Should I Choose My Old Flame Over My Safe Boyfriend?

Should I Choose My Old Flame Over My Safe Boyfriend?

Evan, I’ve been involved with Ken for two years. I met him through friends. He isn’t exactly who I envisioned and we’ve had some tough challenges along the way. I think he’s handsome, and I know he’s ethical, devoted and loves me totally. I love him too but my physical attraction to him has never been strong.

I took a break from him when my Mom died and went back to my hometown. I was praying to my Mom and God to help me to know the way. And then standing at the foot of the lake I met Jim from my High School. It was instant attraction for both of us. We have much in common and there is a sense of joy I’ve not known before. Here’s the catch. Jim had a long affair while he was married which he told me without prompting.

I got scared and Ken kept working to win me back. What I have with Ken is very good. He’s a great friend, I like him and we have things in common too. But I still think of Jim and I know he thinks of me.

I don’t want to throw something away with Ken and have regret. Jim feels we’re meant for each other and his family and friends do too. How do I come to what’s best for everyone?

I would love your insight very much. It’s been thrilling to see your success.

Warm Regards,

Dear Patty,

My heart breaks for you, darling.

You lost your Mom and your head is reeling.

You’re praying to God for dating advice.

You’re thinking of giving up your ethical devoted boyfriend for a man who is a proven cheater.

And if that wasn’t enough, you’re asking to “come to what’s best for everyone.”

The only person who decides what’s best for you is YOU. Got it?

Really, you’re making this way harder on yourself than you have to.

Let’s work backwards.

His family and friends think it’s best if you’re with High School Cheater Jim. Fuck them. They don’t have a vote.

Neither does High School Cheater Jim or Devoted Ken. They want what’s best for them, not what’s best for you.

The only person who decides what’s best for you is YOU. Got it?

Everyone else’s opinions are irrelevant. Yes, including my own.

But that’s not gonna stop me, of course.

Now, let’s understand that there are exceptions to every rule and aphorism out there. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t truth to be found in: “When someone shows you who he is, believe him.” And “One in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Jim has shown you who he is. He’s an admitted cheater and borderline homewrecker who is trying to leverage the weight of his family and friends to convince you to leave your relationship.

You want to willfully ignore all this because you feel more attraction towards him.


You HAVE a man who is husband-worthy. How do I know this when I’ve never even met him? It’s because you’ve chosen to date him for two years — and most women aren’t big on wasting time on men who don’t have husband potential. You’ve described him as “handsome, ethical, devoted and loves me totally.” And you wrote: “What I have with Ken is very good. He’s a great friend, I like him and we have things in common too.”

And you’re willing to throw that all away for the wild-card that is Jim.

I know: the heart wants what the heart wants.

But does the heart really know what it’s doing? And is it actually the heart that’s making your decisions for you? I’m betting it’s not.

Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice”, spoke to Lori Gottlieb when she was writing “Marry Him” .

He put things in a very plainspoken way that I’d like to paraphrase for you, Patty.

I know: the heart wants what the heart wants. But does the heart really know what it’s doing? And is it actually the heart that’s making your decisions for you?

Basically, he said, we have to make choices with tradeoffs. When you find an amazing guy, like Ken, who may be an 8 on a 1-10 scale, you think of him as marriage material. But then, after a few years, you get accustomed to him. You see his flaws. He becomes more predictable and less exciting. Suddenly, your feelings drop from an 8 to a 6.

You start telling yourself that you could do better. And along comes a guy like Jim. Your attraction to him makes him feel like a 10.

You make your decision. You’re going to toss out your 8 (who turned into a 6) for an exciting, passionate 10.


What you haven’t calculated is this:

Your “10” is going to have his own set of issues, which you may or may not be able to deal with on a daily basis. Attraction is not a solid foundation for a long-term relationship. Good communication and shared values is a much better predictor of success.

So you may be thrilled to get that extra rush of dopamine that comes from your initial attraction to Ken, but one day, that feeling is going to subside — for both of you.

Alas, your 10 will magically morph into a 6 as well. You may be able to put up with his issues (anger, jealousy, bossy, stubborn, busy?) but Jim may decide that, after a few years of marriage to you, that he’d like to find a 10 that he’s more passionate about.

That’s right. Even if your feelings for Jim stay strong, there will always be an undercurrent of fear in your relationship.

It would be like being in the witness protection program; all you can do is hope that the status quo continues to hold. You pray that the cheater has really retired from cheating, even though you have no control over his actions.

So, to bring it on home, when thinking of building a 40-year relationship, you’d better ask who is the safer bet.

Is it the ethical, devoted guy? Or the cheater?

I don’t judge you for choosing the cheater.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if I got another email from you in 5 years either.

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  1. 21

    Evan, if you weren’t Jewish, I would swear you were the patron saint of dating.   Thank you for telling us girls like it really is.   You’re like the big brother I never had.   This is great advice!   Thanks.

  2. 22

    If you don’t believe Evan, John Grey (Venus vs. Mars) backs him up.   He advises a woman who feels that intense physical chemistry immediately to run the other way because she’s idealizing the guy.   Seems to me that is exactly what’s happening here, having done it more times than I care to admit.   We live in a culture where we hardly know what “normal” is; we think excess is the norm so it should come as no surprise that we mistake that intense, heady rush for love.   It lacks depth, however.   Any of the reading I have done validates what Evan says here.   I am also a fan of Cloud & Townsend’s books “Boundaries in Dating” and “How To Find A Date Worth Keeping”.

  3. 23

    #17 & #4, I agree with both your posts.   There are three things that must be in every relationship, or the relationship will suffer.   Physical/sexual attraction (which is not the act of sex, and it isn’t lust), friendship, commitment/shared values & beliefs.   Rationalizing isn’t very romantic or lasting…

  4. 24

    I think that the OP should send Ken over to me. I am looking for guy like him. I don’t need fireworks a.k.a., “The Big Bang.” I was in a relationship in which I was the female version of Ken. When I found out that the guy whom I had been dating for 14 months felt more passionately about an ex who dumped him, and had secretly been talking to her behind my back, I walked away. He admitted that he was chasing a feeling, and when he could not get back with the ex- girlfriend,  he ended up  marrying someone else after knowing her for only 10 months. I wish the OP good luck with whatever decision she makes.

  5. 25

    I made the wrong choice once, and I’ve regretted it every single day since. I threw away my stable, loving, boring, not-so-sexy relationship for a cheating, emotionally abusive guy (who was actually named Jim) because I wanted to feel passion again. I craved it. I became obsessed with it. What I should have done instead was to ask my boyfriend of many years–the best man I’ve ever met–to seek counseling with me. To unearth what connection had come unplugged in our relationship that made sex seem so disconnected. If I’d done that, I’d never have heard of Evan Marc Katz, and I’d have the life that I want, the husband that I want, the kids that I want. Please don’t do it, honey. Instead, turn to Ken and dig deeper. I have a hunch it’ll be worth it. And if it isn’t, then go forth and find someone who’s strong and honorable enough to not solve his relationship problems with cheating.

    1. 25.1

      Dear Jane,   I truly hope that you will not continue to feel regret every day.

      Sometimes, life sends us opportunities to learn, and we can choose to see those opportunities as gifts.

      If you had married the stable, kinda-boring guy, you might never have learned some crucial truths and might have been dissatisfied with that marriage, wishing for something more, feeling that something was missing. Sounds awful to me

      Now you can enter a new relationship with more wisdom and clarity. In my opinion, there isn’t One True Love for each of us.   With an open heart, you can find a best friend and satisfying lover.

      I wish you all the best!

  6. 26

    Evan at #15. Yes, what you say is absolutely correct. However, it seems to me that the issue here is getting Patty to realise it. Processing this information at an intellectual level is one thing, actually feeling the pain of not having someone, or losing someone who provides the warmth, comforts and care of a strong, enduring relationship is another.
    She should just take a break from men for a while – especially with her mother gone her mind may be all muddled. Using her grief over her lost mother may be the perfect excuse to take a break from Ken (and Jim). If she finds she misses Ken terribly after a while, then she has answered her own question. On the other hand, if she feels free and liberated, that’s an indication that Ken is not right for her, and never was.
    Sometimes people have to learn the hard way. Knowing things at an intellectual level does not always inform me about the correct choices they need to make for themselves. Sometimes the Pattys of this world need to lose their Kens and get used and abused by the Jims   in order to truly truly appreciate the value of the kind of relationship Evan talks about.

  7. 27

    ……Sometimes people have to learn the hard way. Knowing things at an intellectual level does not always inform me about the correct choices they need to make for themselves.
    Sorry I meant to say “does not always inform them about the correct choices they need to make for themselves

  8. 28

    IMO there’s a huge difference between “impossible to be excited by someone after 2 years” and “my physical attraction to him has never been strong.”   The former implies that there was an initial thrill that’s faded (to whatever degree); the latter suggests there never was a thrill to begin with.

  9. 29

    Gina (comment #25) I have to agree with yu in a big way. I was thinking the same thing when I read this blog post. Why doesn’t the OP send Ken my way. There are plenty of women out there who are looking for the stable, loyal, kind guy. Passion is great. But I don’t expect firworks to be forever. I still stand by what I said that the OP needs to look within herself and figure out why she is relying on a man to be her source of joy and excitment. Until you figure out how to be happy with yourself you’re never going to be happy in a relationship. You’ll always be moving from one relationship to another. Nobody else has the power, time, or energy to constantly sustain  and be responsible for someone else’s sense of worth, joy, and excitment.

       Like Gina (comment #25) I was also a female version of Ken and had a guy leave me for “Miss Exciting.” But Miss Exciting also turned out to have a whole ton of issues, lied about being divorced, used sex as a weapon, and when she didn’t get what she wanted she would resort to blackmail and harrassment. She also ended up being a major Golddigger and was constantly cheating on him. And here was my ex, wondering why Miss Exciting suddenly changed from loving and exciting to scary and crazy. She didn’t change, she just let her real self out. And there were tons of red flag warnings in the beginning that he failed to see because he was so caught up in lust. Now my ex has no one. He threw his relationship with me out. Miss Exciting dumped him as soon as he stopped giving her money and she found someone with more money than him. And now his family doesn’t trust him because of what Miss Exciting put them through. There’s a very high price to be paid if all you seek is excitment and passion. And people think it won’t happen to them. It can.

  10. 30
    Karl R

    Patty said: (original post)
    “How do I come to what’s best for everyone?”

    You sound like a people-pleaser. It’s more reasonable to assume that there is no solution that’s best for everyone. Find the solution that’s best for you in the long run.

    Patty said: (original post)
    “we’ve had some tough challenges along the way.”
    “I took a break from him when my Mom died and went back to my hometown.”
    “I was praying to my Mom and God to help me to know the way.”

    I’m not sure what “tough challenges” involve (since it’s possible that it might include some behavior I’d consider unacceptable). But it sounds like you were contemplating dumping Ken even when Jim wasn’t in the picture.


    I don’t think it’s healthy/sane to look at this as a choice between Ken and Jim (because Jim seems like an overwhelmingly poor choice …  unless you want to  live out  the lyrics of a country-western song).   Let’s go back to the original question you were asking God and your mother about: should you keep or dump Ken.

    Either there’s something wrong with Ken, or there’s something wrong with the relationship between you two, or there’s something wrong with the expectations you have toward Ken and your relationship. Based on what you said so far, it sounds like  the problem is in your expectations (which means it’s going to come back to haunt you in all of your relationships until you address it), but it’s possible there’s a problem with the relationship that you just haven’t mentioned.

    Jim’s a distraction. Find the problem; then maybe the answer will become more obvious.

  11. 31

    What is wrong with dumping the stable loving bf who she’s wishy washy about just bc all ltrs eventually lose passion and become more about comfort? I did so 3 years ago and it was the right decision 100 percent. I was with this nice guy for all the wrong reasons and am happier being single than I would have been with him. However, when you break up with these nice, devoted types, simply acknowledge to yourself that it is generally difficult to find a kind devoted man and that every man will have flaws. Only do so if you feel you’ll be happier single – likely for years– and understand the consequences. Don’t throw away good people recklessly.  

  12. 32

    Joe #29 makes the point I wanted to add to my comments above. Some readers, and Evan, simply see the good guy on paper, and are comparing him to the obvious risk. Which makes the answer easy. Of course Ken’s the better pick if you have to choose between the two of them.
    But seriously, folks, she’s got more than two options here. If she’s never felt that much attraction to Ken, it really makes me wonder about their long term prospects. Notice, there’s not a word about marriage mentioned. Maybe she doesn’t know what she wants long term, but I find it interesting that a woman who seems to enjoy Evan’s writing, and has dated a man for two years, doesn’t mention the “m” word. Perhaps she thinks Ken is thinking about it, and is looking for answers to help her decide how to respond?  
    I have been on both sides of the coin in situations like this. My first long term girlfriend was basically a Ken. Loyal. Devoted. Caring. But I never felt a strong enough connection with her, and we didn’t have enough in common either. I have zero regrets that it ended, and she’s happily married with children and a great husband. And on the other hand, twice I have been the Ken to women who ultimately didn’t feel enough to stay with me. Despite all my efforts to demonstrate how much I cared. I’m grateful that they chose to be honest with me and end things well before the 2 year mark Patty and Ken have reached. Given the length of time, she’s in a harder place because strong attachments have formed, and it’s difficult to walk away from them even if it’s in every one’s best interest.
    Plenty of folks have advocated here for her to stay with Ken. That might be the right decision, but I think the options need to be considered first, especially if she might be deciding to marry Ken in the near future. Having two years of lukewarm attraction is something to take seriously. It could be that she’s let her expectations block her connection with Ken, or it could be that she’s just not that into him, and is getting wooed by how good he looks on paper. And the comfort of having someone around who is devoted to you.

  13. 33
    Girl in the Midwest

    I agree with Nathan at #4.   Actually, I think everyone is correct, I just think it’s a judgement call.   It really depends on what Patty is looking for and where she is in life.   This might sound very practical and calculating, but if Patty is looking to marry and she feels that it is about the right time for her (late 20s or early 30s), and she has been heartbroken and had failed relationships before, she should try to make it work with Ken.   Because Ken has the necessary qualities for a husband.   And by that I mean making a genuine effort to improve their relationship and attraction.   I find that doing new things together definitely gets the dopamine going!  
    But if Patty is in her early 20s or isn’t looking to marry soon, then I feel like maybe she can afford to throw caution to the wind and maybe she can follow her heart.   I’ve made the OP’s mistake of leaving a supportive, kind bf for sb more exciting.   But I was 21 years old and by the time I realized my mistake I was 22 and was back to dating in no time.   I learned my lesson really well (I did a lot of thinking and reflection as I was recovering), so that next time I would be able to identify a similar feeling (ie grass is greener syndrome).   I learned about myself (what I could and couldn’t live with), and learned a lot about men (what kind of guys truly appreciate me).   But of course, if Patty doesn’t have the time to “experiment”, she should do the thing that has the most probability of giving her what she wants (ie stay and try to make it work with Ken and NOT have a bad attitude and NOT get resentful of Ken).

    Also it depends on what kind of person Patty is.   Is she outgoing and meeting guys all the time?   Does she love very deeply and thus it takes her a long time to get over someone?   Is she very sensitive?   Does she crave variety and excitement?   I know some people who just wouldn’t be happy in a stable relationship simply b/c they’d get bored.   Even if we on this website all say that stability is better, some people might truly be more miserable being bored than having a lot of drama in their lives.

    @Androgynous 27: “Sometimes the Pattys of this world need to lose their Kens and get used and abused by the Jims   in order to truly truly appreciate the value of the kind of relationship Evan talks about.” I agree with you, sometimes people have to learn the hard lesson for themselves.   Sometimes you can’t take any shortcuts to maturity.

  14. 34

    “It could be that she’s let her expectations block her connection with Ken, or it could be that she’s just not that into him, and is getting wooed by how good he looks on paper. And the comfort of having someone around who is devoted to you.”

    Agreed, or she hasn’t mustered the courage  yet to hurt his feelings, doesn’t want to be the ‘bad guy’, hoping she’ll change and/or things will  be different or that she’s been too ‘greedy’ to want everything when she clearly has a good man who loves her.    

    None of those  reasons are enough to keep someone around, they are justifcations.   Like  Nathan said so well, it’s not what’s on paper, it’s how you feel–that’s being human  can’t  get around that.          

  15. 35

    I can’t help but think that Patty’s description of Ken sounds more like a friend. In the first paragraph, she days she loves him, but her physical attraction to him has never been strong, but by the 3rd, she only says she likes him. Big difference after two years, and a bit weak, IMO! He might be a great guy, but that doesn’t mean that he’s the great guy for her.
    While I don’t condone cheating, I don’t agree that “once a cheater, always, a cheater.” I also wonder if Patty’s grief isn’t clouding or influencing her judgement. It sounds as if she and her mother were very close. However, I think she should try to resolve her relationship with Ken, one way or another, before moving on to someone new.
    Passion is great, but so is comfort. By itself, passion can blind you to a partner’s serious issues, but comfort without passion can be deadly over the long haul. The tricky part is finding a relationship that melds the two.

  16. 36

    Great article Evan! You write interesting things and you are very generous in sharing your thoughts.

  17. 37

    Reading this letter from Patty, it’s so clear to me (and apparently it’s clear to some others here, too): neither one is the right choice.  

    Like Karl R, a red flag about Ken for me was when Patty described the issues they had to work out. A red flag that’s not specifically about Ken himself, but about their relationship, is the fact that she seems to have no genuine long-term feelings of  caring and connection for him. If you don’t have that after 2 years, you don’t have it, period. It is  not a good basis for marriage.  

    As for Jim: ugh.   Patty dear, please don’t believe that because you prayed and then suddenly found him standing at the foot of a lake,  that that means ANYTHING.

  18. 38

    Best question to ask is: Which guy is being there for her as she is grieving the loss of her mom? Or being truly genuine with looking out for her. Whichever guy that honestly worries about her at this time or tries to make sure her needs are being met is the right one.

  19. 39

    Good advice from Evan as always. Just to chime in on the cheater aspect… A guy who has had a lengthy affair is an adept liar who puts his own desires first. My ex told me early on that he cheated on a past live-in girlfriend and I wish I’d paid attention (and he seemed only slightly remorseful, justifying his behavior by explaining how she’d let herself go–my god, I must have been desperate, to ignore that little tidbit). He tried to cheat a couple years into our relationship, I confronted him, he behaved himself for several years (as far as I know) and then carried on a two-year affair that ultimately ended our marriage. Do I believe “once a cheater, always a cheater”? I do now.  

  20. 40
    Karmic Equation

    I always say “An ex is an ex for a reason.” I think it behooves Patty to make herself remember those reasons. Focus on the negatives and forget the positives. It’s human nature to only remember the positives about someone no longer in our lives. Then she has to decide about Ken on his own merits.

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