May 1, 2009 in Features

Carolyn Hax: Take his honesty as opportunity

Carolyn Hax Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: I am in a long-distance relationship with a wonderful young man. We lived in the same city for more than a year before I started graduate school in another state.

During a recent visit, he informed me that he had gone to a club with friends and met a young woman and asked for her number. He told me he got rid of the number the next day. He has apologized and describes it as a mistake.

While I understand “nothing happened,” I still feel his ability to put himself in this situation is a warning sign. Do you think I am overreacting or are my feelings valid? – Anonymous

If you’re taking this as a warning that you can no longer trust your boyfriend, then that, to me, smacks of punishing a guy for his honesty.

If instead you take it as a warning that the distance is starting to wear him down, then I think that would reward his candor – and, more important, steer you to a more productive line of thinking.

Maintaining intimacy long-distance does wear people down, even those who have every reason to expect their relationship to withstand the pressure – people, say, who have made life commitments to each other, who have built a world together, and who have been separated temporarily out of necessity. Military deployment, for example.

You spent about a year dating. You left of your own volition. Your return – also just a guess – probably hinges on the kind of opportunities available to someone with your degree.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these choices, they become a problem collectively if you weigh them down with unrealistic expectations. You’ve asked this “wonderful young man” to give up happy companionship in exchange for e-hugs, pining and guilt. No doubt he agreed to it willingly; no doubt, too, his feelings for you were immediate and your absence was merely abstract.

Given the relatively short time you spent together, it’s likely the reverse is now true – your absence is immediate and his feelings for you are abstract.

I’m spelling this out not to drive home the idea that you’re losing him, but instead to point out that his drifting attention is perfectly normal. It’s his admitting it that stands out, and gives you an unusual opportunity to talk to him openly. Please use it: Find out what he’s feeling, and what each of you is prepared to do about it. There may be only two outcomes – stay together, break up – but there are many different ways to get there. It might be time to explore a new one.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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