Miss Information

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My darling Miss Info,

I met a guy while we were both living in a small vacation town, living a vagabond lifestyle. We got along famously, and we were terribly attracted to each other, but mostly, we just seemed to speak the same language: we see the world alike. It's hard to remember now why we didn't take our friendship more seriously, but I remember having long conversations about how we were "too much alike" to be good for each other. When another, more stable girl entered the picture, he asked me point-blank whether I wanted him seriously. I told him that he had to make up his own mind.

I don't blame him for going with the stable, boring, and openly loving girl. We continued our really intense sexually-and-emotionally charged friendship for months, until it just made me too uncomfortable and upset. 

Fast forward three years. I've moved across the country, but we're still friends. He's still with the other girl. I have a great boyfriend who's also stable and supportive, and tempers me in ways Boy #1 didn't. But now Sweet & Stable wants us to get married, and I'm realizing that I still rely on my phone conversations with Boy #1 to give me direction and insight. I thrive on our pseudo-relationship still. I feel like a candle flame with my boyfriend and a propane torch with my friend. 

I can't imagine trying to end my relationship, trying to smash up my friend's boring relationship and forge some sort of glorious future. But marrying Sweet & Stable when I only feel half-alive with him doesn't seem fair or moral. 

I've never been one for the idea of true love or romantic comedies that climax with big emotional realizations, but what should I do in this situation? I truly don't know where to start.

— Vagabonded

Dear Vagabonded,

I'm going to bludgeon this question with a hammer, and then we'll go back and pick through the pieces.

Of course the fling-from-three-years-ago feels like a propane torch, because he was never close enough to become three-dimensional. He gets to stay sparky and insightful because you never have to deal with him after a long day or hear him fart in his sleep. He's all bon mots and inspiration, and your sweet boyfriend looks dull and gassy in comparison.

So that's one vote for not breaking up both of your relationships in order to share a propane-fueled future. At the same time, though, you shouldn't marry anyone who makes you feel "half-alive." If you're feeling "eh" about Sweet & Stable now, how do you think you'll feel in ten years when you're trying to sneak a flask into your kid's PTA meeting just to dull the screaming in your head?

What I get from this letter is the most annoying possible answer: the solution likely isn't either guy. Don't advance the relationship further with either of them until you know what you're doing. It's not fair to Sweet & Stable for you to rely on someone else to fill in the gaps that he can't quite reach. It also may be unrealistic to expect a long-distance fling to be the answer to your prayers. Rather than guessing which guy will fix everything, focus in on what you really want.

Discussion Questions (answer key on p. 185):

1. Is it possible that your indifference to S&S is just a lull in a long-term relationship? If these feelings just recently started, or if your "fuck this, I'm leaving!" sense is new, I say wait it out long enough to figure out if these desires are real or reactionary.

2. If you break up with S&S, are you expecting Guy #1 to do the same with his Stable Boring? Obviously, you're allowed to change your relationship, but you're not allowed to meddle in his. Think through the possibility that he might not want to break up his relationship. If that were to happen, how would you feel?

It all boils down to this: if you break up with S&S, it should be for your own reasons (i.e. "I don't feel like myself around him"), rather than for your fantasies about someone else ("Boy #1 takes me rock climbing on volcanoes!") Ultimately, relationships will always have their lulls. Make sure any decision you make is rooted soundly in following your truth, not in chasing happiness in the form of an idealized partner.

Dear Miss Information,

What's a girl to do when she keeps being attracted to the so-called nice guys? I don't mean the genuinely good men out there — I mean the ones who act interested in what I have to say and how I'm feeling, up until I sleep with them, at which point they do an about-face and act like total jerks. I'm tired of coming away from sex feeling like I've been manipulated and used and like I can't trust my own judgement. Are there some red flags I should be watching out for? Is there a difference between a real nice guy and guy who's just acting nice?

— No More Mr. Nice Guy

Dear No More Mr. Nice Guy,

I just finished reading Devil in the White City, a historical account of the 1893 World's Fair and H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who took advantage of it. According to the book, many of Holmes's acquaintances had misgivings about him. He was handsome and charming, they repeatedly note, but there was something "off" about him. Though some of these people were eventually be won over by his charm, they did sense, on an animal level, that something was wrong with him.

I'm not suggesting you've been dating sociopaths, NMMNG — heavens, no — but this is a tidbit I've been mulling over a lot lately. Haven't we all met someone who's tipped off alarm bells that we chose to ignore? If you repeatedly think you're being used, you'd do well to listen to your gut — which, admittedly, can be tough under the cloud of "but he's cute!"

If someone's going through the motions to get in your pants, you can usually tell after a date or two. Is he checking his phone during dinner? Is he half-listening to you, but clearly not tracking? Does it feel like he's relying on a script that's worked with other girls? In short, if a guy gives you the feeling that he's not entirely present — or if he's so present as to seem overeager — that's a tip-off that you might be more of a conquest than a person to him.

That's my spiel on trusting animal instincts. But that's not to say that each of these guys has been some hollow-eyed player; they may well be perfectly good guys who just have different perspectives on sex than you. If you know you invest a lot in sex and that it makes you feel vulnerable, steer your relationships accordingly. Take a little longer than you normally would to get to know the guy before you sleep with him. Talk about sex before it happens, so you know you're both on the same page about what it means. Don't be afraid to cut off a potential relationship if your sexual views are at odds; sleeping with someone won't be worth it if you'll feel scarred later. And try your best to walk that fine line between "learning from experience" and "becoming a cynic." I'm sure some of these "nice guys" can be "good guys" too; being open about what you want from sex will help you tell them apart.