Is it better to long-distance love and lose than to never long-distance love at all?
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Dear Miss Information,
I've been dating this guy for about a year and a half. I knew him for a couple years while we were dating other people, but I always had a crush on him and thought he was too good to date someone like me. Around that time, he had a lot going on and had just gotten out of a nine-year relationship. So he didn't want to be serious with me, but I fell in love with him anyway and just kind of lived in agony for the first six months. After that, we became official, and I finally had what I wanted. I met his parents, started spending time with his friends, and got to call him my boyfriend.
But now, six months after his return, something is wrong. We’re together, but he still seems to want to keep things casual and light. He gets weirded out when I’m too emotional or when I talk about anything serious. And at this point, telling him "I love you" is on the tip of my tongue, but something is holding me back. I'm terrified that he doesn't feel the same way, and I can just tell by the way he looks at me that he doesn't think of me as "the one." I am afraid that if I tell him I love him, he won't return my feelings.
I can't be with someone who doesn't love me. And I can't understand how he can be so intimate and engaged in other ways but not emotionally. I should mention our age difference; I'm twenty-five and haven't really been in a long relationship before; he's thirty-two getting out of a long, serious, committed relationship.
I just don't know what to do. I didn't mean to fall in love. I don't even think we're compatible in some ways. But I can't help how I feel. Should I tell him how I feel, wait for his reaction, and walk away with my head held high? (As you can see, I'm pretty convinced I know the outcome.) Or should I wait longer for him to figure it out and save myself some pain? Will he fall in love with me eventually? Or am I being hopelessly naive?
I'm glad you wrote in. The other day I saw a teenager wearing a t-shirt that said "Don't use YOLO as an excuse. It's stupid." It was one of the first times I felt like a real, pleated-khakis, penny-loafers adult, because I had no idea what YOLO meant. The kids today just make up words faster than I can hear 'em, you know? When you wrote in, I fired up my 1998 modem and AltaVista'd the answer. Thanks for bringing me up to speed. You're jiggy.
And to your question: ugh, it burns. I think most of us here can relate to being on at least one side of a lopsided relationship, and it is the worst. In your case, you've got a lot of things tipping the power-balance scales: he's older than you; he's more relationally experienced; he's the one who'd just endured heartbreak (and thus ended up being the one to set the pace); and he's the one who's less invested. This is a toxic mix.
The hard truth is that he's unlikely to wake up one day and magically feel differently. And any relationship with this drastic a power imbalance — you thought he was "too good" to date “someone like you?" — is off to a rocky start.
That's my armchair diagnosis. Only talking to him will reveal whether this is true. You can bring it all up without dropping "I love you." I think you put it well already: "When you look at me, I can tell you don't think I'm the one." Start with that, then see how he reacts. If your relationship does break up, YOLO, you have plenty to look forward to with the next one: a dynamic where you can be an active, rather than passive, participant.
NEXT: Is it actually better to long-distance love and lose? Or does it just really suck?
Dear Miss Information,
Last summer, I had a summer internship 1,500 miles away from home. While there, I fell very hard for one of my coworkers. He's handsome, incredibly intelligent, and hilarious; honestly, he's everything I ever wanted in a man. We had a lovely summer romance, but with the distance involved, things seemed to have a pretty obvious expiration date. Unfortunately, my feelings didn't. I've tried everything — keeping busy, having flings with other guys — and nothing has worked.
I never got over him, but I at least managed to put things at the back of my mind. We kept in touch after I went home, but I always thought he had moved on and was over me. However, recent drunken (and then sober) phone calls have proved otherwise. Now that I know he still has feelings for me and would love to see me, I'm right back to square one emotionally. I'm falling apart — a song from last summer is enough to bring tears to my eyes. He's heading off to medical school this fall (200 miles closer to me!), but it's not like either of us have the budget to see each other terribly often.
But, I do have the money currently to go visit him once. With the cost of med school, he doesn't have the extra cash lying around to reciprocate. So what should I do? Throw caution to the wind, go see him, be insanely happy for a week, and face the emotional Armageddon when I come back? Or just keep muddling along like I have for the past year, and keep my fingers crossed that I magically get over Prince Charming?
— Long Distance Dilemma
Dear Long-Distance Dilemma,
The screenwriting term "Plant and Payoff" refers to a type of foreshadowing in a movie, where you plant a detail at the beginning, only to have it "pay off" later. (A really good example: in Titanic, when Jack says "Good thing our love is unsinkable," before staring at the camera for ten seconds. Oh, you don't remember that? Weird.)
I firmly believe some relationships are Plant and Payoffs. It's definitely possible to meet someone great at the wrong time, then evolve independently into the kind of people who would be great together.
Am I saying you are clearly soulmates and please send me an invitation to the wedding, it's the least you can do? Nah. But I am saying that most of us get nervous when we can't easily define a relationship, even though freaking out detracts from the relationship itself. If you can't define it, you can't define it. The question is, can you enjoy the gray area?
It also bears noting that "payoff" is not necessarily "happy ever after." In ten years, you may make love on a doomed ocean-liner. Just as likely, it will fizzle and you'll say hi when you see each other at the grocery store. My point is, maybe you can't be together now, but that doesn't mean this is your only shot.
If you're okay with the crippling uncertainty, I say go visit him. Nurture your plant-and-payoff. If you'd rather try to move on and think visiting would be too hard, that's fine too. Either way, the details of your relationship are going to be in flux. You and he will have to fumble until things naturally settle — and they will, whether or not you fret over them.