Thanks for taking the time to talk to me on Wizpert the other day about my boyfriend issues. But I didn’t tell you the entire story. So here it is: I have been living with my boyfriend for five years. We were planning to get married, but he lost his job, and then I lost mine, and we really didn’t have the money for the wedding we wanted. So we waited. Meanwhile, my boyfriend just lost interest in everything, including me. I got involved (intimately) with an old friend (I’ll call him “Sam”). I have liked him for a long time. I figured we would be friends with benefits and that would get me through this rough time. What I didn’t realize was that even though I still love my boyfriend, I developed real feelings for Sam. The problem is that Sam has a serious girlfriend and while I know he cares about me, he hasn’t ever said he’d break up with her to be with me. I’m not even sure that’s what I want, but someday it might be. All this is stressing me out. Can you help me figure out what to do?
Alison’s Take: A dream wedding is not the basis for a successful marriage. Had you really wanted to make that commitment to your boyfriend, you could have done so without the “big deal” wedding. But maybe it is a good thing you waited, because while you are not legally obligated to stay with your boyfriend, if you don’t feel a strong obligation to do so, you probably don’t belong together.
Perhaps you and your boyfriend really aren’t suited to each other, or maybe it’s just a rough time. But you and Sam had chemistry before you considered the additional “benefits.” Didn’t you realize that once you became intimate, this would amplify your feelings? Your friend may have true affection for you, and he may think he’s doing you a favor, but is he, really? As long as you are both attached to other people, you’ll never have a full, open relationship. This attention might fill a gap in your lives, but it also complicates them. Don’t think for a minute, even as he is kissing you, that he will want to make an honest woman of you. He sees you as his fun buddy, even if you are potentially perfect for each other. He obviously likes you enough to take the friendship into the realm of sex, but that doesn’t mean he wants you for more. You’ll likely end up in the long line of women who hold on to hope, waiting and waiting for a man they want who says he is miserable with the woman he’s with. But he won’t leave her, he will just find someone else to cheat with when the opportunity arises and the woman he’s been with pushes back too much. And aren’t you doing the same thing? Is this what you want?
The only way to figure out what to do is to think about what you’re up against as unemotionally as possible. Help your boyfriend get back on his feet and while doing so, consider your future. Your plans hinge not so much on what either of these men want, but what you want. You need to see that clearly, and figure out if there is any possibility of that with either of these men. Maybe one would make a better partner but maybe neither would. If what you want is a stable, long term, loving partnership, that’s what you need to go after. Most importantly, is what you’re doing now worth the risk of your primary relationships?
When a relationship is faltering, it’s not easy to stick with it. You are playing with fire and you are likely going to get burned. The bottom line is that you are risking your boyfriend and a friendship you treasure. You may end up with neither. And if Sam only wants to play and you want a man who wants you in all the ways you deserve, that arrangement is going to have to end, as well. Also keep in mind that even if Sam does decide he’d like to be with you, don’t run blindly to him. A friend or lover is not the same as a boyfriend or a husband.
Take the time to calm down and sort through things, no matter how unpleasant you find the process. Uncertainty is highly stressful and life is short. Figure out what “benefits” you really need to make your life satisfying. Then go after them!
Tony”s Take: What we have here is to different ways of coping with depression. First we have the classic with Sue’s boyfriend who, because he feels the world has lost interest in him, has lost interest in the world. He feels worthless and therefore avoids contact with those he loves and instead sleeps or drinks or watches TV excessively to just fill the hours. For her boyfriend, a simple trip to the doctor to treat the depression will help him get back on the road to recovery. Even though Sue would like to help, the idea and the work to get out of the depression must come from her boyfriend, because it is his self esteem which has suffered so much.
Sue, on the other hand, has taken the other direction out of depression. She has looked for a savior. She has found someone who makes her life brighter and happier and on someone she can lavish her feelings and have a positive return. It is of little surprise that she responds to that by falling in love with the person who shows her the care, understanding and intimacy which she can no longer get from her boyfriend.
If Sue is really serious about her boyfriend, and if Sue can look into the past and identify the elements of the relationship that she still appreciates going forward, then Sue needs to help her boyfriend get medical attention and to be positive and encourage it with him until he can get back on his feet.
On the other hand, if she wishes to have a real relationship with Sam, she must realize that sleeping with him while he still has a serious girlfriend is a temporary state, he is not hers and may never be. In order to straighten out her life she must first detach herself from her own boyfriend, get out of her own depression through finding some type of work, and create a fulfilling life for herself on her own so she feels good about herself and attractive to others. If she accomplishes this she will make herself attractive to Sam or another quality man because no man is going to be attracted to her current depressed and needy state.