I've had three serious monogamous relationships in my life, including the one I'm in now. My boyfriend, who's my age (38), has had about a dozen, lasting anywhere from six months to two years. He thinks of them as ex-girlfriends, not dates or casual lovers. My problem is that when he says he loves me, I can't help but feel it means less than when I say it. If he's loved every second woman who's come along, how special am I really? Our histories make me feel I'm more serious and committed than he is, by default. Otherwise, he's the perfect man for me but I can't help feeling like this is transitory somehow.
He Said: It would seem perfectly normal that your boyfriend has had a series of monogamous relationships. Serial monogamy is now the norm for young urban dwellers, both gay and straight. It has many benefits. It optimizes social and geographic mobility in an economy that prizes such flexibility. It also ensures that one does not get locked into an unhappy relationship. Perhaps most importantly, it helps figure out what one values most in a partner who might stick around longer. Think about it for a minute. You yourself acknowledge three relationships. Someone who had been in one or even none might see you as promiscuous with your own love. (The late, great Gore Vidal famously defined promiscuity as someone having had one more sex partner than you.)
What matters is the quality of the love you share, not the number of your lovers.
She Said: It’s difficult to know exactly what someone means when they say “I love you.” Some people do fall in love, and profess that love more easily and often than others. Others save “I love you” for only one or two partners during the course of their life, while still others say “I love you” when they actually mean “I need you,” “Please reassure me,” “I’m horny,” or any number of unspoken motivations.
I don’t know what your boyfriend means when he professes his love to you. But it sounds to me like your main concern is one of commitment. You can’t erase his past lovers—and you probably wouldn’t want to as they’ve certainly helped shape him into the perfect boyfriend you claim he is. And it’s much too unwieldy to ask what he means by the word “love.” Instead, ask yourself what you need to feel more secure going forward. You don’t say how long you’ve been together, but if it’s been awhile and you’re ready for the next step—be it living together, engagement, or marriage—feel him out to see if envisions a longer future with you than two years. More importantly, what does he do to cement that future? Does he initiate steps toward full commitment? You don’t need to analyze his very common words; all you need to do is observe his actions. They always speak the underlying truth.
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