Ask A Woman: When the timing is off…
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I’ve been dating my girlfriend for several years now and love her very much, but am considering ending our relationship. It’s been a tough year for me–I moved across the country and started a new job that I ended up hating, experienced some personal problems, and ultimately decided to move back to my home state. My girlfriend is still in law school across the country, and now we’re both grappling with the challenges of a long-distance relationship while I search for a job and figure out the next step. I feel selfish for wanting to figure out my own life, but I feel stuck in my current situation and am not happy. How do I begin to move forward when lately I only feel distracted by my girlfriend?
Thanks for writing in. I don’t think I’ve gotten a question quite like this before, but I think it’s a really important one, and it illustrates what many established, mature couples go through. Let’s dive in.
When you’re young, you tend to date people who are, well, wildly inappropriate for you. In high school you think someone’s hot and you go for it. A month of making out later you realize you have nothing to say to each other, in fact, you might actually actively dislike each other. In college, you end up spending four months with someone based on the fact that you both like Corona. Maybe later on in college you actually meet someone you click with on deeper level but you realize you don’t have enough of the same values. Breakups are common and necessary, a way to learn who you should and should not be with.
Where it gets trickier is when in theory, you’re a good match with someone, but life circumstances get in the way of happily ever after. That could be meeting someone abroad and falling in love, but knowing that you could never live away from your family and friends in your home country. It could be meeting at the wrong time—one of you eager to get married and start a family, the other person wanting to spend a few years getting established in their career. Or, in the situation you’ve vaguely alluded to, one of you struggling with personal issues that you need to get a handle on before really committing to another person.
The mature break-up, as demonstrated by Michael Scott. Can’t believe I just used the word “mature” and “Michael Scott” in the same sentence.
As I just mentioned, it’s not clear to me what you’re struggling with. “Personal issues” covers a wide ranges of problems. It sounds like whatever it is, it’s separate from your connection with your girlfriend. That is, it’s not that you and your girlfriend are having some major disagreement about money or monogamy. And it also sounds like navigating a long distance relationship just by itself isn’t the source of your problems. I’m guessing you’re dealing with mental illness, substance abuse, or family crisis, which would make this a problem that affects your relationship, but is not indigenous to it. Which makes it even harder to figure out what to do next; after all, if it weren’t for this problem, the two of you would probably be happy together.
You say your desire to figure out your life makes you feel selfish. Technically, fine, yes, it’s being selfish because you’re thinking of yourself first. But it’s not selfish in the bad way we usually associate with this word. What you’re doing is recognizing that despite your love for your girlfriend, you’re just not in a position to be a good partner to her. That’s absolutely valid. It’s really brave, too, to admit that. The easier road would be staying with someone you love and ignoring the problems you’re having because it’s more comfortable that way. But that scenario isn’t going to lead to a very functional or happy relationship, and the majority of the time, it’s just putting off an inevitable break-up down the road.
Just to take a step back for a second–if you were living in the same place, and your girlfriend wasn’t mired in the all-consuming insanity that is law school, I might advise you to try and see if this problem was something the two of you could tackle together. After all, that is often a benefit of being with someone long-term–you have a partner who helps you deal with life’s trials. But you are physically separated, and she’s in the middle of a huge undertaking, and you say that maintaining your connection with her is just distracting at this point. So I’m just going to give you some validation for what I think you really want to do, which is still a fine choice. If you need to work on what’s going on in your life, and you feel you can’t do that while being in a relationship, then end it with your girlfriend. I’m sure it will be a painful, difficult thing to do. But I’m guessing your girlfriend is already feeling the effects of your emotional distance, and you’re not doing her (or yourself) any favors by staying with her when you can’t make your relationship a top priority. Rest assured, you will have other opportunities in the future for romantic happiness when you’ve figured out what’s going on in your life.
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