You might be surprised how much email I get from people looking for advice about how to choose between two romantic choices. It all started last summer after I wrote about the dangers of losing both romantic choices if you refuse to make a choice. I had no idea this was such a common issue.
I wrote that article last year after meeting a young woman named Ashley who was trying to decide between two men who both loved her. With most articles I write, a piece will get a huge readership in the first week if it’s ever going to become well-read, but then it doesn’t get a lot of readership after its first few weeks. A popular article might have thousands of readers in its first week and then almost nobody in the months to come. The article about choosing between two loves was very different.
That article wasn’t one that was passed around and linked by hundreds on Facebook, but it’s attracted a steady stream of people reading it every single day since then. Even after a year, it’s a rare day when that article isn’t read at least 50 times. And people almost always find it through search engines. Just to grab one random search string that brought someone to the page on Wednesday: “how to choose between two women you love.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week because of a particular email I got from a young man last week. We’ll call him Ben, although that’s not his real name. Ben told me — at length — about the two women in his life. One is his current girlfriend and another is a long-time friend who’s been more than just a friend. Ben and the current girlfriend are “taking a break” for him to think about what he wants.
I noticed something interesting as Ben described the two women. His current girlfriend sounds really impressive. She sounds like the sort of woman who you’d like to take with you if you were interested in impressing your friends and family. But when he describes her, it’s almost as though he’s reading someone’s resume and expecting for us all to be impressed. He sounds almost as though he wants himself to be impressed with her. He sounds as though he admires her and is impressed with her in some respects, but he didn’t talk about anything that sounded like a real sense of connection.
When Ben talked about the other woman, he talked more about how they personally connect. She doesn’t seem to have the “impressive” attributes that the first woman does. She might be more flawed, but she also has more future possibilities for growth, according to Ben. With this one, Ben talked about their shared interests and the things they like to do together, whereas he mentioned that the other woman wants him to do things he doesn’t enjoy.
What would you tell Ben? You don’t know much about the women involved, and I’m not going to give too many details here since it’s Ben’s private life. But even with what little I’ve told you from what Ben wrote to me, doesn’t it seem pretty clear that he already knows which one he really wants?
In the article about Ashley, I told the story of what I did in a somewhat similar situation five and a half years ago. (I’ll let you read that for yourself if you’re interested in seeing how badly I messed up. Being honest about my own mistakes seems to make people believe I could have insight for them. I hope they’re right.) I had two women who loved me. I knew who I wanted to marry, but I didn’t want to hurt the other woman — and I think that’s a key to a choice like this.
I told myself five and a half years ago that I didn’t know what to do. When I look back on it, I did know what to do. There was one woman who I didn’t want to hurt. There was another woman who I didn’t want to live without. I couldn’t achieve both of those goals, so I ended up hurting them both and losing them both.
I think your heart usually knows what you really want. Your head might have a different agenda, but I think the heart is generally wiser. The heart usually knows that there’s one of your choices who you truly don’t want to live without — even though making that choice might mean hurting someone else.
So what happened to my feelings about the two women who I lost? As for the one I didn’t want to hurt, I haven’t heard from her in four and a half years. I don’t know what’s going on in her life and that’s fine with me. I liked her as a person and enjoyed her at times, so I wish her well. But my life hasn’t been changed by having her out of my life.
As for the one I should have married, I think about her every single day. I can’t help it. You could argue that there’s no telling what would have happened if we had married. Maybe we would have had trouble. Maybe, but my heart believes that we would have worked out our issues and been fine. My head and my heart agree that my life would have been better with her in it, and I even think her life would have been better with me in it.
I should have asked myself a simple question five years ago: Who do you not want to live without?
The answer would have been clear. It would have required me to hurt someone (who was going to be hurt in the long run anyway). But it would have been the right question to ask — and my heart knew the answer, even if it didn’t like what the truth required doing in regard to the woman I didn’t want to hurt.
So I would ask Ben who he doesn’t want to live without. He’s still young, so it’s possible that he can envision his life without either of these women. Maybe they’re not important enough to him. But when I read what he has to say about the two women, it sounds as though he can envision living without the first woman more easily than he can envision living without the second one in the long run.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he would answer the question differently. But I think it’s the right question to ask. I think the answer would tell him the truth about what he really wants.
I never again heard from Ashley — the young woman in last year’s story — so I don’t know whether she made a wiser choice than I did. I hope she did. And I hope Ben comes up to a decision that will save him from looking back in the future and regretting living without the one he doesn’t want to live without.
Good luck, Ben.