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updated 10/31/2007 11:45:23 AM ET 2007-10-31T15:45:23

Q. My boyfriend is not someone I want to spend 50 years with, but right now I find him “good enough.” How do I move on and come to terms with being alone until someone else comes along?

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A. My answer is based on a few factors. A key one is your age.

It’s sad but true that if you want biological children, you cannot wait forever. If you are 30 or older and you do want children, you should break up with this boyfriend sooner rather than later to free yourself to find someone you can envision a lifetime with.

By spending time with someone you don’t plan to stay with for the long haul, you are consuming emotional energy and diminishing the likelihood you will stumble upon or actively seek out someone else. Though some people find it easier to connect with a new mate when they are already attached, most do not. They are more likely to meet someone if they haven’t already got someone they are spending their time and energy on.

The older you get, the more of an issue this is, because you will meet fewer available peers. In college, most of the men you meet will be single. In the workplace, more of them will not be.

If you are in your early or mid-20s, though, there is not so much of a mad rush. Dating and relationships are for learning. Think of a less-than-permanent boyfriend as practice for a later, lasting relationship. Your current boyfriend may not be someone you are head-over-heels about, but you can learn how to negotiate and compromise and relate, and to figure out what you really want and need (or don’t) in a partner.

You will never find somebody completely perfect. But you will learn more about what makes some guys good enough for now and what makes some guys good enough forever.

Still, some people have demands and expectations that nobody is ever good enough to meet. These are defenses set up to conceal their own fears of committing.

I can’t say if this is going on in your case, but it might be. If your pattern is to find yourself madly in love with a guy until you catch him — at which point his flaws suddenly seem insurmountable — this should raise a red flag in terms of your own commitment-phobia.

I am especially concerned about what you say at the end of your note, about being alone until someone else comes along. It sounds as though you are so afraid of being alone you would rather be with the wrong guy — which is why you are staying in this admittedly not-so-good relationship.

Your best shot at being part of a happy couple is to know you are capable of being OK on your own. You need to know you won’t fall apart if you don’t have a man in your life. That kind of desperation and insecurity leads you to make bad decisions in terms of choosing or keeping an incompatible boyfriend.

So if you are staying with this guy not because you like his company but because you are afraid to be without someone, take that knowledge as a wake-up call. You shouldn’t pair off because you need someone else’s company, but because you enjoy it.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: What’s good enough for dating isn’t necessarily good enough for a lifetime commitment.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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