Does dating my ex's friend make me an unfeeling jerk?
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Dear Miss Information,
I'm in a pretty happy relationship with a really swell dude. Even though I'm in my late twenties and he's in his mid-twenties, and we've been together a little less than a year, we talk about all the big things that might happen in the future. He's smart, funny, ambitious, and one of the handsomest men I've ever dated.
The thing is, he's been in school and supported by his parents his whole life. I left home young, worked, and took care of myself my whole life, and finally went to college in my late twenties, because it made more sense for me. He's never even looked for his own apartment. These things seem important to me, but not so much that it's going to make me stop loving him. I mean, I'm pretty sure we'll be together for the long haul.
But something terrible and wonderful has happened and I'm not sure what to do with it. I've been working on a project with a guy I once had an impossibly huge crush on. He knows I have a boyfriend. He has a girlfriend who he's been with even longer. But it's clear to both of us, all the people around us, and even, probably, local wildlife, that we want to bone. It's like thunder and lightning and the hormones of teenagers. I don't actually think I can stop it.
I've slept with plenty of people, I've had lots of experiences, and I think my sweet, kind boyfriend is the one I want to be with, even if he still has some growing up to do. I know the logical thing to do, but when my not-boyfriend looks at me, it feels like magic. What if I don't ever get this out of my system, and I'm always left wondering? What if I do it, and get caught? What if we open up the relationship just this one time? If not, how do I put a cap on my desire for this person? Help!
— Projected Chaos
Dear Projected Chaos,
As inconvenient as it is, just because you're in a relationship doesn't mean you stop having eyes. It's normal to have the odd fantasy here and there. But your commitments should always trump your hormones. That capacity (plus opposable thumbs and neckties) is what separates us from animals.
So, while one can absolutely have extra-relational crushes, the extent to which you are serious about this one raises some red flags. How's your sex life with your boyfriend? Is it possible that, while he's everything you want in the long term, you're not getting what you need in the short term? You describe him as being great and handsome and kind, but do you want to bang him?
Since it sounds like you're on the fence, don't hook up with this insane crush you have. The pyrotechnics of your attraction will take out too many innocent bystanders, namely his girlfriend and your boyfriend. If this project you're working on is non-negotiable, put an effort into maintaining distance. Try not to be alone with this guy. If you are alone, maintain physical distance. While flirting is a fun boost, remember your priorities. If you must, have a talk with this guy where you call a cease-fire on the sexual tension. It will never really go away, but as long as you're aware, you can try to keep a lid on it.
Of course, after some soul-searching, you may decide the possibilities with your crush are more important than the reality with your boyfriend. If that's the case, fine; just make sure your boyfriend (and, presumably, your crush's girlfriend) is kept in the loop. Getting dumped will sting, but getting dumped after being cheated on and lied to will sting more.
Dear Miss Information,
For a few months, I dated a boy who I was only marginally into. I enjoyed his company, and we had great sex, but we were very clearly on different paths, and it seemed obvious (to me) that we wouldn't work out. Maybe I wasn't as up-front with him about my ambivalence as I should have been, and he fell for me very hard. I think I broke his heart. But I didn't do it maliciously! It just happened.
Through this boy, however, I met another boy, who I could see myself with for a while. They both run in the same circle, and aren't really friends, but have lots of mutual friends. I don't see any conflict with dating this new boy, but every single person I know in this circle is treating it like a big deal — like I'm doing something actively cruel by following my heart.
I just don't have that thing most girls do about dating friends of your ex. I've even told lady-friends of mine that they should date people I've dated, because maybe they'd be a better match. But my friends balk at the idea, as though it would be doing something mean to me. I don't see it that way. I mean, we're all grown ups. People freak out about this, and it seems so strange to me. Am I an unfeeling jerk? Or is a lack of possessiveness a good thing?
Part of being social animals is that some concessions have to be made to the group. (Obviously, you don't want to upset the pod/pack/murder.) We've all seen The Real Housewives of Wherever. We all know how this goes down. So you're doing the right thing in considering others' feelings; now it's a balancing act between "living for yourself" and "living for others." You owe it to your friends to acknowledge that your new relationship might be awkward for them, at least at first. You don't, however, have to sacrifice yourself at the altar of placating your friends.
So, no, you're not an unfeeling jerk, but you need to recognize others' feelings as valid, even if they don't make sense to you. Your new relationship may be tough for your ex to swallow, given that he "fell hard" for you. It may be difficult for his friends, who may circle around him to help him lick his wounds. None of this is your fault or responsibility, but it's nonetheless something you should respect.
It's a good idea to play it cool in general: keep PDA minimal or non-existent, and fit into group settings as you always have — as yourself, not as "vital one-half of the most important couple of all time." A lot of the anxiety about a friend dating a friend's ex isn't about the present, it's about the possibility: "What about all of the future drama that could happen?" Consider your friends' protestations from that angle, then comport yourself in the least dramatic way possible.