do want a serious relationship, someone to share a life with. I think this might be it. And he does too. Full disclosure: he is a full ten years older than me and recently separated from a pretty short-lived marriage. His age isn’t an issue to me, but I do worry sometimes about the implications of his getting so mixed up with me so recently after his marriage fell apart. We’ve talked about this, though, as we talk about everything, at length and with complete honesty, our bullshit sensors working, and I really do trust him when he says this isn’t a rebound, he wasn’t expecting it, yes the timing is odd but he really wants to be with me. And I really want to be with him. It’s amazing. We already have many mutual friends all of whom approve and applaud our relationship. This is the first time that I’ve ever felt comfortable with the idea of settling into a monogamous partnership with someone.
So I’m over the moon, obviously, and wanting to spend all of my time with this wonderful new guy. It’s perfect, except for the fact that I have this dear old friend who happens to be in love with me languishing in a far-away city. I mean, I was in love with her too, right? I felt things, it felt real. It felt real the same way this does, but the fact was that we both knew we could never make monogamy work. We’re really incompatible in many ways, besides the fact that she now lives thousands of miles away. This guy, it could happen. And we both want to try. So I have to break her heart, right? I mean, am I deluding myself that this brand-new potential relationship is worth it? Am I just looking for something to throw myself into so my days aren’t empty? Am I a terrible person for even considering throwing her under the bus like this? To complicate matters, she is going to be visiting my city in less than a month and we are going on a short tour together. Breaking up now could result in some pretty awkward long bus rides, and what if I change my mind when I finally see her in the flesh? My guy isn’t giving me any ultimatums (yet) but whenever we’ve discussed having an open relationship, it just doesn’t feel right for either of us.
WHAT DO I DOOOOO????
Selling Out/Settling Down
At first glance, your situation seems pretty clear cut. You were never that into the long-distance girl. From the start, it was a what-the-hell kind of a thing: “It was pretty casual…. we figured why not, right?” Things only got more serious as her move to another city approached. Then you both got lonely, started talking about love, and started to collaborate on a story about how you were lonely mostly because you couldn’t be with each other. This is why long-distance relationships so often become an enormous waste of emotional energy: It’s easy to make them bigger and more special than they really are when you’re alone and looking for solace, and it’s also easier to ignore them when you’re hunting for fresh… flesh? (Why do I want to use the word “Pootytang” here so very badly? Is this a self-destructive impulse?)
But enough about long-distance lover girls. Let’s throw that bathwater out with the queer, polyamorous baby, because it sounds like you’re fully in love with this new guy, straight, monogamous style. Welcome to dullsville, population: lots of ‘em.
Just kidding, I really do like it here. It’s comfy and quaint. Anyway: Your guy is recently separated. He’s ten years older. At your age, that might be a concern. But you already have mutual friends (huh?) and they think that you two make a great pair. You talk about everything, you’re honest with each other, you’re comfortable, and you’ve always wanted a relationship like this. Committing doesn’t even seem scary with him. So, you’re in love and you’re happy and you’re excited about the future. Why am I even talking to you about this again?
Oh yeah. Here’s what bothers me. Just when I’m starting to drift on in my mind to the letter writer with the five cats that she worries will someday eat her face off when she dies alone, you ask, “Am I just looking for something to throw myself into so my days aren’t empty?” Now, granted, this is a question we might all do well to ask ourselves a few times a day, in order to prevent excessive masturbation, excessive ego-driven reloading of the “Connect” page on Twitter, excessive speculating about who will slowly and quietly and awkwardly murder whom on the “Breaking Bad” finale.
But in your current Over The Moon circumstances, this question — “Am I just looking for a distraction?” — is either disingenuous, i.e. you’re merely trying to anticipate potential criticism (from me or from the wider, razor-sharp Awl audience), or you TRULY can’t tell the difference between falling madly in love and filling up your time. In either case, I’m starting to worry about you.
Next, we have this: “Am I a terrible person for even considering throwing her under the bus like this?” Again, this sounds like you’re either anticipating criticism and addressing it proactively, or you TRULY believing that breaking up with someone who you’ve never been that into, who you’ve only been seeing exclusively for a brief, brief time, who lives across the country from you, is an evil fucking thing to do. You also refer to “selling out” — is this somehow related to queer/ polyamorous labels vs. straight/ dullsville labels? Do you feel guilty for leaving a woman for a man because you’ve identified as queer for a long time? Do people say “queer” and then mention sleeping with two different men these days? Am I the unfrozen caveman advice columnist from a land that time forgot? Do you imagine me sitting here in giant shoulder pads, pursing my coral lips over your newfangled situation while puffing on a Virginia Slim menthol cigarette that threatens to set alight my Final Net-lacquered bangs? Do I spend most of my day typing “Where’s the beef?” and then erasing it, over and over and over again?
These mysteries we leave to the universe. Other mysteries, like the mystery of why you already have mutual friends with this new guy, but you haven’t so much as called long-distance lady to warn her of the shifting tides, we tackle right now. So what gives? I mean, how many weeks are you going to let this woman look forward to your “tour” without letting her know it’s dunzo?
I had a long-distance boyfriend once — strangely enough, he was ALSO a friend of mine before that. Mutual attraction led to “Why not?” led to “I miss you, does that mean we’re star-crossed?” in a similar fashion. But I always suspected we were collaborating on an overly embellished bit of fantasy, and the second I started feeling attracted to someone else, I called to break up with my sort-of boyfriend. (He thought I should’ve purchased a round-trip plane ticket and showed up at his doorstep and THEN broken up with him, by the way, and he hasn’t spoken to me since, even though we only dated casually for a few months, and we were friends for years before that. So there’s your WHY NOT, people!) My point is, these “Why not?” things rarely end well no matter what you do, but my personal feeling is that if you know conditions have shifted dramatically, YOU SAY THAT ASAFP. (That’s As Soon As Fucking Possible, see? Do you kids use that abbreviation? Do these Hammer pants make my ass look fat?)
So you have loads of guilt over things that aren’t really your responsibility (being in a not-very-serious long-distance relationship and then falling in love with someone in your town) and you don’t have much guilt over something that’s nuts (allowing a wide circle of humans to cheer on your new love match while your long-distance lady remains none the wiser and texts, emails, colors, waxes, etc. in anticipation of her upcoming visit).
This state of affairs leads me to believe that you struggle with guilt and people-pleasing to such an extent that you apologize for things that aren’t your fault while simultaneously committing other crimes that you don’t even recognize. Do you have trouble trusting your own instincts? Do you feel terrible whenever you don’t have a partner? Because suddenly this hopping from stone to stone thing you’re doing — and that your new guy is doing, too — is starting to seem a little more suspect, given your wobbly notions of yourself, your rights, your culpability, etc.
Oh boy. And now I’m starting to think that maybe you wanted to wait and see if it worked out with the new guy BEFORE you burned any bridges with your lady! And didn’t you also ask “What if I change my mind when I finally see her in the flesh?” Are you over the goddamn moon or aren’t you, motherfucker?
Now the room is spinning, and not just because I bought the Virginia Slims 100s instead of my regular Ultra Lights! Is “polyamorous” sometimes just another way of saying Really Fucking Indecisive, or am I just a crusty old slice of aging Solid Gold dancer? Either way, I’m going to have to back it on up and say that you really sound uncertain about what you want from life, and also a little bit overly focused on other people’s opinions of you.
So now I’ve got to warn you that this is a pretty dangerous time for you to be committing to a guy who’s ten years older, who will naturally want to guide you, be the mature one, reassure you, etc. I’m not saying you should dump him flat out. But if you see the slightest sign that what he really, really loves about you is your malleability, need for approval, need to be reassured, need, need need? And he calls you baby a lot and calls himself “Daddy” (It’s a joke! Really!) and talks about how your body is sooo much better than his ex’s body? (Which, who says that? What sick old Chester The Molester segment of my brain did that even spring from?) And he sort of seems to believe that his way of doing things is the absolute best way for everyone, and part of the problem with his bitch ex is that she could never just go with the flow — HIS flow? But you, you are so perfect and adorable and here’s how I like my coffee and here’s how I like my cock sucked, etc.?
OK, fine, I have a little experience with feeling needy and lost, and wanting someone older, with a job and a house and a life, to give me all of those things at a time when it seemed like everything was so impermanent and loose and sad and scary, and everyone was moving to other cities far away and no one just stayed in the same place and the concept of “community” belonged to old people in Hammer pants. Like my exboyfriend. Who wore Hammer pants.
I’m not actually saying your guy is the guy I just described. No, not remotely. The fact that other friends love you two together? (You’re sure they’re telling the truth, right?) That’s somewhat reassuring, if they’re not just being polite. He has friends, you have friends, they all became friends, they’re all approving and applauding? I still can’t believe these villages are forming and everyone is celebrating en masse and your girl doesn’t know a thing about any of it. But OK, theoretically, outside parties approve.
But listen: IF you are a little wobbly and shaky and scared and needy right now AND he is a little controlling and he seems to think you’re going to neatly fold your life into his and everything will be wonderful? And you should move to his side of town, into his house, and do things the way he does them? If all of that is true, and if the “honest” talks you have are actually him subtly herding your feelings and thoughts in tight little circles? Then I would be wary. And if he drinks too much, or smokes a ton of pot, and is maybe something of an escapist? That would make me wary, too.
But let’s just assume he’s awesome and sensitive and you never, ever feel like you’re the easy answer to his life falling apart.
Here’s what you still need to do: Call long-distance lady. Yes, you should feel guilty that you didn’t do that a long time ago. That wasn’t cool. Do it now. Tell her the tour seems like a bad idea (if that’s possible) and you can’t do that anymore. Tell her things have changed drastically, and you’re sorry. Tell her now.
And then, well, I would find a therapist. Do you have a job you care about? Do you have close female friends? Do you have a full, happy life? Don’t disappear into this new guy until you know that you’re not hiding from your own life. Focus on your life first, and keep him in the wings a little. (As in, maybe you could see him 2x a week and otherwise do your own thing?) If he’s mature, he’ll be fine with some space.
And you know what? If he is on the rebound, he will FREAK OUT about you spending less time with him. He will freak out and you’ll really have to wonder if you want to hitch your wagon to his… stallion. Or his gently used engine.
I am a fan of divorced men, for the record. I married one. He’s 7 years older than me, and he is awesome. We talk about everything, and it’s what I wanted for a long time. But if I’d met him before I had a career, lots of close female friends, a few years of therapy and a clear sense of who I was, I would’ve driven that ship straight into the rocky shore. And that’s not just me sitting here in my bad perm, surrounded by full ashtrays, humming “Dog and Butterfly.” If you weren’t second-guessing up a storm, I would not see trouble brewing.
But I remember the olden days, through this haze of mentholated smoke, when I didn’t know myself and I didn’t want to know myself, I just wanted to feel better. I wanted someone or some thing outside of me to swoop in and fix everything. Sometimes I felt so crazy with indecision that I would break out the Magic 8 Ball. (No, that’s not my little term for a giant bag of high-grade cocaine. I mean the toy! The toy that tells you what the fuck to do with your life!). Or I would stick my finger into the middle of Bartlett’s. (No, Bartlett isn’t a little man-whore I hired in the old days. That’s a book, made out of paper and stuff!) Wherever my finger was resting, that passage held the key to my destiny.
Hey, let’s do that right now! Let’s type in “love” and “familiar quotations” and see what we find on the internet. Here we go:
“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” — Alan Cohen
Well, hey. That works. But wait, there’s another quote right under that one:
“The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” — H.L. Mencken
Well, there’s your answer right there. Don’t listen to me! Do what you feel.
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl’s existential advice columnist. She’s also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo by Casey Fleser.