Dear Miss Matters,
I’ve only had one real significant relationship in my life. While I’d been in love before this particular man came along, he is the first person who has reciprocated my feelings and started a formal relationship with me. The experience, while not without its problems, has been amazing. No trust issues, no coercion, but magical romance and dogged support at times of my life when the closest of friends and even family turned tail. After several years dating him, I think he is the man of my life. Things on his end are the same. I mean that he feels like I’m the person he’d like to spend his life with. I’m his first real relationship too, though he did date a little in his teens whereas I didn’t at all. We discuss and plan ahead, both dreamily when it comes to future dreams and hopes and with our heads on tight when we talk finances and stability.
As soon as I say that in public, however, I’m met with raised eyebrows from plenty of my acquaintances and friends. While it’s easy to tell that a fraction of them are just jealous, many of them are genuine: they think we’re both too raw, that we need to “learn more” and meet more people. Another popular argument is that I’m clinging to him like a security blanket, that my insecurities about how I look make me believe I won’t be loved ever again if I leave him, and that my fear of risk-taking is what keeps us functioning. One concerned friend even told me I needed to meet more people and “do things” with those other people to really discover who I am, and that the end result will make me relationship-brilliant and far more capable of weathering storm (a pretty logical sentiment, but it clearly relates to sex, and I don’t feel OK about that).
I can’t lie and say that I’ve travelled the social world. I’m an introvert who doesn’t enjoy clubbing or drinking, and while I’m open and eager to make friends in the social settings I prefer (like academic clubs), I’m definitely exposed to a lot less people than most twenty-somethings, and I am never on the lookout for potential relationships (frankly, I’m proud of that, because the person I love deserves all my respect). The friends that point out I’m insecure about my looks are correct, and while I know Mr. Right thinks I’m breathtaking in a way I don’t think many people see, I’ve never felt so undesirable that I think nobody else will ever see me that way.
I’ve never thought of breaking up with him, or going on a break to ‘learn’. It sounds dumb to me. But the fact of the matter is that we are inexperienced, and the voices of people who’ve done more social traveling than we have are hard to ignore, particularly when it comes to something as important as settling on someone for life.
We’ve learned, and continue to learn from one another, but the more I hear it, the more I worry I will make irreparable mistakes in my inexperience and make our relationship go sour, mistakes that experience might have prevented. I’m also afraid we may someday hit a rough patch and start dreaming about greener grasses, just because we don’t know what life with someone other than each other is like. I’ve even started scouring both real life and the internet for divorce and break-up stories, articles, even the silliest of the “X number of things that ruin relationships/lead to divorce/tell you you’ve founds the one” and so on, like I’m hoping I can compensate my lack of personal experience with other people’s experience, to the point that sometimes it’s all just a sloshing mass of what we might call ‘theoretical’ relationship lore inside me, mixed up with my worries and fears. It feels like being full of muddy, melting slush.
I feel like I – like we – can tough out these doubts, mainly because I’ve been frank and honest over my fears, finding equal frankness and optimism about the future in my Mr. Right . I know people will judge and say what they will. But I know the value of listening to advice from people who’ve experienced more than I have. In other walks of life, it has been helpful and important. If I could sum this up in fewer words, I’d say that I’ve always loved Romeo and Juliet, but I can’t ignore the fact that their love was their downfall. Should I just take everything said to me with a grain of salt? Has luck been so fortunate that I really have found Mr. Right on the first try? Or am I just a silly, inexperienced romantic, high on her ideas of eternal love and hurtling blindly towards disaster, pulling a wonderful man into the maelstrom with me?
Ah, yes. It’s tough when the cultural reference for young love is Romeo and Juliet, right? Those two crazy kids sure were naive; I see your allusion. Not to get too deep into dramatic analysis, but I do think you discount the importance of the parental failings in R & J. If your story was anything like Miss Capulet’s, you’d have carte blanche to sit in a therapy office and defer all blame right back onto Mommy and Daddy-dearest. But, instead, you’re here taking control of your situation. So already you’ve lapped Juliet and her Romeo…by miles.
Here’s the skinny, Juliet: there is no magic number that – when reached – means we can sign off on all of our experimentation and settle down. Though many of us do have to suffer through myriad maelstroms to find ourselves, there’s no requirement for a certain amount of baggage, heartbreak or hard-earned wisdom before you’re granted entrance to the promised land of everlasting love.
I can understand your friends (the real ones…not the jealous ones) cautioning you about not limiting yourself to other experiences and people. And I do know plenty of folks who maybe play it too safe within the confines of a secure relationship. But the relationship you are currently in – as you’ve described it – sounds pretty wonderfully supportive, mature and expansive. So let’s do a quick check-list before you break up with something that ain’t broke.
You mention your looks, but you say your man finds you “breathtaking”. Do you actively worry someone else won’t find you attractive or are your friends making assumptions based on the self-esteem issues you may have shared with them? Do you find your partner as enticing as he finds you? If you’re in the relationship to hide from rejection, you may (I use may intentionally) want to do some soul-searching. If Mr. Right makes you feel gorgeous and proud, then let’s keep checking things off.
You also fear that staying in a comfortable relationship means you’re not taking risks. Look, Sugar, I’m a bit of an introvert too and I didn’t date. I had a few relationships prior to meeting my husband, but I did not – except for exactly one awkward occassion during a brief and coerced stint on Match.com – go out into social settings with strange people I did not already know. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not taking risks. You’re saying yes to a serious relationship. That’s plenty risky. There are loads of people who are serial daters for whom risk would be commitment, right? So let’s not judge you by others’ standards or the standards of extroverts if that’s just simply not who you are.
The reason we feel the need to date around is to gather information about ourselves and others and how to have healthy (or avoid not healthy) relationships. And, yes, dating does give us an opportunity to collect general knowledge which may serve us from partnership to partnership, but – ultimately – you start at square one with each new partner. You could very well leave your inexperienced beau to try something new only to gain some pearl of wisdom that is absolutely never-ever applicable ever again in your life. So are you willing to forgo the love you’ve already found to risk disappointment elsewhere?
No part of your letter makes me concerned that you are naive, no matter how few partners you’ve had. You also make it very clear that you are not interested in or comfortable with the idea of seeking out further sexual experience. If that is the honest boundary by which you protect your personal integrity, dear Juliet, it can never be wrong.*
You’re talking with friends and gathering information second-hand and you’re being open about your concerns with Mr. Right. Sounds like you are doing your due diligence without resorting to torpedoing your current relationship. And the current relationship itself sounds mighty mature.
You’re talking finances? You’re trusting and trustworthy? You share dreams and expectations? Sugar, what you and Mr. Right may lack in experience, you sure are making up for in establishing values that are far more crucial to a long-lasting relationship than “social traveling” will be at the end of day (thank you for that glorious euphemism).
You don’t sound as though you really believe in your heart of hearts that you are settling in your current relationship. If you did, my advice would be vastly different. But you sound stimulated and protected and celebrated. And it seems like you return the same love and affection to your lucky Mr. Right.
If the two of you, together, are even slightly concerned about a lack of worldliness, there are certainly ways in which to experience each other and the world around you in new ways. Learning together is a great way to continue to build trust and intimacy (If you’re blushing, don’t worry: I am too. But this doesn’t just apply to sex!).
I also hear that you’re a little weary of your good fortune. I can assure you that if you’re lucky enough to have found your mate on the first try, you needn’t worry you’re getting off easy. Shakespeare – in another play in which he refrains from tragically killing off two completely naive puppy-lovers – wisely warns us that “the course of true love never did run smooth”*. You and your Mr. Right will face plenty other trials and tribulations as a couple. Nothing about an expansive relationship history will prevent you from considering greener grass in the future.
Even without basis for comparison, if you know he’s the person with whom you can suffer any storm, the person with whom you can compromise, the person who will hold you up and with you will seek new, enlightening, exciting experiences: say yes.
Go enjoy a balanced and expansive romance, my misnamed Juliet.
I see no star-crossed lovers here.
*For all you Sugars: This is always and forever a personal choice and never let other people – no matter how much more information or awesomeness you think they have – question that of which you are already certain. Stick. To. Your. Gut.
**This one’s from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a decidedly less tragic tale, but another in which love gets a little twisted up. My overall advice, despite being a Shakespeare super-fan, is maybe to avoid holding the Bard’s work up as any kind of relationship ideal. Ultimately, it’s often kind of a dark choice.
And yes, Sugars, I borrowed the title of this post from Taylor Swift’s ode to Juliet, “Love Story”. We’ve got all kinds of culture here on Miss Matters.