Dear Neil: I am 23 years old and have been dating my boyfriend for three years. I have grown to realize that he is a wonderful guy with all the great qualities you’d want, and he treats me very well. He’s the kind of guy you could settle down with and marry. The problem is me.
I go through phases. Sometimes I am completely in love and want to get married. I even plan the wedding having dreamt about my wedding, since I was little girl. But when my boyfriend first started agreeing about getting married, it really scared me.
My other “phase” with my boyfriend is just wanting to be single again. I fantasize about other boys I meet and think maybe they will be more exciting. My boyfriend and I are opposites, personally wise. I usually have my head in the clouds and am pretty high strung, but he is generally on an even keel. He keeps me grounded and puts up with my extremes.
Basically I go from one extreme to another when thinking about our relationship. Maybe I am just bored in the relationship. I crave excitement, drama and problems, and usually end up picking at things in our relationship just to create a problem that we need to solve. My boyfriend, bless his heart, picks up on the fact that I am creating my own problem, and he is good about understanding me. He loves me with all his heart, and gives me everything I could ask for. He respects me and treats me well. We hardly fight about anything major and have the same values. The two of us would make a great couple—but I am terrified to commit. I don’t feel that I know myself yet, and sometimes I think that what I want in life could change.
I think the answer I want is that I should marry him.
Confused in the Rocky Mountains
Dear Confused: Although your boyfriend sounds wonderful, you are not ready to marry him. The advice I will offer you is twofold. First, quit giving your boyfriend double messages about your feelings and intentions. (“I want to marry you. No wait, maybe not. You’re such a good catch. No wait….”)
Second, perhaps you’re right in saying that you crave drama and problems in your relationship, because it sounds like you are attempting to destabilize things in order to feel greater stimulation. This craving for excitement can, if you’re not careful, put you in danger of sabotaging the relationship and destroying the trust between you.
Perhaps you could channel this craving for more stimulation in a more positive way. Why don’t you and your boyfriend create a joint list of all the ways the two of you could add excitement or novelty to the relationship—and commit to doing them together. This would allow you to transform your desire for drama into a trip to India, for instance, or perhaps a raft trip through the Grand Canyon, or a dance class together, or a remodeling project around your home, to name a few.
The goal is to keep the relationship with your boyfriend stable, so you can make a more level-headed decision about the future you would like to have.