In the swirl of pre-engagement-ness, I have a question that seems difficult to talk about with anyone. My partner is awesome. We’ve been together for a long time; we’ve supported each other through difficult stuff; we make a great team. We’re excited about our future together, and he’s one of my favorite people of all time.
But here’s what sounds awful. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about the Possible Others in my life. Like, inevitably, over the course of being a person and interacting with other people, sometimes closely for work or just friendships, I’ve identified a small number of people I would consider as a partner, were I not dating my current dude. And this isn’t some lustful wandering eye sort of thing, or a physically motivated wish where I think it would be fun to make out with a hot coworker if I were unattached or had a “monogam-ish” arrangement with my partner. It’s more like, recognizing that deep partner-level compatibility in some close friendships and working relationships. We’re talking a very small number of people over the course of my lifetime.
And while I think about moving forward with my significant other, and moving into “forever” territory, a part of me feels sad about those possible futures that won’t be. Even writing it “out loud” makes me feel terrible, because it’s not that I *don’t* want that future with my partner. But then I psych myself out and worry that I’d only be thinking this if there were some reason, if I were secretly unsatisfied with the life I’m building.
Am I alone in this fear? If I’m not, how do I look at this differently, and how do I reconcile it with really wanting to marry my partner?
– Confused Cartographer
Choosing a spouse is, by definition, a choice. The very nature of picking one person means that you won’t be picking a whole bunch of other people. You only choose one (well, you know, depending on what kind of marriage you have), and like mom said, there’s plenty of fish in the sea. The surprising thing is, she was also right about there being more than a few good ones.
I’m guessing that you don’t subscribe to the idea of “the one”—that there’s just one person out there that’s your perfect soulmate. For starters, it’s sort of mathematically fatalistic. All we need is for one person in the history of life to choose the wrong spouse, and then the rest of us are screwed. (Think about THAT for a second.) So, if there’s not “one,” that means there’s a whole slew of folks you could possibly “make it work” with. Noticing that this possibility exists—that there might be someone else out there with whom you could also have a pretty awesome go at it—that’s not a red flag that something’s wrong with what you already have. It’s just fact.
Like super smart Sharon wrote, picking a spouse is sort of like buying a house. There are other houses that you could possibly live in, sure. But you pick the one that seems to be the best fit, and then you settle in and start making it your own. And the more you live there, the more it becomes yours and feels like home. That’s it! That’s marriage. This person isn’t “yours” apart from you choosing to make them yours. I know with my own husband, the longer we’re together, the harder it is for me to imagine being able to make it work with anyone else. We grow into a couple and settle into one another more and more all the time.
That doesn’t negate the fact that there could’ve been others. And sometimes, yeah, it’s sort of sad to think about all the different things that could have been. It’s okay to mourn that a bit, but I wouldn’t suggest dwelling on it.
So, hey! You’re probably fine. It’s completely normal to recognize that there are others with whom in another life, in an alternate universe maybe, things could have worked. That doesn’t necessarily bear any reflection on your relationship as it is now. But, you can protect yourself and your partner moving forward.
For your own sanity, you may need to guard your thinking a bit. Realize that these other folks have their own flaws that you haven’t had the chance to see up close. Protect yourself from slipping into a habit of, “Well, so and so wouldn’t have said that,” whenever a fight creeps in. Because those other ones? They have their nasty or lazy or annoying parts, too. You don’t know for a fact that you wouldn’t be having the same exact fight with them.
And for your marriage, consider setting some general parameters about friendships. It’s not realistic to never ever be friends with anyone you’re attracted to (whether physically, emotionally, or whatever else), and it’s neither beneficial nor necessary to spill to your spouse every time you do stumble on someone that makes you feel a connection. But, knowing yourself, knowing your partner, and understanding one another’s comfort level can help you protect the partnership you did choose, even in the face of all the ones you didn’t.
Team Practical, how do you handle the ones that could have been? Do you and your partner have parameters for friendships outside of your relationship?
Photo by APW sponsor Moodeous Photography.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!