Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I like to think of myself as a free spirit. I'm not trying to sound hippie-dippy or anything, but I do really enjoy my freedom and my individuality. I like being able to travel at a moment's notice, I like not feeling tied down or obligated to anyone or anybody, and I like being single. (These are all fairly recent discoveries, since I was in a long-term relationship from the time I was 19 until I was 28. I've been single for two years.)
I recently met an awesome guy. He's a couple years younger than me, but he's fun and sweet and attentive and everything I wished my ex could be when we were together. We have a great time when we're together, and I know he'd like to be with me for the long run. Sometimes I think that about him too, but sometimes I think it's a case of bad timing because I'm just not ready for that kind of commitment again.
I feel like I'm at a crossroads: Do I see where this goes? Or do I tell him that I like hanging out with him now, but that sooner or later I'll want my freedom, so maybe it's best to break things off before anybody gets too hurt? For what it's worth, I really, really like this guy and don't want to hurt him at all.
-- Free Spirited Away
Listen sister -- nothing in life is free, even spirits. Especially spirits. We all pack baggage and phobias and quirks around with us, even the hippie-dippies who love their freedom and live out of their duffle bags. And you have a very common piece of oversized luggage: fear of commitment. The only unique aspect of your case is that commitment phobia is typically found in men. Sure, you love your freedom, but the bigger issue is that you don't want to be locked into a relationship. And why would you? You spent most of your adult life in a not-so-perfect relationship and now you're knee-deep in another one, albeit a better one.
If you're dating a great guy but still want out, that's a clear sign that you aren't ready for long-term commitment. Be honest with yourself and your boyfriend about it immediately. And take solace in knowing that at least you're acting on this now and not three years into a relationship or a marriage or parenthood.
Warning No. 1: Part of living life free is leaving a trail of broken and bitter hearts in our wake. Take it from me, a man who lives like there's always a better burrito to eat or cooler woman to date around the next corner.
Warning No. 2: Part of living life free is feeling lonely. Take it from me -- there isn't always a better relationship, or better burrito, around the next corner.
Knowing what you want is different than a fear of commitment. A fear of commitment implies you want to (or should) settle down, but something is holding you back. That's not what's going on here.
You know yourself, and you know what you're looking for. Don't let anyone give you a hard time about that -- you're actually in a better position than a lot of folks.
But you're looking at this situation like you only have two options: stay and eventually break this poor guy's heart, or leave now, so you both hurt only a little bit. There's a third, and I think better choice: total honesty.
Does your new guy know where you're coming from? If you make that clear, you put the ball in his court. He can decide whether to risk it and stick around or cut his losses now. Tell him exactly what you said here -- that you like him, but you can't make any promises because you enjoy your freedom. There's nothing wrong with that.
By being honest, you're giving him the power to protect himself a little -- and you're also ensuring that if and when you do leave, you can't say you never warned him. He will probably still be sad, but he won't be able to blame you for pulling the rug out from under him.
• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free spirit worried about future with awesome guy