Doctor’s Note: I’m on vacation until the 12th of January. Until then, Paging Dr. NerdLove is going to be on a limited hiatus. The podcast will return when I’m back in town and meanwhile, I’ll be answering some quick questions for Ask Dr. NerdLove in lieu of the usual schedule. If you’ve got a question you need answered, now’s definitely the time to ask.
Hi! I’m a 25 year old man, and I’m dating a girl about two months.
She is the most interesting girl I’ve ever met (I have a small experience with relationships, but enought to know when the girl worth the “long term investment”).
A month ago she told me she needs to travel to another country to study. She really needs it, as a “test to become an adult person”, and she’s planning to go the end of this year. She is 28 year old and she fears she won’t have any more chance. And, as she said, she might never come back. In her area of job, the conditions are better outside of our country. If she finds a job there, maybe she won’t come back.
So, I need to say: I’m terrified! I’m trying to enjoy the moments we are together, but sometimes I think to much in the future. I’m a worried person.
Furthermore, I’m feeling that thing we used to call “passion”, that I really hate. I would like to don’t lose my mind in this and become obsessive.
So, what can I do? I don’t really want to take the easy way, that’s to stop the relationship. I think this is cowardice and I can lost really good moments with her, but I can’t enjoy these moments with the mind confused.
I would like to simply don’t feel passionate, to face it lightly, and, if there’s something I can do to change this situation, I would like to know what can I do. I thought about going with her on the interchange, but I don’t know if this is a “healthy” solution, I would ignore my real objetives to be with her.
I need help…=(
Sorry for the bad English, it’s not my native language! =)
Thanks in advance! =D
On A Time Limit
Be honest with me, OATL: is it the passion you’re afraid of, the way your heart speeds up at the thought of her, the way that you seem so much happier when she’s around and the way that you find everything about her fascinating… or is it a fear of feeling this way and then losing it?
Because, quite frankly (to steal a line from my Celebrity Spirit Animal, Dan Savage) every relationship fails until one doesn’t. And you almost never know which relationship it’s going to be.
In practice, this means that every relationship you ever have is going to come with the likelihood that it’s going to end in breaking up for one reason or another, until you find the one that lasts until death do you part. Now, you can either go into a relationship anticipating the break-up1 or you can go in with an optimistic and hopeful heart.
So, look at you. You’re twitterpated. You’ve got it bad for this girl – even two months in. That can be scary to people – you worry that you’re in too deep, too soon… a reasonable worry, though managable as long as you don’t push too hard for her to match your level of emotion just as quickly or push to commit exclusively too soon.
But just to complicate things, you’re in a relationship that comes with a known expiration date and that’s going to be tough. Even more so because the reason for the expiration date is that your girlfriend sounds mature, intelligent and adventurous and is taking advantage of an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s a little hard to fault her for wanting to go on this adventure.
Now, the fact that she’s going to study abroad doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a relationship, but as I’ve said before: long-distance relationships can be difficult to maintain, especially when there may not be an end in sight.
Now, she’s been up front with you about this. Her telling you about her plans to study abroad sounds to me like a way of giving you both a head’s up (“Hey, I’m going to be leaving at the end of the year, so keep that in mind.”) and a way out (“I would understand if you decided you can’t handle it.”). And now you have to decide.
The way I see it, you have three choices.
For the first, you can cut ties now in the name of saving yourself the future heartbreak. Some will tell you that this is the coward’s way out, and that you’re using the end of the upcoming relationship as a way to justify breaking up with her when what’s really bothering you is the intensity of how you feel about her, the fear of emotional commitment and the loss at the end. Which is true, but you feel how you feel and that does make it a valid reason to break up with someone.
(Please note very carefully that I didn’t say it was a good one…)
The second is that you can continue to date her, but let the fact that your relationship comes with an expiration date grow to consume your every waking moment and eventually come to define your relationship. You’ll get angry and bitter and clingy. You’ll consider going with her to study abroad and run the risk of growing resentful when the homesickness kicks in and when she flourishes in a foreign country while you still feel as though you’re floundering. You’ll fight, but never over the real issue: the way you feel betrayed by the fact that she’s going to leave you.
In short: you’ll spend the rest of the year making yourself and your girlfriend fucking miserable.
You can take the third option: you learn to appreciate what you have, while you have it, for what it is. You quit borrowing heartache from the future to apply to the now and learn to live in the moment and savor every moment you have with your girlfriend – even with the understanding that you know when it’s all going to end.
Now, I will grant you: that third option is difficult. It’s incredibly difficult for humans to focus on the moment; our awareness of the future is part of what combines with our opposable thumbs and downloadable porn that puts us on top of the food chain. You can never get rid of that impending sadness that comes with separation from someone you care about.
But just because things are going to end – and all things end – doesn’t mean that you should cheat yourself out of happiness now. She sounds like a special person, the kind of person that will make you a better person for having known her; the kind of person where you would look back on your relationship together as something wonderful and life-changing, even if it didn’t necessarily end the way that you hoped it would. Someone who brings a lot of value and joy to your life.
If you want my advice: accept that your relationship has an expiration date. Don’t try to artificially extend it by going on the interchange with her – that’s only going to make things bad for the both of you. Don’t let yourself be bitter or resentful towards her for going or for “not caring enough about you to stay”. For the love of all things holy, do NOT try to convince, coax, cajole or otherwise pressure her to not go.
Just… enjoy your time with her. Learn to live in the moment and revel in what you have. Feel all the feels, savor every minute you have with her and when the time comes, let it go. It’ll suck and it’ll be like the worst break-up that you’ve had, but it will be survivable. Take time to mourn the loss and then move on. Don’t hold yourself hostage to the hope that she’ll come back. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t – either way, you need to go on and live your life.
Eventually you’ll fall in love again. And maybe this time, it will be the relationship that lasts until the end of days.
- Spoiler alert: this is going to totally make you miserable [↩]