Most single people now have multiple options for dating adventures.
Many of my patients have agonized over this kind of conflict. They’re not discontented with their current relationship, but they still find themselves wondering if they should keep looking for a better one. They ask questions like, “Could there be another person out there that I could love more? What if I leave this relationship and then winding up realizing it was the best I’d ever have? What if I’m never sure no matter who I’m with? How do I make the right decision?”
Over the four decades that I’ve been a relationship therapist, I’ve developed an exercise that often helps them answer their questions. I ask them to imagine that their search for the right long-term partner can feel like traveling through an archipelago of islands, sampling the attractions and limitations of each. There is always the wonder of new experience, the exploration of all that is offered, and the decision to nest there or to continue searching.
The relationship-island metaphor is an easy way to describe the dilemma of many partnership-seekers today. They find themselves going from relationship to relationship, basking for a while in the beauty of the initial experience, only to eventually feel restless and wondering if it’s time to move on.
I Love My Partner-But Could There Be Someone Better?
As they imagine those journeys with me, they quickly realize that there may be infinite possibilities for new “relationship island” experiences for them. They also can see that any island they settle upon could eventually not feel like the right choice later on, and they fear that happening. They’ve watched their friends make sincere and authentic commitments that somehow fell apart over time, and they don’t know how to predict those heartbreaks for themselves.
It was easier in the not-so-distant past, where many people were born, grew up, and forever remained on just one metaphorical relationship mixxxer island. They were not often exposed to the possibility of other choices and were prepared to be content with what was readily available. Many times those options were made for them well in advance.
Today, with the twin developments of migration away from family and the explosion of technology, most single people now have multiple options for dating adventures. They’ve gained the freedom to endlessly explore new possibilities, but are often overwhelmed with fears of making the wrong long-term relationship choice.
The sheer amount of media dating sites and the opportunities they offer can add to the conundrum. The uncertainty of unknown qualities and backgrounds of potential relationship partners can actually make those metaphorical islands more intriguing, but also more potentially dangerous. What is advertised in the “relationship option travel guide” is not always what shows up in the actual experience?
The combination of all of these variables keeps relationship seekers forever wondering when to stay in their current partnership or when to let go and move on.
- Is the partner I’m with the best I’ll ever know?
- Should I take the risk of leaving this relationship behind and keep looking?
- Am I just endlessly searching for a relationship that is just a fantasy?”
- How can I know that it’s time to commit to the partner I’m with or to look for someone new?
- Am I settling for what I have because I’m afraid I won’t find anyone better than the person I’m with?
- Am I just doomed to search forever because I’ll never be certain?
Though there may be as many different answers as there are relationships, there are some guidelines that can help with those decisions. The following six are the ones I’ve found to be the most helpful.