I have two great men in my life – but I can’t choose between them | Relationships

The dilemma I am in my early 30s and for the past seven years I’ve been dealing with the issue of loving two men at the same time. Each of them is unique in his own way; both of them are loving, caring and love me dearly. I was with the first man for two years, then I left him for the second one with whom I stayed for four years. Now I’m back with the first one, but missing the second one greatly. I can’t be happy with either, because I miss the other and worry constantly that I’m hurting the feelings of the other one. Sometimes I am not sure if I love them or am just worried about not hurting them. I was wondering whether to leave both of them, but everyone I know says that many women can only dream about having such a man and that I should be happy that I have two of them to choose from. I know I am lucky, but it has become an impossible task for me to choose between them and it’s destroying me.

Mariella replies I’m not sure about lucky. There will be a few schools of thought on this issue, so in the interests of inclusivity I’ll try to include them all. First and foremost, why choose? We live in a changed world, where 19th-century normality no longer applies and if the world is a better place with three of you in the mix why not have the courage of your convictions and embark on the unthinkable? I’ve no idea how your duelling suitors will react, but perhaps as we’re encouraged to keep things fluid when it comes to gender, so we might also try it when it comes to “life partnerships”.

When you get to examine, on a weekly basis as I do, the damage wreaked by couples splitting up – or, indeed, couples trying to stay together – you do start to wonder if it’s time to re-examine our monogamous model.

Loosening the ties that bind our “romantic” relationships may be a better way of doing things in a world where increased lifespan means partnerships can last up to seven decades. That’s a really long time to compromise over someone else’s shortcomings. So if these two guys added together represent your ideal man, I’d seriously consider – if they agree – giving it a try.

However, flight of fantasy aside, there’s a burning question here that, in our one-way conversation, you can’t answer. If neither offers you enough of what you need, leaving you constantly hankering for the one you’ve left, is it worth considering the possibility that they are both coming up short?

You’ve invested some of the best, adventure-fuelled, experimental days of your relationship life in these two guys and what you’re telling me here suggests that, rather than both being perfect, neither is satisfactory. How about stepping away from committing to either of them and finding out what it is you really want?

You’re in your early 30s so still have the luxury of self-discovery, uncluttered by commitments and family. Wouldn’t you like to experience the world without the mitigating presence of another person for just a little while? The route to real happiness is to develop contentment in your own company, then try adding a partner as seasoning and flavouring to an already decent life. I feel as if you’ve prematurely added salt and pepper before your main ingredients. How are you ever going to know what life tastes like without the add-ons?

You’re clearly in a quandary and, if you’re not using words like “desperate” lightly, you do really need to take some action. Hankering after what you haven’t got certainly doesn’t put you in a minority. For most of us it’s a condition that continues to the end of our lives. But when it comes to relationships it’s important to work out what we want, what works for us and then how to find the best way of achieving that compromise. For seven years you’ve swapped Tweedledum for Tweedledee without, it seems, any time spent experiencing the pleasure and challenge of life without either. If your ambition is to have a family, don’t forget: time is finite. So you might want to stop dilly-dallying around and spend it thinking seriously about the bigger picture.

For most women the next opportunity for seismic self-scrutiny and reinvention doesn’t come until we are in our 50s when re-adjustments are often necessary for stage two of life’s evolutionary journey. The best way I’ve found to make such choices is to start with a clean slate and slowly build up the picture. Developing your destiny mustn’t be mitigated by fear of upsetting other people. Learning to be true to yourself and employing honesty and kindness towards others is the way to avoid the fear of causing hurt or guilt. Sadly, relationships are not beautifully balanced creations and therefore causing inadvertent pain when making choices is unavoidable.

I may have laboured the point a bit here, but I really want you to stop and think about yourself, not spend these precious days erroneously believing the key to your own happiness is choosing which of these men best delivers it. The key to contentment, as I hope I’ve made clear, lies within. Free yourself to make choices and you might be surprised by the person who reveals herself.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1




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