DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Recently my boyfriend got into a discussion about the future of our relationship. He has mentioned in passing at the very beginning of our relationship that he didn’t want to do long distance, and today it came up that when I graduate next year, he would break up with me.
I remember him telling me about how he couldn’t do LDR when we started dating a year ago, but I hadn’t thought about it like that. To be honest, I’m so so hurt. I would be willing to do an LDR, I love him but he’s set on this. To be fair I dont think he thought ahead that far either, I think he realized as we were talking that that’s what would happen when I graduate. But it hurts. I don’t know what to do. I love him but it hurts to know that no matter what it ends next year. Now I don’t know.
Should I break up now or accept that our relationship has a deadline and stay?
Thank you for your help
The Final Countdown
DEAR THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: So before we get started, I want to take a quick sidebar: part of what I think is underpinning your issue is the idea that this relationship seems destined to be short-term. How short seems to be up in the air — end it now, or wait until graduation — but for now it seems pretty clear that this isn’t going to be a long-term thing.
But that’s actually ok. One of the things that I think causes unnecessary grief for folks is the idea that relationships have to be or should be long-term to be desirable. TAs I’m often saying, a relationship ending doesn’t mean that relationship was a failure or one that didn’t succeed. he idea that “if this doesn’t end with one or both of you dying in the saddle, it’s a failure” has caused a lot of people to pass on what could have been rich and rewarding relationships just because they weren’t going to last for years or decades. There’s value to be had in relationships that flare like a comet, brief but oh so bright and meaningful for it. Not every relationship needs to be an epic poem, nor are they meant to be. Some are meant to be a short story. Some are meant to be a dirty limerick. And those are all valid and wonderful relationships. I think embracing the value and worth of a relationship that isn’t meant to last forever — and everyone involved recognizing that fact — would do a world of good for many, many people.
Now as to your question, I feel like that the first thing we need to do is underline something important here: your boyfriend told you early on that he doesn’t like long-distance relationships. One of the most reliable ways that people blow up a great relationship is that they don’t take what their partners say to heart early on. Sometimes this comes because somebody doesn’t take it seriously and assumes that it doesn’t apply to this relationship. Other times, people go into the relationship under the assumption that their partner didn’t mean it or that they could change their partner’s mind or outlook. And of course, sometimes folks end up in this situation because they weren’t looking at what lay ahead or thinking about what this might mean.
This is one of the reasons why I think it’s important to recognize and embrace the value of a short-term relationship, rather than to go in assuming that all relationships should be long-lasting or (ideally) life-long. It’s much easier to manage expectations and avoid unnecessary pain when you recognize things from the jump.
Case in point: when you and your boyfriend got together, the future was vague and nebulous and seemed so very far away. Graduation was some distant dream, too insubstantial to have any real meaning or impact on your relationship. And then suddenly… it wasn’t. And now the thing that you were hoping might never be relevant has suddenly come front and center, along with everything that this knowledge entails.
This is understandably rough, TFC. It can be hard to look at a relationship and think “well, this is going to end, so what’s the point?” After all, why subject yourself to the heartbreak of ending things down the line? Wouldn’t that mean that it’s better to just rip the bandaid off now? Or better yet, not get involved in the first place if it’s going to end this way?
In fairness, I can empathize with that argument: why subject yourself to the inevitable pain of the ending if you don’t have to? I lost my cat at the beginning of the year, and I’m not quite at the place where I can look at the possibility of getting another pet and see more than just the tragedy that having a pet means you sign up for. It’s entirely understandable why you would want to spare yourself that hurt.
But here’s the thing: when you only focus on the end, you miss all of the rest of it. Yeah, you spare yourself the pain of the ending, but you are also missing all the joy, companionship and love that comes with it. Is your life going to be that much better or happier for giving up the time you could have with your boyfriend going forward? Can you honestly say that you wouldn’t be better off for having him in your life and the time you get to spend with each other, even if you know that there’s an end point to it?
But then again, are you able to be in the present with him, instead of spending the time you have now focused on the ending? Are you able to put that ending out of mind and savor what you have now? Loving someone — a person or a pet — comes with endings built in; there’s no getting around that. It’s just a question of when and how it ends. Most of the time, we’re able to push that away and not think about it… and, honestly, we have to. You can’t enjoy any what you have if all you do is think about how it’s going to come to an end. In fact, in some ways that makes things worse; now not only are you unable to enjoy the time you have, but you taint those memories by only associating them with the end that you spent all that time dreading.
So in a real way, that deadline serves less as a memento mori and more of a memento vitae; yes, the end will come but that makes it all the more important to live and to live in the now so that you are able to consciously enjoy things to their fullest.
Yes, this means that the endings still hurt. And maybe continuing that ending wouldn’t hurt as much if there wasn’t so much more coming to an end, than if it were to end now. But then again… wouldn’t you just wind up morning the relationship in potentia, and all it could have been if you had chosen to continue it?
I mean, I faced a lot of losses over the last year and change — friends and family, some of who died suddenly and without warning, while with others I had to watch the end approach, knowing there was no stopping it. Losing Guinness ripped a hole in my reality, one that will never be completely filled. But I would never trade all the time I had with him to avoid it ever happening in the first place. It may have broken my heart, but he made my life better for having been part of it.
So it can be with relationships. If things are going to end at graduation, then yes, you can take the pain now to spare yourself the pain down the line. But doing so means that you miss out on everything you would also be getting by staying in this relationship. By the same token, are you able to commit to living things to the fullest with your boyfriend instead of dwelling on the inevitable ending and letting that color everything you do together?
You have to be the one to decide whether what you would be giving up is worth the cost.
Oh… and one more thing.
Graduation means an ending. It doesn’t mean the ending. Just because things may end now — because you and your boyfriend can’t do a long-distance relationship — doesn’t mean that circumstances can’t change later on. There’s nothing stopping the two of you from circling around and reconnecting later on, when life means that the two of you won’t have to do long-distance. And it’s a lot easier to reconnect when you don’t treat the end of this relationship as a sign that it failed… just that this one ended, and put you both in a position where you could begin a new one down the line.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org