Life Style

We’re back together, but I’m stuck on a fling. Hax readers give advice.

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Hi Carolyn: I know it’s normal to fantasize about others, but how do you know when it’s actually a symptom of a larger problem?

I have been with my partner for more than seven years, and we recently took a break so they could address some mental health issues. During the break, I met up with an old friend who has always been my “what-if-timing-had-been-different” person.

We bonded over the trying times we were both in, and we ended up having sex several times. I was not prepared for how intense those sessions were or how easily and deeply we bonded. However, this friend is not in a good place for a committed relationship and might not ever be, so I did not expect anything to come out of it — just friends who had some fun when we both needed it.

Now I am back with my partner (who did the work! so proud of them), and I can’t get this friend out of my mind. My partner is a good person whom I love dearly, but we have different values in many areas and have to work hard to understand each other.

I can’t shake the thought that my friend, not my partner, is “my person.” I don’t believe in “The One” and believe I can be happy in a lot of different situations, so it’s concerning to me that I can’t move past thoughts of this other person.

I have already cut contact with this friend as much as possible (we have a common friend group so I still see them socially), but the thoughts are a constant presence. How do I know when these fantasies are normal and when they are symptoms of a larger problem?

Fantasy Land: You’re asking about whether your fixation with your old fling is a problem, but I suspect that’s the wrong question. The real challenge seems to lie with your relationship with your current partner. After all, you list two areas — values and communication — that are pretty fundamental to a stable relationship as areas where you’re not clicking. Thinking about this as, “What if my one-time fling is the right one for me?” ignores the other side of the coin: “Is my current partner the right one for me?”

If the answer to that question is a definite (or at least highly probable) yes, then you would probably be thinking about your old fling a lot less. On the other hand, if this relationship isn’t working for you, then your fantasies about your friend may be your subconscious telling you that you want something better — whether that friend could provide it or not.

The problem isn’t that you’re still thinking about your “what-if” friend. Thoughts will happen, even when you’re committed, but you should be able to move past them if you feel strongly enough about the person we’re with to want to. The problem is that the person you’re with isn’t making you feel happy enough that you can. That, not the fantasies, is what you need to do the work on now.

Fantasy Land: The trouble with having a fling with a friend is that you get the euphoria of early-days sex with the comfort of having it with someone you already know and like. It’s a powerful combination of novelty and familiarity, but it doesn’t stay that way in the long run. All the day-to-day challenges of a full relationship will emerge over time as the sex loses its novelty.

Meanwhile, aside from loving your partner of seven years dearly, what has kept you together for this long? It sounds as though your partner is committed to your relationship and has done some hard work to be back together with you. That doesn’t mean you owe them the rest of your life, but you do owe them — and yourself — an opportunity to see if you can again be happy together.

Fantasy Land: As someone who is on the receiving end of a spouse’s multiple affairs, some lasting decades, I know the one thing I would have been grateful for is some agency during the years they were with other people. I was not able to make informed decisions about my own life because I did not have all the facts about my spouse.

Tell your partner about your feelings for the other person. Be kind and gracious enough to give them the opportunity to decide for themself, based on the full facts of your relationship, whether to stay, go or go to couples therapy to try to work through the situation.

Fantasy Land: When I find myself drawn to someone other than my partner, I try to figure out what about being in a relationship with that person appeals to me. Is it respect, emotional intimacy, fun, ease of companionship, status, sex? I then use that information to identify unmet needs in my current relationship and work to address those with my partner.

I think your fantasies are telling you something is missing. You need to figure out what and see if that can be met with your current partner. If not, then you’ll have to decide if it is worth leaving the relationship — regardless of what may, or may not, happen with the friend.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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