Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from Feb. 1, 2006.
DEAR CAROLYN: I realize every relationship is different. Regardless, consider a "typical" marriage of a couple who married young. Five years later, he walks in on her cheating. He walks out. End of relationship. Does this reflect his strength and ability to leave, his power not to be controlled by fear of loneliness? Or does this represent his inability to forgive his wife, the one he loves and took vows with? (Yes, I realize she took vows as well.)
Purely Hypothetical, Md.
PURELY HYPOTHETICAL, MD.: Well, it certainly reflects one or the other.
Except when it reflects his self-knowledge in recognizing that he can forgive but still never be able to love her fully again, and that she still deserves that from someone, if not from him.
Or when it reflects his belief that she nullified the vows and he can't honor what doesn't exist.
Or when it reflects an insecurity so overpowering that he forgives her and wants to take her back — but won't, because he thinks that'll make him look weak and stupid.
Or when it reflects his sudden clarity that neither of them had been happy and this was the push they both needed to fix their mistake.
Or when it reflects his relief — woo-hoo! — that he's now free to openly date the woman he'd been seeing on the side. Or, the man.
Or I shut up and you fill in the blank. Like you said, every relationship is different. Only when you're honest — not just about an incident but also its context, and not just with each other but also with yourselves — will you have any idea what a relationship is about. Or was. Hypothetically.
DEAR CAROLYN: I'm in a long-distance relationship. He suggested we not be exclusive because he didn't want me to miss out on a real college experience, and because we're too far apart to see each other regularly. When I go out with other guys, at what point should I tell them about it? And do you think relationships like this can last? I think if I met another guy, I would eventually have to choose which one I really wanted to be with. So, is this whole nonexclusive thing just like waiting to see if I can find someone better?
D.C.: Yes, or to see if he can. But normally I dot the i's with smiley faces so it doesn't look so bad.
Seeing if there's someone better doesn't mean you're looking to trade up, which would be heartless and opportunistic. It means you're seeing if there's someone better for you, with the understanding that the definition of "better" — and, by extension, the definition of "you" — are both still works in progress.
Besides providing crucial logos for otherwise blank sweatshirts, expanding your view of yourself and your world is the whole point of an education.
So start expanding. Tell the truth to new guys when it seems like a lie not to. Eventually, you'll learn you've grown apart from your boyfriend, or fallen for him again, or fallen for the ol' "Let's not be exclusive so I, um, I mean you, can have fun while you're away." If you hate not knowing, then you can always change course and break up.