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Confession #9: The Wandering Eye

January 10, 2010

(Warning: This confession will make me look like a huge jerk. If you currently don’t think I’m a jerk and would like to continue to think that, stop reading this.)

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had while dating is the persistent wonder that there’s someone better for me out there.

“Better for me” is the key part of that phrase. Not just “better.” There’s always someone prettier, funnier, smarter, etc than the person you’re with. But is the person you’re with the best person for you? Do you connect with them better than anyone else? Are you completely satisfied with them?

There have been many times during my relationships when I’ve thought that I’m with the person that I’m supposed to be with. But there are also times when I’ve had a wandering eye. My wandering eye wonders if some other woman is actually the right one for me. If I’m the right one for her.

I was at a party with a girlfriend when my wandering eye landed on a cute Asian woman. She was wearing a slinky black dress, and at some point during the party, we started talking. It was one of those conversations that made the rest of the party seem irrelevant. Including my girlfriend of the time (I warned you about me being a jerk). My girlfriend was otherwise having a good time with the other guests.

At some point I ended sitting off to the side of the kitchen on a stool, and the woman was standing very close as we spoke. I distinctly  remember this because she was doing one of the most subtly sexy things a stranger has every done to me. My legs were propped up on the stool, and as she spoke, she moved closer and closer until she was leaning her upper thigh against my knee. Her dress was very think, and I could feel the heat of her body on my knee.

She remained in that position until my girlfriend called me over to speak with me. We went out in the hall and she asked me what was going on. I told her nothing. Which was completely true and completely false. I had no intention to do anything with this other woman. But emotionally and socially, I was unquestionably betraying my girlfriend. Right in front of her. Right in front of everyone, in fact.

Again, jerk, I know.

The problem was that I was really connecting with this other woman. I barely knew her, but what I was feeling that night made me doubt what I had with my girlfriend. I could have taken the high road and been a good boyfriend and not talked to this other woman. But I wasn’t that guy. I was indecisive, and I wondered if I should be talking to this other woman, so I did.

I’ve had this sense of doubt and indecision at some point with every woman I’ve dated. Is she the right one for me? What about this other woman? Or that one? But you can’t eliminate every person out there. It’s simply not feasible.

Over on Harley May’s blog, where I recently had a guest post and she had a follow-up post, there has been a discussion about “the one.” So many people talked about “the one” as a choice–you find someone who works really well for you and you for them, and you make the choice to be with them–on Day 1 and every day after that too. I love that idea, but I’m so daunted by that first choice. That’s not a choice I feel comfortable making if my eye is still wandering to see if there’s someone better for me out there.

All of this comes back to me being intentionally single. There’s simply no alternative with my wandering eye. I don’t like being a jerk to these girlfriends–it’s so unfair for me to do that to them.

What I’m really afraid of is that my wandering eye is never going to go away. So if you’re open to it, all of you in long-term committed relationships and marriages, tell me about your experience with your wandering eye. Tell a weak man if you ever look around and wonder if someone else is somehow even better for you than the person you’re with. If so, how do you deal with that? How do you keep the doubts at bay? How do you keep your love untarnished by the curiosity of others?

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    January 10, 2010 10:34 pm

    This is why I think that marriage/long-term commitment isn’t necessarily about the girl but more about the stage of life you’re in and whether you’re ready. Why have so many people our age (late 20s) gotten married/engaged around now? Do you really think all these people met “the one” (which doesn’t exist) coincidentally between ages 22-25? No, it’s because we’re out of college (less opportunity to be single and mingle, less time) and sooner or later, everyone around you starts pairing up so you feel pressure to do the same.

    There’s no reason people would meet the right “ones” immediately post-college as opposed to their 30s or 40s or teens — it’s just a matter of being ready.

    But take it with a grain of salt, I’m single and nowhere close to ready right now — and like you, I have ended a relationship (4+ years) that was headed in that direction.

  2. January 11, 2010 12:39 am

    Ah, a kindred spirit. I totally hear you about how people just start pairing up. I see absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it makes sense that people get swept up in that social norm.

    Being ready versus waiting for the right one…it’s a tough call. I mean, wouldn’t it make sense to wait until you’ve met/dated a certain number of people before deciding that you met the one? That way you’ve granted yourself a spectrum of people and experiences. At the same time, perhaps all you need is to be ready. If you’re really ready to settle down, wouldn’t anyone compatible do?

    I’m not settling for compatible, though. I’m going big time. I want the love of my life, or nothing. And sure, I will also have to be ready. I’ll have to be mature enough not want my eyes to wander, to not let them, to be happy with what I have.

  3. Dionne permalink
    January 11, 2010 10:13 am

    Sounds like to me that a) You are not a jerk b) you are not confident that the universe has your best interests in mind and if you were meant to be with someone else then the universe would make it so without your meddling c) you need to trust that God, or a higher power, or the universe has your back.

    I say all that because in my experience every time I try to over analyze or think too much about “WHAT IF”, I end up screwing up what is right in front of me. Be in the moment, Stegmaier. Stay in the present. Every time you worry about the “WHAT IF” you steal and sabotage your own joy…your own happiness that’s right in front of you. I know you are afraid of missing out, but what if you ARE missing out of what is being given to you in the present because you think you are missing out of the future.

    Food for thought. I’m so glad you are becoming more comfortable with “confessing”. It’s good for you- it helps you grow.

    • January 11, 2010 12:23 pm

      “What if” is a dangerous question, isn’t it? I like your advice to be in the moment and live in the present. I think I’m often there, but maybe not as often as I’d like when I’m in relationships.

      • Sarah permalink
        January 11, 2010 4:54 pm

        Jamey – following these threads with interest. I’m going to pipe in as a woman with a wandering eye. Not so much a lustful wandering eye, as a woman who struggles with “what if.” I think it plagues both genders, and certain personality types more than others… but at some point plagues all of us. I can say I’ve made some bad decisions/mistakes in the past when I’ve gotten too caught up in the “what if’s.” I’ve had to grieve those poor decisions, my failure to be thankful for what’s right in front of me, and forgive myself. Thankfully, I am still young and I get a second chance… I didn’t mess up that badly. But I have seen the dangers of forever what-ifing. In fact, I get letters every day of good marriages being broken because one spouse went down the “what if” bunny trail. Not that it’s always bad to “what if” – it’s natural – but definitely not always the most satisfying way of thinking. 🙂 Whoever I end up with, I know I will have to make a conscious decision to choose NOT to dwell on “what-if” and thank God for what I have… a good man who loves me and I him… who will never fulfill all of my desires, but hopefully will be my best friend and trusted partner in life. 🙂

        • January 11, 2010 5:03 pm

          I’m glad you mentioned the word “lustful.” Although I have on occasion had a wandering eye that wondered about chemistry with other women, for the most part it’s not at all about that. It’s about connection. Would I have a stronger connection with another woman? I think that’s an important distinction to make–for me, at least.

          By “mistakes” do you mean that you’ve broken up with someone who you actually liked because you started wondering “what if” about others?

          I really like the way you closed your comment–waiting for someone with whom you have a really strong love, and stopping the “what ifs” at that point. Allowing yourself to be satisfied with that person and that love and that connection.

          Also, you mentioned those letters–do you want to point out who you work for to my blogging audience? I’m sure they’re intrigued, but I don’t want to spoil it if you’re trying to keep that separate from this.

          • Sarah permalink
            January 11, 2010 5:54 pm

            Jamey – I think you make a good point in that once you find someone you decide to marry, then is a good time to make that conscious decision to stop the “what if’s.” Until that point, I think it is important to be open to the “what if’s.” It is a tad dangerous still (yes, I let a good relationship go bad because I was soooo concerned about the “what if’s.” Looking back, I see we had an awesome relationship in many ways, and my angst/wandering eye really brought it down. I spent 4 years after that relationship dating around and realizing that my “what if’s” weren’t actually as sparkly and fun as they had appeared when I was “trapped” in that good relationship!)

            And sure, I’ll mention my work. I’m the “Family Editor” for If there was ever a great job to learn the in’s and out’s of married life before getting married, this would be it. 🙂

  4. Dionne permalink
    January 11, 2010 10:19 am

    As for the theory of “The One”…I think for some people they are meant to find “The One” and others are meant to find several in their lifetime. Also, I do believe that some people are not meant to find “The One” because they don’t respect others or themselves (i.e. cheaters, liars, manipulaters) and are doomed to follow misery. It’s true!!

    When I was younger I believed in belief of “The One” and then love experiences jaded me and I no longer believed. Now, there is someone who is in my life who is showing me that, in fact, “The One” exists and, try as I may to fight it, I am succumbing to the truth that, finally, there is someONE for me- that has always been the One for me even when I didn’t see it.

  5. alissagrosso permalink
    January 11, 2010 11:32 am

    I’ve never really believed in the idea of there being any one right person or some perfect soul mate out there, and frankly it scares me when a guy starts talking like this to me, especially if it’s on a first date. (Yes, this has happened. In fact, it’s happened more than once.) I’m not going to condone your behavior at the party. That was completely wrong, but it’s certainly not wrong to have a wandering eye, and if you aren’t really completely happy with a relationship it’s okay to end it. You don’t have to have someone else, although it’s been my experience when breaking up with boyfriends, that they assume I must have some other guy. I don’t think everyone was meant to settle down with some sort of forever and ever partner, but I know I’m in the minority with this view.

    • January 11, 2010 12:31 pm

      Alissa and Dionne–

      You both have interesting takes on “the one.” Alissa, I agree with you that some people may be happier single forever. Maybe their soul mates are their friends, and that’s what they need for themselves. I’m discerning what I need in those respects.

      I’ve also noticed that women I break up with assume there’s some other woman. I think part of that is human nature–no one wants to think it’s them. “It’s not you, it’s me.” We’re all so vulnerable that sometimes it’s easier to think there’s someone else. I’ve never thought that in a bad way at all, though. I mean, if there’s someone better out there for the girl I’m dating, I hope she goes and dates that guy!

  6. Aaron permalink
    January 11, 2010 2:28 pm

    I wonder if every RomCom I’ve ever seen would have anything to say about this…. Hm.

    This is simply a question of priority, right?

    I’ve been in both situations.
    I’ve had the wandering eye, and I’ve had my eyes fixed.
    Personally, I like myself- and the products of my relationship and (in fact) the relationships – better when my eyes are fixed. As in, committed. As in, taking responsibility for my desires.

    That said, if my desires are strong enough to wander (curiosity, the doubts you fear so and wish to keep at bay), then they simply are, and it’s a new-age indicator that I’m not in the right relationship – per the logic often splashed about. But these arbitrary determinatons (“you’ll know when you know”, “when it’s right, you won’t want anything else”) belie the truth. You know you’ve made a mistake AFTER you’ve made it, not before.

    Say you lose “the one” by wandering (another fine pop cinema archetype) and spend the rest of your life with a hard-earned lesson, regretting your youthful failure. This is not uncommon.

    And as anyone can see, this wouldn’t preclude you from finding happiness. In fact, culture has already supplied you with enough rationalizations to commit any number of bungles and (if you’re desirable) still clean up after you (perhaps “the higher power” that has your back, alluded to by Dionne?).

    There are no rules. But I offer this guideline – you can tell if you’re ready for a serious relationship if you value it enough not to wander. Eventually you’ll have to hang up your spurs. When that happens, you will still meet people to whom you’re attracted.

    If your relationship fails, then, I think it’s on you.

    • January 11, 2010 4:54 pm

      Aaron–thanks for your comments. You make a number of great points here, so I won’t reiterate them all, but my favorite is: “You can tell if you’re ready for a serious relationship if you value it enough not to wander.” I like that because it’s about recognizing how much you appreciate the connection you have with someone and making the choice to value it and stay committed to it. i aspire to that. I just don’t think I’m there yet.

      Oh, and I really like the part about you liking yourself better when your eyes were fixed. That’s a great message.

  7. Aaron permalink
    January 11, 2010 2:31 pm

    I think people read into “the one”.
    I think it began a sweet nostalgia for couples who were lucky enough to fill their dance cards with the same person, and be happy. And I think they felt it was luck.

    The star-struck onus we all put upon ourselves to find this mythical character leads to far more heart-ache than good. Therefore, whether you believe in the concept or not, I think it’s useful to discard it while you’re searching.

  8. Aaron permalink
    January 11, 2010 5:50 pm

    Sorry if it’s heavy-handed. I’m something of a romantic.
    It’s definitely an age thing, right? After all, a romantic in youth might say, “Carpe diem,” and live for the moment with all the vim he can muster.
    A romantic getting older might say, “My wife is everything” and for him, the most romantic thing is the commitment itself.

    Like I said, though, and the thing I think is most important – there are no rules.
    It’s just a matter of what you want for yourself.
    Or so I believe…

    Wow. I finally commented. Cool beans.

    • January 11, 2010 6:01 pm

      That’s true, age certainly plays a part in this. As I was telling someone the other day, if you had asked me 10 years ago if I’d be married at 29, I would have responded, “Definitely yes. And who are you again?” I’m a romantic through and through, but I want to be a romantic for the right woman.

      Thanks for the comments!

  9. January 11, 2010 9:25 pm

    What I originally said, in cryptic-tweety-land, was this: “what if it’s @ choosing someone (spouse) & something (marriage) in spite of what-ifs and I-wonders (which happen to us all)?”

    What I meant was this:

    I don’t think the question is whether someone better is or could be out there. Sure. Probably. Who cares?

    I’m as much a romantic as anyone else, but I’m also a realist. That “you are the only other person in the world” thing only lasts for so long. In fact, studies show that you are really only likely to be “in love” with someone for about two years. After that, those cute little habits you first fell for start to become really annoying. And if you don’t have a deeper connection and shared commitment to making things last, the relationship will almost always (and should) end, if an ending is an option.

    Add to it this: we are each, as individuals, wrapped up in our own little worlds and we have good days and bad days and our personal rhythms usually have nothing to do with those of the person we choose to be with. For a while (see, e.g., two years, above), we might choose to override our bad habits (especially when they are called out by our sweetums) in order to preserve the happy-sunny-wonderful relationship we’re in. (It’s a small sacrifice, after all.) Later, when a couple’s willingness to put on a happy face in spite of having a down day wears off, they quickly find they have days (hours? minutes?) when things are great and others which are…not so much.

    I think this is true, no matter how wonderful the people, the couple, the connection.

    I’m really not trying to be depressing. Just the opposite. What I’m trying to say instead is that if you have a deeper connection, you can trust in the knowledge and confidence that the warm and sunny and good will return while you are stuck in the dark and twisty times. If you are with “the right person” (who can be any number of particular persons, with timing being of utmost importance), I think you really only need to have the following things (and not necessarily in this order):

    (1) predominating respect for one another
    (2) commitment to the relationship (and what that means to both of you)
    (3) ups which outweigh the downs

    This all adds up to this question at the end of the day:

    And, finally, because I believe that other people can almost always say things better than I can, I leave you with two quotations:

    “She didn’t make me miserable, or anxious, or ill at ease. You know, it sounds boring, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t spectacular either. It was just good. But really good.”
    ~Rob from “High Fidelity”

    “There is hardly a more gracious gift that we can offer somebody than to accept them fully, to love them almost despite themselves.”
    ~Elizabeth Gilbert, in “Committed”

    • January 11, 2010 10:57 pm

      Wow, this is a blog post in itself. I’m very glad you didn’t limit that to 140 characters.

      Like some of the brilliant comments earlier, I’m not going to reiterate what I liked about your comment, because there’s a lot too it and you said it better than I would. Right now, the answer to “Am I better off with the person I am with than I would be alone?” for me is “better off alone.” I know that. I don’t even feel alone. That’s how I know it’s right.

      Great quotes, great list…the one thing that I have hope for is that some people stay in love longer than 2 years. I mean, I’m 29 years old. I’ve experienced many loves. Different loves. I think what I’m saying is that I don’t overestimate love. I don’t think it’s going to sweep me off my feet. I think it’s actually going to be like a good Bud Select buzz, not a strong drunk. I think–or I’d like to believe at least–that it’s going to last for a while. Longer that 2 years. And of course, there will be tough days, as you say, but the buzz will still be there as I love them despite myself and them me.

      Thanks for writing. Great, great comment. Lots of great comments today.

      • January 12, 2010 7:47 am

        You can be “in love” again (and/or still) after the two year period. It’s more that it can take that long for the sex-hormone cloud to clear with respect to that person and for something more profound to emerge.

        ::Digs for that articles::

        Neither is the exact one I’m thinking of, but added together, they say the same thing.

        • January 12, 2010 11:05 am

          Oh yes, I’ve read about the two years before–as you say, it’s about the hormones that give you that feeling of being in love, that “in love” high. I don’t expect that high to last. Two years would be great. I would hope that I would have fallen into a much deeper, more profound state of “in love” far before the high wears off.

    • Dionne permalink
      January 12, 2010 10:50 am

      Rebecca you rock! I love that you quoted both “High Fideltiy” and “Committed”. I love both, although, I’m not done reading “Committed”.

      • January 12, 2010 12:23 pm

        Thanks, Dionne! I read an excerpt from EG’s new book in “Oprah” and can’t wait to get my hands on it. I may have to finish EPL first, though…got through most of it for Jamey’s book club a few years ago but never made it all of the way through the “love” part. Hmmm. I hope that’s not a metaphor for anything. Anyway, I love-love-love “High Fidelity”. It’s definitely in my Top Five movies, and it makes me happy just to be able to say that. 🙂

        • Dionne permalink
          January 12, 2010 12:31 pm

          I’ve read “Eat,Pray,Love” as well. My roommate and I quote that book all the time! That book is in my top 5. High Fidelity is in my Top 10.

  10. Kai permalink
    January 12, 2010 11:19 pm

    Extra! EXTRA!!

    The Professor has done it again! The 150 year old Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth has invented the What If machine. It will answer all your “what if” questions. It might even cure that wandering eye of yours. It’s like having your very own Dalai Lama in your living room but without the whole holiness. The What If machine is yours for three easy payment of $29.99 plus shipping and handling. Call 800-1WHATIF to order. What are you waiting for! Call now.

    Brought to you by Walrus Juice. It’s extreme!

    Sorry if you don’t like the comment. I can’t think of any helpful advices or wise words for this situation. But this is an awesome post with great comments. I’m mentally taking notes when reading them. I think they will come in handy someday.

    Here’s a picture of Professor and the What If machine. If you are curious.


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