Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: My live-in girlfriend and I have been together for six years, since I was 20. I love her very much and enjoy our time together, but lately I've been wondering what else is out there. I've never been with anyone else and maybe I just feel I should have more experience before settling down. She's always been loving and supportive and I don't want to hurt her, but I can't get these thoughts out of my head. Help?
Who do you want to be?
The decision facing you is what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be the kind always looking for a "better deal," more concerned with your own gratification than with the effect your behaviour has on others? Or do you want to be the kind who works at maintaining a relationship, values loyalty and dependability? The answer will determine what kind of conversation to have with your girlfriend: the one that leads to goodbye or the one that starts the process of building your life together.
– Rory McRandall, Bancroft, Ont.
Your 20s are for exploring
I am 33 and one of the reasons I feel so happily settled in my relationship is that I spent my 20s exploring different facets of myself, travelling, making some mistakes and being a bit of a free spirit. Adulthood is for joyous self-exploration. If that cannot fit within your current relationship, perhaps stepping onto a wilder path is what is needed.
– Erin Brown, Peterborough, Ont.
What does she want?
The fact that you are even asking the question is your inner voice saying you have been in a long-term relationship since you were barely out of your teens. You do not want to get into a situation with marriage and children, only to then question whether you should have dated other people. That could lead to infidelity or divorce. Perhaps your girlfriend is also wondering whether she should have more experience. Talk to her.
– Dalton Grady,Vancouver
The final word
My husband and I married young and have been each other's only partners. But we're an anomaly in society. There's a script being created by young people. It's considered almost a bad thing to have only one relationship, especially for men.
A lot of people say, like Erin, that experimenting and experiencing more people before settling down increases the chance of a successful union. But interestingly, research doesn't necessarily support that theory.
In their book Premarital Sex in America, authors Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker cite studies suggesting that serial co-habitation doesn't lead to better marital odds, just more sex. Researchers have found that the greater the number of premarital partners, the higher the chances of infidelity after marriage.
My suspicion is that once the instinct of "the grass is always greener, the breasts are always bigger and the bald spot is always smaller" kicks in, it never really goes away.
Here's a scenario to consider: You break up and find the "one" with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Then someone shinier than you comes around – and they always do. Unless you're George Clooney, there's no guarantee that your next girlfriend will want to stay with you. Meanwhile, the girlfriend who was loyal to you married someone else. If you can live with that, you have your answer.
I agree with Rory. At a certain point in your life, you have to decide what type of person you want to be. If you decide to eventually marry, you're going to be in the same situation as the rest of us. I've been married for almost 20 years and can speak from experience.
Long-term relationships need constant attention and nurturing to keep them fresh and interesting. It's hard work and there's no shortcut, which may explain why marriage is becoming less popular. Maybe if we experimented more within our relationships, and took time to understand our partners, we'd be more satisfied. It's definitely less painful than breaking up.
Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Next week's question
A reader writes:
An old friend bought a cottage close to mine. Last summer she came to my door unexpectedly with her dog. I told her she couldn't bring her dog inside – and she turned around and stomped out of my yard! Maybe I should have gone after her to explain my reasons – my cat was there, and she knows my cat is frightened of dogs. But I didn't and she hasn't spoken to me since. How can we repair our friendship?
Let's hear from you
E-mail questions and advice to firstname.lastname@example.org. Queries are published anonymously, but we will include your name and community if we use your response (it will be edited).