So I'm a junior in college, and have been with the same guy for 2 wonderful years now- I love him very very much, he loves me, and we are both happy with the relationship we have. Recently however, we had a conversation that has left me worried, and confused.
We were discussing our relationship options for our study abroad time, when he started talking about our relationship's future. He said he could definitely see himself spending the rest of his life with me, however, he is unsure he wants to settle down so soon. We are each others first serious relationship; I had a few boyfriends in high school, but he has never had another girlfriend. Despite loving me very much, and expressing that he can't picture his life without me, he also said he is concerned if we stayed together forever, he would wonder about and potentially regret not having any other relationships, that would make him truly know how lucky and happy he is with me. Or, regret never knowing if there was potentially someone out there who makes him happier, and or makes me happier. He's also concerned about life events that might take us apart (study abroad, grad school, etc) because he's terrible at long distance, and doesn't want us to spend those times feeling limited in the experiences we could potentially have, or have our relationship dissolve into resentment and jealousy.
I know this probably doesn't sound like a typical college relationship conversation, but my guy is into honesty, openness, and discussing things that are important, but not so much fun to talk about, which I appreciate. He is trying to be pragmatic about the situation, which simultaneously comforts and confuses the heck out of me. Should I be offended that he's worried he would be settling for me, or is that simplifying the situation too much? Is he expressing real and legitimate concerns, or does the fact that he's thinking these things mean that he really doesn't love me that much? And how best to solve this situation- break up while abroad, or after college, and see where our paths lead? I don't even know what I want.
Please know that this guy doesn't have a manipulative or dishonest bone in his body- I have never met a more decent guy in my life, and I know that he just wants both of us to be happy.
Well! In that case—and what with all your maturity and responsibility and open, honest, considerate communication about your relationship—you probably don't need me to tell you how very, very dumb and self-sabotaging it would be to get offended by this.
Because that would, indeed, be oversimplifying the situation—not to mention utterly misunderstanding it, twisting it around, and making it all about you. And really, it's not about you. Your boyfriend isn't worried about settling for you. He doesn't doubt his feelings for you, or your suitability as a life partner. What he doubts is his ability to make a lifetime commitment without the benefit of a little more experience.
It's just unfortunate that you happen to be the person he's afraid of making that commitment to.
And don't get me wrong, that part totally sucks. The fact that it's not about you doesn't change the fact that you're the one getting hurt. But your boyfriend is telling you who he is and what he values, and these things may not be what you hoped to hear, but they're true and they're important. Don't punish him for being honest about his feelings and his fears—or worse, try to argue that they're not "real and legitimate." You may not share his concerns, but you don't want to dismiss them, either. Believe me, this is a valid issue; there's nothing more really and legitimately horrible than a marriage in which one person wishes they'd had more experience before committing and is constantly wondering if things would've been better with somebody else... except, possibly, the moment when that person meets said somebody else and realizes with horrible, heartbreaking clarity exactly what they've been missing.
That's what your boyfriend doesn't want to have happen, and that's why he wants to set the stage now for a break, breakup, or open relationship while one or both of you is studying abroad. The question is, what do you want? How do you feel? What can you live with? Are you willing or able to date other people, and let your boyfriend do the same, trusting that you'll find your way back to each other if that's what's supposed to happen? Or does this simply signify to you that the relationship is broken, and needs to end? When you know what you want, you'll know what to do. (Though I will say this: whatever you feel now, if one or both of you is studying abroad, being separated for several months and by several thousand miles will offer both of you some eye-opening perspective on What Else is Out There, for better or for worse.)
And whatever you do, remember: your boyfriend's feelings aren't a personal slight, an indictment of your desirability, or an indication of whether or how much he loves you. Love is not a tidal wave that magically sweeps away your identity, your needs, and your every source of conflict. You can have all the love in the world, and still also have doubts and demons to contend with. And in a relationship like yours, where you're already doing such a good job of negotiating your conflicts openly, honestly, and with the utmost consideration and respect, the last thing you need is to fall into the crazy-making trap (and outright lie) of "If he really loved me enough, it wouldn't matter."