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Hump Day: Looking Before You Leap

You're in a relationship thats essentially great, but where do you draw the line of testing new waters? Are you about to bring on a mixed up mess?

Maya Chendke is the author of Awake but Dreaming, a novel that will make you regret wishing to be famous. She’s passionate about self-publishing, cars, and volunteering. When not writing, she studies at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. Follow her quirky thoughts @mayachendke.

An interesting conversation thread came up during a brunch session this weekend. Breaking bread with some of my young professional ladies, we ended up discussing the shades of grey between being in a relationship, and getting to the point of covertly testing new waters. As a fairly conservative dater, I didn’t believe greys existed until I just about finished my bacon and eggs (suffice it to say, I may have developed a little more compassion for certain people I’ve misunderstood).

Picture this scenario. You’ve been with your significant other for a substantial amount of time (whether that’s quantifiable as months or years is between you and yours). Things are essentially great. You’re great. They’re great (especially on paper). But maybe you’re just not feeling as great together as once before?

There are probably too many of us out there secretly wincing “crap, that’s me.” And often, we let that wincing, tickle of discomfort continue on because things are still “essentially great.” They may continue to be essentially great for years to come, right? How do break-ups start, anyway?!

But the young professional’s timeline is critical, and those years to come could easily lead to an engagement or marriage thrown into the mix. Left unchecked, that wincing, tickle of discomfort poses more long-term anxiety than anticipated. I’m not talking about wedding jitters; this is for those moments when you feel a sliver of icy cold grip you as you try to imagine your near future (and when you don’t see your love’s face in it).

Unfortunately, what seems to make the most substantial impact on whether to actually make major partnership changes comes from interaction with prospects. Rather than listen to our own wincing, tickles of discomfort, it takes that new person at work/intramural frisbee/wine club to draw us out. And though the witty banter and ponderings of life with said person may be truly enjoyable, they’ve also drawn out the part of you that feels like it is courting again.

And this is where things start to go from slate to ash to gunmetal grey.

At what point in this reawakening do you enter territory that threatens your existing (essentially great) relationship? Does forging new emotional bonds with a partner-substitute do this – what I like to cal –l “emotional mistress”? How do you differentiate between shiny, new excitement versus a fated connection? Can you even explore this without compromising your commitment to your relationship and without compromising your sanity?

I’ve always been quite the skeptic when it comes to these points where our hearts splinter off. To me, when your brain actually deviates from your person…there’s something wrong and you need to own up to yourself how deep that really runs. In my black and white reality, it’s been easy to drop everything (or everyone) that starts to mix up life. Being brought into another’s mixed up mess is no fun, and I am blunt to advise friends in that light.

But as I learned between bites of sunny side up, living in greys is actually more painful than walking away entirely. It’s my hope that anyone feeling those wincing, tickles of discomfort starts to picture the future and the faces they see in it. The answer isn’t breaking up or staying together, this isn’t a remedy-specific sermon on long-term relationships. It’s just a realization that we all have to admit that things change over time, and that this is ok. As long as we pledge to evolve together, or have the clarity to step away once your heart is pulled out completely. There’s nothing constructive about impulsively throwing yourself into chaos, but at least work to deal with it if you find yourself in a mixed up mess.

Maya Chendke