I'm dating this really wonderful awesome guy who I think I might be totally in love with. I'm in college and live in Utah, a.k.a The Land of Young Marriages. I am NOT getting married any time soon because I'm aware of how young I am. I know that other young marriages work, but I know myself and my own maturity level and...yeah, not ready. Here's the trouble though.
This boy (we'll call him Sam) DOES want to get married. I've told him that it isn't happening, at least not anytime soon, and he's okay with that. This would be fine and not a big problem on its own, but here's where we encounter another problem. THE PROBLEM. See, Utah is also The Land of Hot Men Leaving On Missions For Two Years. I had this boyfriend (let's call him Aaron) who left on an LDS mission. He'll be getting home in about 9 months. Now, we broke up before he left and he DID tell me to date other boys, but asked that I don't give him details of who I'm dating, what we're doing, how serious it is, etc, because he finds it really distracting, and that would be painful and weird anyway (obvs). We write letters to each other regularly and I KNOW that he is still as in love with me as he was when he left. And I'm just not sure about how I feel now.
Is that wrong? I have a hard time knowing how I feel and I just feel like a self-loathing mess right now. Sam knows about Aaron and he knows how I felt about him, so it's not like I'm lying to either party. Actually, Sam knows that I was still planning on dating Aaron when he got home. It's just that...I didn't expect to develop strong feelings for another boy while Aaron was gone. And he'll be home pretty soon, and I feel like I owe it to both of us and maybe even Sam to at least SEE how I feel about him when he gets home and probably date him. But I don't want to lose Sam. But I don't want to lose Aaron. But I don't know who is more important. It just sucks! It's hard to know how you feel about someone who has been gone for almost two years, especially when Sam is RIGHT HERE. And what if Aaron gets home and I don't have a magical AHA! moment of who is best for me?? I just don't know what to do, and I feel like a terrible person ALL THE TIME. Is it possible to love two people at the same time? Should I date Aaron when he gets back? Is it okay to be as emotionally unsure as I am right now? HELP!
Oooh, ooooooh! Hold up and hang on, ladyfriend, because you just blew right past the only part of this situation that you need to worry about, and you did it so quickly that I'll be you didn't even notice. So take a deep breath, and back up, and get ready to think really hard about the part where you said:
"I have a hard time knowing how I feel."
See that? That's your problem. Because when it comes to relationships, nothing causes more damage—to you, and to everyone involved with you, and to the concept of love in general—than not knowing who you are, what you want, or how you feel.
Which means, first and foremost, that you do not owe it to anyone to take Aaron for a romantic test drive upon his return to the homefront; in fact, the Laws of Human Decency dictate that you must not do this under any circumstances. If you're confused, then that's something you've got to work out on your own, and with minimal collateral damage to the feelings of the two lovely men involved. Not that they won't still get hurt—at least one of them almost certainly will—but if there's gotta be pain, it should be the straightforward sting of an ethically-discontinued relationship, and not the mind-scrambling agony of being used as a try-out guy by an ambivalent girl who can't get her mind right.
Not that I don't sympathize, by the way, because I completely and totally do. You're in Feelings Hell right now, and I know how much it sucks. But the only way out of Feelings Hell —and the only way to keep everyone you love from joining you there—is by a) getting to know your own heart in an intimate, unflinching way, and b) not apologizing for whatever you find in there. Because even if it hurts someone in the short run, it's nothing compared to the pain you'll inflict by living, and loving, dishonestly.
But hey, you know what? You have nine months to work this out. Nine months! That's a long time, and it leaves room for so many developments. Maybe your relationship will implode on its own; or maybe you'll fall so deeply and completely in love with Sam that you're like, "Aaron? Aaron who?"; or maybe you'll elope with Darren Criss and get insta-preggo and give birth to an adorable, bouncing baby boy!
See? A lot can happen between now and March 2012. And all you have to do is vow, here and now, to use this time wisely—so that you've got your answers, and some much-needed perspective, before your wayward exboyfriend arrives back stateside. And now, three things:
1. It sounds like you've been holding back in your current relationship because of Aaron's impending return, and if that's the case, then now is the time to stop. And if you can't stop, it's time to break up. If you're too hung up on your absent ex to be fully present in your relationship, you're too hung up to be in a relationship, period. So either give yourself permission to go for it and throw your whole heart into the ring, or do poor Sam the favor of cutting him loose.
2. Conversely, it's well past time Aaron knew that a) you're in a relationship, and b) it's serious. Spare him the details, sure—he doesn't need them—but allowing him to believe that you're still just as he left you, to keep sending you his declarations of undying affection, and never ever mentioning that oh by the way you're totally in love with somebody else? That's... awful. Which I'm sure you realize now, and will remedy immediately. Right? Right.
3. Right now, your feelings about this situation are like an ongoing soundtrack of "I DON'T KNOOOOOOOOW!" The good news: committing to Sam, or alternately to singledom, is a great way to jar your mind out of that rut. And pay attention, because once you do, your mind is going to start telling you things. If you commit to Sam but still find yourself constantly thinking of Aaron, that's a Thing. If you break up with Sam only to find that Aaron's letters, and the prospect of his return, are suddenly much less interesting, that's a Thing too. If your feelings toward either guy seem founded less in genuine attraction and more in "But he loves me and I don't want to hurt him!," that's a HUGE Thing.
Give yourself permission to listen exclusively to your feelings, make no apologies for what they tell you, and my guess is that the nine-month window plus your own due diligence will resolve this problem well before Aaron sets foot back on American soil. But if it doesn't, and if you're still a ball of nerves when he does return, then the only ethical thing to do is take a break from Sam. Your relationship is already serious; asking him to dial it down while you test the waters with another guy would be super, extra-strength unfair.
Oh, and one more thing: you've understandably set this up as a "Which one should I choose?" conundrum, but that's not actually what matters; it's not about the guys at all, but about the much more important and difficult work of knowing yourself. And to do that, you need to acknowledge the totally legitimate possibility that neither of these dudes is the one for you. You may decide to opt out of a relationship entirely; or, if you don't, you may still break up with either guy thanks to any of the bajillion factors that cause relationships not to work. So please keep this in mind when you're tempted to think of this as a love triangle rather than a journey of self-discovery.
Ask Kat is advice for the post-high-school crowd. Got a question? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Related post: My Super-Secret Engagement