Dear Wendy: “Should I Date Around Before Committing To My Boyfriend?”

I am 24 years old and currently in a committed, loving, happy relationship. My boyfriend of 2.5 years is cute, sexy, kind, intelligent, AND we are so compatible that we barely fight; we are really really good together. Before him, I dated non-seriously, but he is my first love and my first really serious relationship. Although I am happy now and fully committed, I can’t help but think that though I want to end up with him in the long run, I would like to be single again, experiment or date around a little bit, and be on my own before I REALLY settle down and get married. There have been no serious marriage talks, engagements, or proposals yet, but once I did mention this want to him before and it kind of hurt him, because it made him feel sick to his stomach to imagine me with anyone else but him. For some reason I thought that he, being a guy, would want the same thing and to experiment/be free a bit before settling down, but I assumed wrong. And having these feelings makes me feel bad or greedy or like I shouldn’t want to date other people before I settle down, but I definitely don’t want to get married with ANY doubts. Am I wrong or is it bad to want this? Will it ruin our relationship in the long run, or make things too complicated? I am afraid that I would make this decision and then regret it later after realizing how much it hurts both of us, or something like that … but then again like I said I don’t want to have any doubts. — Wondering

Is it “wrong” or “bad” for you to want to date around before settling down with your boyfriend? No. I’d say it’s pretty understandable given your young age and relative lack of dating experience. Will it complicate things and ruin your relationship in the long run? Well, yes, it will definitely complicate things and there’s a strong possibility it could very well ruin your relationship. One thing’s for sure: for better or for worse, it will change your relationship forever.

“Taking a break” for the sole purpose of having a few flings and dating experiences before making a life-long commitment opens a can of worms I’m not sure you’d ever be able to close again. The minute you open your romantic lives to other people, you open yourselves to jealousy, hurt feelings, and the possibility that one or both of you may find a connection with someone else strong enough to threaten the one you share with each other. Are you willing to risk that? And for what?

Here’s the thing: if you hope that by dating other people, you’ll gain some clarity about your relationship, all your doubts will be wiped away forever, and you’ll never wonder what else might be out there for you, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed. Love carries no certainty or guarantee. Any commitment you make involves risk, and it certainly doesn’t wipe away all curiosity about where other paths could lead you. Even when people marry, they still “wonder.” They wonder how their lives might be different if they were single, if they chose someone else, if they still had the chance to choose someone else. It’s human nature to wonder … and, hopefully, for most married people, it’s fleeting and nonthreatening. Committing to someone doesn’t mean you stop wondering or have to stop wondering; it only means you stop acting on your curiosity.

That said, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t date around and experience being single again — after all, maybe you aren’t ready to stop acting on your curiosity. But I’m suggesting you proceed with caution and understand that by agreeing to date other people, your relationship as you know it will never be the same. If you aren’t willing to risk losing your boyfriend forever, resist the urge to take a break and consider yourself lucky that you found someone so young in life who makes you happy, whom you genuinely love and can see yourself spending the rest of your life with. No one — including your boyfriend — is saying you have to get married now. On the contrary, I would wait until you feel more ready. But just because you aren’t jumping into marriage now doesn’t mean you have to jump in the opposite direction either.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]