Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I am a serial monogamist. I love having one person to go on dates with, be there for, have there for me and come home to at the end of the day. My relationships have typically not inhibited my frienships or growth as a person — usually they help me discover things about myself. I am comfortable being single, but I prefer having a partner that is more than a friendship.
Essentially, this has been my pattern: Start dating a man I am interested in, stay with him for a while, and then break up because something about him starts to rub me the wrong way.
I am 24 and have been in a great relationship with a friend-turned-boyfriend for the past seven months. Everything has been great, and I really do like him, but I just know he is not going to be the man I will be with long-term. He has expressed that he feels we will be together for a while. Nothing in particular about him rubs me the wrong way, but I am worried that if I wait too long to end things I will end up hurting him.
When do we break up? Is it OK to stay with him as long as we are both enjoying the relationship, or do I call it quits before we get in too deep? What is a good way to think about this? Some perspective would be greatly appreciated!
As with anything else, put yourself in the other person’s position. If you were thinking future, wouldn’t you want to know that the other person just saw you as a pleasant but temporary companion?
Certainly every new relationship has a grace period where you can get to know each other without committing to specific intentions, on the theory that the people you date shape those intentions, to some degree (though I do suggest that you talk to new people sooner rather than later about your general approach to dating, since you’ve given yourself a label — more about which in a second). But now that your boyfriend has expressed long-term intentions that you “just know” you don’t share, it’s time to own up. Not break up, just own up. “Everything’s been great and I really do like you, but I don’t see myself committing to you long-term.”
This will end up hurting him, of course — there’s no way around that for two people who want different things. What you’re responsible for is not causing gratuitous pain by misleading, or withholding information from people.
Something else to consider: At 24, what you offer as proof of your “serial monogamist” status sounds to me like the dating history of your basic 24-year-old. Meeting, dating for a while, enjoying yourself, then losing interest for X or Y (or no) reason is generally how it’s supposed to go, unless and until you meet someone who holds your attention.
And no matter what your age, it’s not a great idea to put your life in service of whatever way you define yourself. The opposite makes more sense. Let each person, each situation, tell you where you’d like things to go.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.