“I’m So Afraid of Making the Wrong Decision And Being Miserable”

Pensive woman

I am 19 years old and in college. I have been with my boyfriend, on and off, since my first weekend here when I met him, two years ago. We broke up last year for a couple months and then got back together and have been together ever since. My boyfriend was my first and only until we went on the break and I played the field. I love my boyfriend very much, but recently — and this sounds so bad — I’ve been wondering if I’ve been in a relationship for too long and I could possibly be missing other things out there.

I don’t know how I feel about having a relationship through all of my years of college, when college is supposed to be that time where you have fun and experiment and be single. When I thought of myself in college, I never thought I would have a boyfriend for all of it. I wish I would’ve met my boyfriend later in life, because my problem is I can’t imagine being with anyone but him in the long run, but right now I’m only 19 and wonder if I want to be single. And then I think about how miserable I was when we were broken up, so I don’t know why I’m even wondering if I want to be single.

I love him so much; he’s my best friend, but recently I feel like we’re just super-close friends who have sex. I fantasize about other boys and imagine what it’s like to be with them. I know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But I CAN’T STOP THINKING about this. I think about this EVERY DAY. Hope you can send some advice! — Wondering About The Other Side

First of all, it “doesn’t sound so bad” that you are reflecting on a relationship you’ve been in for two years and that you are giving thoughtful consideration about whether it’s right for you, if it fulfills you, and whether you’d be happier out of it. In fact, rather than “sounding bad,” that sounds pretty wise and smart to me. It also sounds like you’re scared and like you feel some guilt and like you realize what it is you need but that, if you ndulge your needs and then don’t feel immediate relief, satisfaction, and fulfillment, you’re going to second-guess your decision and blame yourself for stepping off the path you were on to see whether another path might lead somewhere more interesting and exciting.

If nothing else I say resonates with you, please at least hear this: Just because a change in course doesn’t provide instant gratification, it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong path. And just because the path you are on feels comfortable and familiar and safe, it doesn’t mean it’s the right path. In fact, it’s when we step outside our comfort zones and let ourselves feel scared and a little panicky that we often find the biggest rewards. It’s when we delay gratification, because we know somewhere deep down that the pay-off will be better if we wait, that we are often rewarded with the biggest gifts. But those gifts don’t come without some sacrifice. It’s important to remember that sacrifice and “feeling miserable” are not hallmarks of bad decisions. They can, in fact, be hallmarks of personal growth. They don’t call them “growing pains” because they feel great.

Here’s another thing I want you to take from my advice to you: That voice you keep hearing in your head EVERY DAY that is telling you, nagging at you really, that maybe you aren’t meant to be in this relationship — that maybe this is the time to be single and not tied down to a future that you aren’t ready to commit to — is called your intuition. This is a perfect time for you to begin nurturing your intuition, listening to it, feeling its power and letting it guide you. You already know what the right decision is. Most of us usually do. But we let fear stand in the way of making it. Our intuition is the fight against that fear, yelling loudly at us to stand up and join it (or at least to follow it as it guides us through the jungle of our doubt and shame and guilt and fear). On the other side of that jungle is a wide open field. The grass isn’t greener there, but there sure is a lot of space to run around and be free. And freedom, if you let yourself discover it, is even better than greener grass. It’s not, as you might wish it were, the absence of pain or misery or fear or any of the stuff you’re scared of feeling. But it is an invitation to find peace with those feelings and to create with them the tapestry of who you’re meant to be and the life you’re meant to live. It’s a ticket to the best show in town, where the music is a symphony of all the notes you’re meant to hear — the light ones and the dark ones. The soft ones and the heavy, booming bass notes.

Finally… and this is a hard lesson to get so it may take you a while: This is your life and there is no script. That means that college is what YOU make of it. It’s whatever you need it to be. It’s whatever you decide to take from it. It’s as much a time to be single and date around as it is to find the person you’re meant to be with forever and settle into your life-long relationship at 19. There are no rules. There is no script. It’s all ok, it’s all allowed. Because, freedom.

Freedom is a little scary, right? Without a playbook, without rules, and without a script to follow, we have to embrace our personal responsibility. We have to live with the knowledge that much of our life is a result of our own decisions. And if those choices make us miserable, it’s uncomfortable to accept responsibility for that, isn’t it? I know. I get it. But that’s where that voice comes in. Our old friend, Intuition. We aren’t completely alone out there floating around, untethered. We have our intuition guiding us along. And it does a pretty kick-ass job if we let it, naggy voice and all.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. “Here’s another thing I want you to take from my advice to you: that voice you keep hearing in your head EVERY DAY that is telling you, nagging at you really, that maybe you aren’t meant to be in this relationship — that maybe this is the time to be single and not tied down to a future that you aren’t ready to commit to — is called your intuition.”

    WWS – the whole letter is good, but thank you in particular, Wendy, for this great explanation of intuition. I loved reading it–just like I’ve loved checking in on Dear Wendy ever since City Wendy ended. Wendy’s was the first or maybe second blog I ever found on StumbleUpon my first year of college, when I was reluctantly dating my high school boyfriend after a necessary breakup, because it was easy and because he would be too depressed without me. I regret that second year of our relationship, and everything it held me back from during freshman year, to this day.

  2. Hell… I’m 31 and married, and this is exactly what I needed to hear today. I guess it’s not just the college kids who need a nudge that our intuition is a legitimate thing that can and should be considered, now and then!

    1. PS- Thanks, Wendy, for all you do. You’ve answered one of my letters before and I’m still mostly following your advice, although perhaps more slowly than I probably could have. I’ll send an update soon <3.

  3. Anonymousse says:

    Preach, Wendy!

  4. dinoceros says:

    Wendy’s advice is really good. One thing I’ll emphasize. Feeling upset or uncomfortable by something isn’t a sign that it’s the wrong thing to do. A lot of people assume that if they break up and miss their ex that it must been it was not the right thing to do. People are always going to be sad after a break up. But that doesn’t mean people have to also date the same person for the rest of their lives simply because they don’t want to feel miserable for weeks or months. That would be like refusing to ever get another job or move because you might be sad at first. Life includes good feelings and bad ones, and you can’t make decisions simply to avoid ever feeling sad.

    I’ve had friends who married their first boyfriend, and they occasionally used to wonder if they were missing out by not dating more. But they didn’t think about it every day. It was a passing thought sometimes when they heard about someone’s new boyfriend or exciting first date. The fact that you can’t get this out of your head and think every single day about how you might want to be single indicates that this isn’t just someone who is wondering “what if.”

    1. I completely agree with your second paragraph. I am married to the only man I’ve ever kissed – and we’ve been together since I was 16. Even when we were in a LDR in college, I never had more than a passing fancy about a what-if with another guy. Occasionally I’ve develop small crushes, but the overwhelming ‘rightness’ of my relationship with Othello has been more than enough to quash crushes. If I were wondering about it EVERY DAY, then I would listen to that inner voice.

      I’d also like to add that just because it isn’t a bad relationship and he isn’t a bad guy doesn’t make it a good relationship. It just might not be the right relationship for you.

  5. for_cutie says:

    Two words for you: Study Abroad. You’re 19 and I presume you have 1-2 years of college left. Make a break and take the leap to studying abroad for a semester. It will never be so easy as to pick up and live in another country as it is in college. It will give you that time and freedom to be on your own and explore. I too was with a long term boyfriend in college. I wanted a break, he didn’t. I studied abroad and came into my own – made new friends, learned new sports, even backpacked a foreign country by myself. I needed that time alone to find my strength and test my boundaries. It also tested my relationship – like when he said he would love me forever and we were to stay together but he never even bought one long distance phone card to call me… Maybe you could use some time and space for you, so you can come back with a better perspective on what works for you. Oh, and do it to be a better citizen of the world, because studying abroad is amazing!

    1. for_cutie says:

      And not to sound overly privileged, some study abroad programs cost the same as or even less than tuition to a state college in the US. Most schools also have exchange programs with certain destinations so your tuition costs stay the same.

      1. Anonymousse says:

        I so regret not doing study abroad.

      2. Avatar photo SavannahAnna says:

        So right — I did this too, and the tuition was cheaper than my university. And the travel I did, on the cheap, and the people I met and experiences I had were amazing and SO eye-opening!

      3. dinoceros says:

        Mine was about the same as my regular tuition, as an in-state student. For my out-of-state friends, it was even cheaper. It helped, I think, that I went to a country where higher ed is basically free for their students, so they weren’t that compelled to charge international students very much either.

  6. I think the answer depends on what you feel like you’re giving up by staying in a relationship. Feeling like you’re potentially missing out on “greener grass” is a pretty vague concept, so think about specifically what you would want to be different. There’s no wrong answer, as long as you’re honest. Is it hooking up with other guys? Possibly finding someone better to be in a relationship with? The excitement and hope of feeling like your love life is an unknown, and you could meet someone at anytime and have the new crush butterflies? (If so, break up with him.) Or is it having more time to make other friends? Going to parties and on adventures alone? Taking up your own hobbies and interests and finding things you love? Spending more time exploring life and your identity? (Because if so, maybe you can readjust your relationship so that you get both. If you’ve fallen into feeling more like close friends with him, I’m guessing you spend a lot of time together, so maybe start by spending more time apart. This might be a good time to start learning to have your own identity and adventures and life experiences, while balancing that with maintaining a relationship with someone you love. A relationship is not a death sentence – you still get to explore life and the unknown.) Thinking about it in very concrete terms may help you realize what you truly want.

    However, you say you love your boyfriend and “can’t imagine being with anyone but him,” but maybe that’s just because it’s your first relationship. You also say you fantasize about others and feel like you and your boyfriend are just close friends who have sex. What you may be experiencing is falling *out* of love for the first time. You still care about him a lot and don’t want to hurt him and feel guilty for choosing a path other than him, so you’re confused. It sounds like your “greener grass,” when you think about it, might be just not having to feel guilty about being with a boyfriend you don’t really love anymore. If so, there’s nothing wrong with that, just be honest to yourself and to him. It took me a while to learn, but I think life gets a lot better when you can be completely honest and authentic without worrying about what anyone will think.

    (Obligatory PSA: take care of yourself; parties are more fun when you don’t get blackout drunk; and always use protection – STDs and pregnancy scares are real.)

    1. Anonymousse says:

      Great points, T.
      And drink water. One for one while drinking!
      Always use condoms.

      1. 🙂 Lol, hydration is important!

  7. LW, This advice is great. Really think about your relationship and see what is nagging at you. Is it that you guys are really just hanging out and hooking up so you are missing out on going out? Is there something else you want to explore in particular?
    When I was in college (15 years ago), I dated but was proud that I never brought the same date to a sorority event twice. But, my biggest regret in college was not taking advantage of everything the campus had to offer. Mostly I drank alcohol in different costumes and I gave up most my hobbies to party and drink. I should have gone hiking, seen plays, heard speakers, gone to poetry readings, gone to art exhibits, stuff like that. Also, if it is a possibility, go abroad or on service spring breaks. Just really realize that you are cultivating the life you want. You can build whatever you want so go do it.

  8. TheOtherOther Me says:

    Wow, this is some of the best advice Wendy has ever given, IMO.

    Especially this part: “just because a change in course doesn’t provide instant gratification, it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong path. And just because the path you are on feels comfortable and familiar and safe, it doesn’t mean it’s the right path.”

  9. Constantly thinking about having sex with other guys, coupled with regret that you didn’t get to have a period of sexual exploration at the start of college, coupled with the two of you having already had one break-up seems like strong evidence that current bf is not the guy for you.

    Your description of him is a tad confusing. You say that you think of him sometimes as just a very close best friend, with whom you have sex. But then you also say that you love him ‘so much’. A best friend, whom you love a lot, with whom you have good sex, sounds like a great thing. But then, you did not actually say that the sex was good. Is that the problem? That might be fixable if you communicate with him about what your needs are and what is and isn’t working for you. But, you’ve probably already done that. Do you sense that he doesn’t love you as much as you love him?

    You say you broke up, but don’t say what the problem was. This begs two questions: how serious a problem was in — are we talking deal-breaker problem or just annoying; and did you actually solve the problem when you got back together, or did you both just feel lonely and drift back into same old-same old relationship with same problem(s) still in place.

    It is normal to consider college as a time for sexual exploration, but you likely have to choose between current relationship or sexual exploration. You can always discuss an open relationship with bf. Perhaps he is amenable to both of you having a semester or year of exploration, while still together.

  10. Ooooorrrrrrrr, by dumping this boyfriend you could be making the same mistake they did: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098635/ 🙂

    Of course it’s a movie, not life advice, and it works out because that’s how a movie has to end. Still it’s not that unbelievable.

    1. wait, maybe I don’t remember the movie right but I thought Harry and Sally never dated until they had known each other for 20 years. I thought they started out hating each other.

      1. There was chemistry between both of them from the beginning. Sally was just too busy to entertain the idea (where as Harry might have been a bit of a hound).

        That said, the whole premise of the movie is that they should have been together from the beginning.

        Now a fair warning, that’s a plotline that makes a good movie, not good life advice.

      2. As someone who’s watched that movie more times than I can count, I’m not sure that the point was that they should have been together all along. Really, I took it as being a story about how timing is everything.

      3. Avatar photo Stonegypsy says:

        Yeah, that was the impression I’ve always gotten. That they weren’t actually compatible when they met, but years of experience with life and other relationships made them a good match when they met up again.

      4. Anonymousse says:

        Uh, yeah. Exactly and…it’s a f$&@ing movie!

    2. So my brother and his wife dated in college and broke up. They kept in touch and reconnected when my brother was 27 and they married when he was 30. So if it is meant to be, I believe it will come back around.

  11. If there is anything to take from Wendy’s advice is that it’s your life and what is a good or a bad is a choice. In good part, your decision to make.

    So Wendy sings the praises of her life choices, hunt around in your twenties and then find your magic unicorn in your 30’s. It worked for her.

    But you could also stick with the guy, grow together and become life long partners. Sure sometimes it feels like a prison with all the missed opportunities but it’s also a safe heaven, where you know that no matter what, someone will have your back, knows your story and understands you more than anyone. Someone, because you lived so much together, probably makes choices compatible with your own. I think it has to be said, that all these years together aren’t a sequences of parties you both enjoyed side by side, but in good part common choices you both made together. That in itself is also a journey worth taking.

    Both paths have different risks and rewards. Neither will be guilt free. It’s most important that you are comfortable with the choice you make. That more than anything, will determine how happy you are with the outcome. And the internet is filled people who stuck it out to found out they were with cheating and lying bastards 2 kids and a house down the road. No way to tell today. Only time will tell.

    One final thought, life gets sadder as you grow older with diseases and death inevitably catching up with your family and then you. It’s easier to live when you aren’t alone (although here some will disagree).

    1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      Where in my reply here do I “sing the praises” of my life choices? And where do I say I “hunted around” in my 20s? Or that I met my “magic unicorn” in my 30s? None of that is true. I had one longterm (4 years) relationship in my mid-20s and casually dated a handful of other people. I met Drew — an actual person, not a unicorn, with flaws and with whom I have a very happy and fulfilling but imperfect relationship — when I was 29, so… you know, not in my 30s. If you want to reduce someone’s thoughtful and considerate advice to a series of life choices that worked out for her and not necessarily for everyone, it’s probably best to have the details right.

      1. Probably best for neither of us to get too bent out of shape by a new poster who actually believes that a rom com is a good life recipe.

      2. Avatar photo SavannahAnna says:

        Ron for the WIN!

    2. That seems unduly grim, Mem. Sadness and tragedy can strike at any age and healthy people can come out of a bout of tragedy/grief/sadness to bright happiness on the other side. I can attest that married life as a 60-something can be quite wonderful. In your late teens/early twenties you are at peak health and so much is new and bright, but as this LW attests, there is often also a huge level of uncertainty, angst, a fear of missing out on something, and a concern of making a mistake which causes you to miss out on what you want most, before you even realize what that something is. With age comes a better sense of self, more emotional equilibrium, defined desires and thought out life plan; hopefully a wonderful life partner. The trick is to enjoy all ages of your life.

    3. RedRoverRedRover says:

      Your relationship should never feel like a prison. What the hell?

    4. dinoceros says:

      Eek. I’m not sure why inspired such a bitter remark toward Wendy. If a person thinks every single day about breaking up with their partner, the answer is not to just grin and bear it. I’m a little concerned by someone who is essentially saying that a 19-year-old needs to just take what they can get out of fear of death and being alone, whether they want it or not.

    5. Just because they’re together now doesn’t mean they’re compatible long-term. And most people don’t end up marrying the person they were with at 19 and most of the people who do end up divorcing them.

      And they’ve only been together about a year or so. That’s not a long time at all.

    6. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      I’m in my 50s and life is good. We’re healthy, we’re happy, we have fun together. Our son is grown and has turned out very well. Our daughter is sixteen and on track to do well also. We’ve got great friends and enough social life that it verges on being too much. Our friends are at similar points in their lives. I’m very much enjoying this stage of our lives. Our house is paid for and our son is through college. We have the ability to do things now financially that we couldn’t before. There is no good reason to assume that your life will inevitably contain misery. There have been sad times, we’ve lost two grandmothers and one dad. We’ve had a health problem, my husband had cancer but we have been happy through it all.

      I personally think it is much better to be alone than in a bad relationship. When you are willing to be alone you are also willing to wait until a good relationship is available. When you are willing to be alone and happy being alone you are able to be happy in a relationship whether that is a romantic relationship or a friendship. Instead of expecting the relationship to make you happy you make the relationship happy. When you are afraid to be alone you take any friend out of fear of loneliness. When you are willing to be alone you pick friends carefully because they add to your life. Having the wrong people in your life adds a lot of stress and anger and hurt and general unhappiness to your life.

      The important thing about college is that you are getting the education that will give you a better life. Everything else about college is what you decide you want it to be.

      1. Great response! Love this line: “When you are afraid to be alone you take any friend out of fear of loneliness. When you are willing to be alone you pick friends carefully because they add to your life.”

      2. I heart this response. I really do.

  12. RedRoverRedRover says:

    Another thing to remember is that no one has to do something “wrong” for the relationship to be over. Sometimes it just runs its course, and no one’s the bad guy, and there’s no big blowup. It seems like you’re feeling guilty for wanting to break up with him when he’s a good boyfriend. But if you’re not happy in the relationship, that’s the only reason you need. It would actually be worse for him if you stayed in it out of guilt, because that won’t work and eventually you’ll break up anyway. The longer you’re together, the more it will hurt later.

  13. LW – trust your gut. And there is no set way that you are supposed to spend your time at college. You can date around or party or have a steady boyfriend or none of the above. You just need to do what feels right for you. And I know that many people marry their HS sweetheart or college boyfriend but many more don’t. Once you graduate and get out in the ‘real world’ you will change as a person, your experiences will change you and the things you want in a husband will change as well.

  14. Another Jen says:

    Wow! Wendy…very well-put. Your response was a real gift to the letter writer and all of lucky enough read it. Thank you.

  15. LW, unless you feel your current BF is the only guy you can be with at this time (I mean if you are not passionate about him), you can break up with him and explore other options.

    You grow a lot between teen years and 25, and your taste in guys will change too. In any case, you probably may not end up with this guy forever. And you can do your exploration at that time too.

  16. Whatever you decide to do will probably work out okay? But since you are thinking about it, I think it is best if you just choose the thing that will make you the happiest, and choose the direction of your own life. I first married at age of 19, then first divorced at age 26. Now, so many decades later, I do not regret either the marriage or the divorce. You learn so much every time, all the time, and your partners are learning too, and it is all okay. The only times that I think of in the past that I wish I had done something different are when I sort of sacrificed my own happiness for the other person– both of us would have had more overall time if we both had been happy to move away more quickly toward our own happiness. This life that you have is your own life, and you have the right to rule it and make it exactly what you want.

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