DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m facing a situation that I’m sure quite a few of your readers are starting to think about right now, and thought I’d reach out for advice.
It’s about to be the start of the final semester for many seniors in college. For most guys, this is the perfect window of opportunity for a no-strings-attached fling before heading off into the real world. For those of us in serious relationships, it means that we are starting to think about the possibility of ending things with our girlfriends or possibly doing long distance.
Enter me: So eight months ago I started dating this incredible girl (hot, smart, funny – the whole package) who is two years younger than me. It’s my first relationship that is really serious – and while I wouldn’t say our relationship is perfect, it’s going well and we love each other.
However, I have to make a decision on whether to do long-distance pretty soon. I’m moving up to work in Boston after graduation while she’ll still be in D.C. finishing school. Doing long distance would be very manageable – I’ll be making solid money at my job and have weekends completely free. She also has plenty of free time and can afford flying up 1-2 times a month. Flights are cheap, quick, and we could theoretically spend every other weekend together. Not to mention that we did 3 months of long-distance over the summer to start the relationship and she’s even expressed interest in making it work.
There are some twists. I want to eventually attend a top business school in the U.S. yet she’s an international student without a long-term visa, so there’s a possibility (30-50%) that she’s not in the U.S. two years after she graduates. My firm is a multinational and I could easily transfer to wherever she is after graduation, but I would have to relocate in a year or two back to the U.S. to get my MBA.
My friends have also told me that my early 20s are the best years of my life, that I should not be tied down. My heart tells me to go for it, but my mind is telling me that there are hurdles and a future after her graduation is by no means a guarantee.
So here’s the question(s):
1) How should I approach the big conversation about long-distance with her, and how should that conversation even go? I’m worried that if things end at the end of the year I’ll be left wishing I spent more time with my friends. I’m also generally a dude incapable of having these serious conversations without saying something idiotic.
2) Should I even do long-distance, given the degree of uncertainty over both of our futures?
3) How the hell do I mentally deal with all this uncertainty over the long-term future of my relationship? I’ve been consistently depressed thinking about the possibility of losing her and losing out on an incredible future with her.
I’ve talked to other friends dealing with similar questions, so while the specifics of my situation are different I think many seniors out there could use your wisdom.
DEAR SUDDENLY SENIOR: Allow me to give you the information that I wish someone had given me when I was graduating from college: don’t get tied up in what your life is “supposed” to be like.
We’ve all been handed this narrative of “this is how life is supposed to be,” with your 20s being the “best years of your life” (assuming that you didn’t get told that high-school is supposed to be the best years of your life… gah) as though everybody’s life fit into a neat, simple, one-size-fits-all pattern.
Screw that noise. Your life is what you make of it. The best years of your life may well be in your 20s when you have relatively few responsibilities as you’re starting out and you have the financial freedom to explore the world. Or it may be in your 30s when you’re more established in who you are and you’ve shaken off the fears and self-limiting beliefs that you’ve been fighting with most of your life. Or it may be in your 40s when you’re financially more secure and able to afford to take more chances and explore those long-held dreams. Or it may be in your 70s as you sit with you partner in quiet contemplation, looking at the life you’ve lived together.
Getting older doesn’t automatically mean the end of fun or the inability to have adventures. Hell, sometimes getting older is what makes that fun possible. I’m with Jay-Z on this; 30 is the new 20. My 30s were like my 20s except with more sex, more self-esteem and more money. I wish my 20s had been different, but they made me who I am today and by God I love my life as it is.
The idea of “this is what you should do” is goddamn toxic because it tells anyone who doesn’t fit that mold that they’re doing it wrong. OK, sure it’s great to be foot-loose and fancy free in your 20s… as long as you’re not, y’know, loaded down with crippling debt just from getting the base-line education deemed necessary for an increasingly impossible middle-class existence (assuming you went to college at all in the first place) or you aren’t working your ass off trying to simply keep yourself afloat in an increasingly insecure job-market. Not everybody is going to follow the same path, either by choice or by circumstance and telling them that they’re “wrong” for doing so is bulls
And then there’s the idea that you shouldn’t be “tied down” – as though relationships are a trap – in your 20s. Yes, some people look back on their younger days and wish they’d had wilder, crazier times. Other people, on the other hand, are grateful that they had someone to spend those younger days with instead of dealing with the at-times maddening world of sex and dating and the constant frustrations of trying to find someone to love instead of hook-ups and the relationship equivalents of microwavable dinners.
Your life is going to be what you make of it, and that includes how you want to enter into the “real world”.
But let’s talk about your relationship. As I’ve said before, relationships are difficult under the best of circumstances and long-distance ones up the difficulty-levels exponentially.
Entering into an LDR means changing the terms of your relationship; little things that you might take for granted when you can see each other every day suddenly become very different when you only see each other once a month or less. Sex and that intimacy is a big one. Absence may make the heart grow fonder but it also can make the junk go yonder. The physical connection is a key component in a relationship and when it’s limited by necessity… well, sometimes that can make things tough. A monogamous LDR can be a difficult thing to maintain, especially the further apart you are.
Now with your case: you’re actually fairly well set-up to make things work, at least in the short-term. Boston to DC isn’t that far and there is a huge amount of infrastructure built to handle the needs of commuting back and forth; you’re a short plane ride away, driving back and forth (or taking the train) isn’t unreasonably inconvenient, etc. You’ll both have free time to see each other regularly, which is key to making an LDR work.
The tricky part will be afterwards, when she’s graduated and you’re looking into getting your MBA. Part of what makes an LDR tolerable is the idea that there will be an end to it. Even a long separation can be endured when you know that there will be a point when it will all be over and the two of you will be together again. When it’s potentially your new status-quo however… well, that’s going to be tricky. Some relationships can handle the yo-yoing between being long-distance and not. Many can’t.
But here’s the thing: you’re basically asking whether it’s time to break up with your girlfriend now when leveraged against the possibility of the relationship ending some time in the future. And to be perfectly honest: that’s a stupid reason to break up with someone. Ending things because you don’t think you could make a LDR work is reasonable. Breaking up with someone now because you can’t guarantee that you’ll definitely be together in 2 years, 3 years, 10 years… that’s just dumb. You don’t have any guarantees that you won’t break up next week, never mind in one of the many possible futures when you’re both living in a foreign country.
Cold truth time: all relationships end, sooner or later, until one doesn’t. Your girlfriend now may well be the last relationship you ever have. Or she may just be the first in a string of serious relationships. You don’t know and you can’t know. Trying to base whether to continue dating her by gaming out the future is only going to steal joy from what you have now. Borrowing trouble from a future that MAY be two, three or five years down the line is a great way cast a shadow over something that you have right here, right now.
You’re crazy about this woman. She’s crazy about you. You’re both interested in trying to make the LDR thing work while she’s still in college. Freaking go for it. Quit worrying about the long-term uncertainty and appreciate what you have now. You may end up in a relationship that does have a definite expiration date or you may break up before it ever becomes an issue, or you may find ways of making things work and have a long happy marriage surrounded by fat grandchildren. But what you don’t want to do is end up making yourself miserable over what might happen. Giving up happiness in the present for fear of sadness in the future means you’ll never be happy.
Enjoy what you have. Settle in for a LDR for the two years while she’s finishing school. When she graduates and you both have a better idea of what’s going to happen next, THEN it’s time to negotiate the next potential change to your relationship. Maybe she’ll be leaving the country. Maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll go with her. Maybe you won’t. Maybe she’ll get a job and move to Boston with you. Maybe she’ll stay in DC and you’ll get transferred to a branch office in Baltimore. Who knows. That’s the future and the two of you can deal with it when it arrives.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)