Advice

Miss Information: Why do I feel like a slut when I’m not even sleeping around?

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Dear Miss Information,

I’ve been dating this guy for about four months. Not that long, I know. For a while I was head-over-heels in love with him, but lately little things have started bothering me. Sometimes he acts like a know-it-all about things that I know just as much about. We play an online game together and if I log off because of some emergency (dog needs me, relative shows up unexpectedly, etc) or because I’m annoyed with the game, he takes it very personally and makes me feel bad. Recently he’s taken to guilting me into talking to him online more often, when sometimes I just want to soak in the tub with a good romance novel.

Enter new-guy. He’s a mutual friend of my boyfriend and myself. All the things I find annoying about my boyfriend are absent in this guy. I’m not saying this guy is flawless, but he makes me laugh and smile more than anyone else ever has. He does the opposite of the things that annoy me about my boyfriend: he gives me space, he doesn’t take everything personally, and he doesn’t have sexual fetishes that make me think he’s kind of weird. I think about him more than I should. And the more time I spend with this guy, the less I like my boyfriend. It doesn’t help that my boyfriend is just starting his treatment for depression. Though he’s taking Ambien more than I feel he should AND Zoloft. I know this new guy has feelings for me, and I really like him too. What should I do? — Torn Between Two

Dear Torn Between Two,

Cheat on your boyfriend. Duh.

Just kidding. It sounds like you already know what you want to do — break up with your boyfriend and start going out with Mutual Friend. Usually when people write in with these issues, they give me at least some bare bones material for an opposing argument: he/she is super nice. The sex is good. We both share the same opinion about Cash Cab. You don’t, other than to say you were once very much in love. Even that is kind of weak, considering you’ve only been dating him for four months. It’s like saying you were ultra-committed to that job you had for two weeks.

The big complication here is the shared friendship. Is Mutual Friend best friends with your boyfriend or just regular friends? How long has everybody known each other each other? Are there other ways your lives are intertwined, such as sharing a living space or employer? You might have an idea about how this potential future will go down, but the best-laid plans can turn to utter shit once everything gets out in the open. You’ve got to hope for the best but prepare the worst and insulate yourself against anything harmful. Sometimes that means backing out of the whole damn thing in the first place.

You should also think about whether you dig Mutual Friend or just dig him by comparison. Suppose your boyfriend stopped being such a kinky killjoy, gave you some breathing room, and didn’t down meds all the time. Would you think he’s the better of the two or would you still gravitate towards the other guy? I know that’s hard to tell. You’ve got one guy whose flaws you know, and another whose flaws have yet to be discovered. In many respects it’s apples and oranges.

The most definite advice I can give you is to really commit. Pick a side, whether that’s staying with your boyfriend and cutting off all but the most necessary social contact with Mutual Friend, or ending it with your boyfriend and going out with Mutual Friend. Rebound relationships can work, but a lot of times they don’t. Mutual Friend’s feelings could change once you’re going steady or you could find that you’re not as into him as you thought you were. If you find yourself single or with an entirely new person four months from now, I wouldn’t be shocked.

Dear Miss Information,

I’m a college student: attractive, artsy, and a little wild. I can’t not cheat or stay monogamous. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I love people and I love meeting new ones. I date great guys with flowers in hand; the kind who hold doors and engage in intellectual discussions. This past week I realized I had a date every night. I don’t sleep around, though. I can count how many people I’ve been with on one hand. I just want to stop this habit of flitting from one person to another. I can’t juggle it anymore.

People ask me about my past relationships and I say that I’m into fifties-style dating. I’m not going to take off my clothes or even pretend that I’m going to. I’m upfront about it. I tell people, this is not exclusive, it might not work right now, don’t call back, hint fuckity hint, etc. I have been reading your column for a few years now and I have not seen anything come up like this. I don’t know what to do. I want to stop hurting people, but I know this habit is not easily broken.

Should I quit cold turkey, like cigarettes? Wear sweatpants in public? I suppose I could take more initiative and cut people off right away, but I never dislike anyone enough to do that. Is this wrong? Is this normal? I feel like I’m being slutty even though I’m not hopping from bed to bed. Please help. — Affection Deficit Disorder

Dear Affection Deficit Disorder,

You’re not feeling slutty because you’re hopping from guy to guy. You’re feeling slutty because you’re not being true to yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with dating multiple people, but it’s very demanding. You’re constantly having to set and reinforce boundaries while maintaining that lighthearted "we’re just two crazy kids" sentiment that goes along with casual dating. You’ve also ruled out getting physical, which you have every right to do, but keep in mind that can also blur the booty-call/potential boyfriend-or-girlfriend distinction. If the only time you ever see each other is when you’re sloppy drunk and naked, it’s much easier to avoid getting romantic.

At first glance, it seems like you’re taking the right steps. You’re telling dudes right away that you’re not interested in something exclusive and you’re going out on dates with a different boy each night, i.e. putting your dance card where your mouth is. However, looking back over your letter, I’m concerned. (Say that last sentence in an elegant Tim Gunn from Project Runway accent).

You say you can’t not cheat or stay monogamous. I say, if you’re being so "upfront" with everyone, why are you using words like "cheat"? Are you being selectively honest, or truthful only when it’s easy? You say you never dislike anyone enough to cut them off. I say it’s not a matter of like or dislike. Sometimes cutting people off is being the most caring.

There are two ways you can achieve your goal. You can either get better at dating, which would involve creating a better date/life balance (one night out, three nights in) and being firm about what you want OR you can take a thirty day break and see how you feel after a month of abstinence.

If it were me, I’d go with the latter, even though it sounds more depressing and difficult. I’ve taken dating hiatuses, and it gets much easier after the first week. It’s like quitting smoking, minus the hacking cough. Tell your BFFs what you’re doing and start a diary about it or make some sort of wacked-out art project.

Readers, have you ever taken a break from dating? How long did it last and what did you learn from it?