Ask JKE is our monthly advice column written by Jackie Kai Ellis. Submit your questions anonymously here.
I’ve been going back and forth about this for so long. I am in a long-term relationship with a wonderful person who fills my life with so much. A huge part of me loves this person—but an equally big part feels like I have yet to experience so much. I have my mind made up about ending it, but this person is trying so hard to be better—to do the work, to put in the effort. But I wonder, will it ever be enough? Especially when I have so many wild oats to sow.
-Confused As Ever
Dear Confused As Ever,
Love is just not logical. It doesn’t make “sense.” And so, I have come to accept that perhaps making rational decisions about love is simply not the point of it.
Cupid himself is childlike to symbolize love’s irrational nature. And most of us can remember those times when we stayed, stayed, and stayed—even when, deep down, we knew that nothing would change. Or those times when we decided to go, even when it made better sense to stay.
A high school friend of mine left her long-term boyfriend to sow her wild oats. She did, moving to New York, to China...and now they are back together, living in a California suburb with two kids. Someone else I know sowed wild oats, expecting to go back to his long-term girlfriend after a relationship sabbatical. During this time, she traveled the world, found herself, and could no longer imagine a life with him. But it’s almost of no use to look at examples, because what happens in love doesn’t follow a pattern.
I’ve found that what makes me waffle on decisions is the fear that I’ll make the “wrong” one: the fear of regret. Often, I’ve tried to peek over the horizon, to divine all the potential outcomes using hypothetical variables until a perfect, painless path appears. Unfortunately, even as we get closer, the horizon just keeps rolling on, out of reach. We won’t have the map laid out, and we can’t see the outcome of every alternate reality. We only know what we know, and it will never be enough to make the “right” decision. And perhaps the point isn’t to make the “right” decision, but rather to choose what we want to experience.
During my freer COVID months, I learned Italian, Spanish, and Cantonese. I took up a class on wine and picked up knitting. It could have been Portuguese and Mandarin instead, or playing tennis with a wall and finally learning to appreciate classical music. I know your choices are more consequential than these, but choosing more time with your partner or choosing to sow oats are each equally beautiful experiences. Which moments do you want to create?
What makes this harder is that no one else can decide for you. No one else knows what you need. But you do. Whatever you choose, I have two pieces of humble advice.
Pinpoint your desire
Define what it is you really want out of going solo or staying in your relationship. Be intentional so that when you do it, you do it well and experience it as fully as you can. One summer, I decided that all I wanted was to eat sun-ripened peaches on hot days, standing over the sink, juices running down my elbow. I smile at the thought of its bright yellow flesh and hot pink center. When mid-July came, it was ceremonious in a way that would have slipped by unnoticed if I hadn’t chosen to do that for myself.
Do it decisively
I was once on the fence for so long with someone I loved. Someone who filled my life with a lot of goodness. I went back and forth, loving him with a sinking feeling that I needed to go; I was pushing him away, all the while not having the courage to hurt him. Even though I needed that time to truly decide what was right for me, and even though we both needed to learn to honor ourselves, I am sure my vacillation hurt him a great deal, and I’ve always felt very sorry for that.
I did leave him, devastated to live without someone I loved so much. I did sow my oats. I ventured out, tested my limits, got hurt, hurt others again. I healed, apologized; I chose differently, chose the same; I got my buttons pushed and got pushed out. I learned who I wasn’t and who I was, and I experienced what I set out to and then some.
Since love makes no sense, we found our way back to each other many years later. Will this choice be right or wrong? There are no guarantees. I can’t see the future any clearer from where I stand now. But this time, I know that making rational decisions is simply not the point of love. I know that I want to experience this, and so I choose to do so.