Advice from the Trenches: An Arrangement Is Not a Relationship

Dear C:

I have been dating a woman many years my senior for about 18 months. We have had a great relationship that has never been boring or status quo. We are both very independent, live in different cities, and travel for our work.

When we first got together she admitted that she was somewhat obsessed with the idea of dating younger men, and that most men her own age were intimidated by her independence and forwardness.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we went six months without a visit. When we finally caught up with one another, she admitted to having recently slept with someone about half my age during one of her business trips. Also while she was away, I had a fling with someone younger than me, which I admitted to her.

Since this conversation, our relationship has felt more like friends-with-benefits than anything else. It’s still wonderful and exciting, but there is something missing that I can’t put my finger on. Though I am not opposed to the idea of an open relationship, I don’t know how long we can sustain it without one of us wanting more.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks,

Confused

 

Dear Confused:

I think the source of your confusion is that you are mistaking an arrangement for a relationship.

“Relationship” is a word with more than one meaning, but when it comes to people who are romantically or sexually paired, it implies connection, association, or involvement with each other. When the two people in question live in different cities, have a desire for independence, and have no commitment or sense of exclusivity with each other, they don’t have a relationship – they have an arrangement. Arrangements do have one thing in common with relationships: they both need to be clearly defined in order to be sustainable. While I’m sure the two of you had a great time when you were together, I doubt if you spent much time clarifying your long-term expectations.

There’s something you should consider about a woman who is obsessed with younger men: it’s probably the young she’s after, not the man. That might make you somewhat interchangeable with many other younger men out there who are interesting and available.

I could sense dissatisfaction in your letter, and I’m not surprised. While “wonderful and exciting” is the whole point of getting involved to begin with, by itself it just isn’t sustainable. It is a balloon that is easily punctured by the needle of reality. What if you were ill, hurt or in despair? What if you were in trouble and needed help? Difficulties tend to flush wonderful and exciting down the toilet. Coping with someone who feels lost or is in pain just ain’t that thrilling. Did the two of you just expect to share the highs together, then retreat to your separate caves to suffer alone until whatever problems there were went away?

Open relationships and long distance romances seldom work in the long run for actual humans. Why? Because in real life, there’s more than just fun and stimulation; there’s also a lot glitches and bills and disappointments and farts. The whole point of a relationship is to form a bond that will support both members through good times and bad. It is to have someone you trust when you feel like there’s nothing else in the world that you can trust. It’s knowing that someone has your back, and you have theirs.

If you plan to keep traveling forever and are just looking for diversion and stimulation in the lulls, then don’t worry about a relationship. You don’t need one. You just need wonderful and exciting – and that’s a game for which you will never lack a playing partner. Just don’t expect anything more. If you do decide to go after that “something missing” you can’t put your finger on, I suggest finding someone who is interested in you as a whole person, not just obsessed with younger men.

Oh, and about your friend? I don’t mean to be unkind, but men her own age don’t shy away because of her independence or her forwardness. They avoid her because she’s old. Most older men are obsessed with younger women. Does she imagine she is the only one who plays that game?

 

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