A MASSIVE ANGEL:
I am only in my mid twenties, but my boyfriend and I have been together for yearsss. As in I feel weird telling people when they ask because I get the "Oh wow, how old are you two again?" and it only gets more awkward and invasive when they find out that 80% of our relationship has been long distance (~5 hours). It was easier when I was in college as we had months together at a time, but now that we’re adults and have to scrounge for PTO or unpaid time off, it gets even harder.
I get a lot of the just dump him comments, or why won't you just move there questions. Both of us have fine jobs, but not any super important careers. I think we are both too stubborn to move to the city of the other and I am not sure where to go from here. When we are in the same room, we are still playful and romantic. But trying to find the time to be in the same room is getting slimmer and you feel more jaded when the weeks in between go by. I truly have no desire to date or see someone else and our families are pretty close now, but I can't see either of us letting up. I don't think this is sustainable for another few years in the hope that one of us will cave on our stubbornness, but I am confused because he still makes me happy and is the person I tell everything to.
What do you do when your partner of years is your best friend, but neither of you are willing to move hours to be together and it's taking a toll?
Sometimes, although this suuuuuuucks to admit or even acknowledge, when everyone around you keeps telling you (or hinting) the same thing about your relationship, it’s because they’re right. (I KNOW THIS BLOWS). It’s not because they are brilliant and wise and you are a major dolt; it’s because they’re on the outside and it is very easy to tell people when you’re on the outside that they ought to end things with their partner. (Hence the stereotype that advice columnists always advise people to break up).
Of course you don’t want to break up with him. You guys have a very good thing going. Unfortunately, there is something missing there, and that something is a future, which I believe strongly you both know somewhere in your little sweetie hearts. It’s like you’ve kept your summer life guarding job from high school because you get along with your boss and it’s really easy and it pays well enough, but now you’re 26 and still a lifeguard and everyone keeps telling you that you need to quit and find a more adult job and you keep saying, “But I love this job.” Which is fair. Lifeguarding may be fun. But there’s no future in it.
The reason I so strongly believe that neither of you feel there is a future in this is that you’ve yet to give me a compelling reason that either of you haven’t moved. Why haven’t you moved if you really want to be with him? You guys seem really good at long distance, which is lovely and rare, however, long distance only (ONLY!) works if there is an end date. Otherwise, you just have a sex friend who lives in another city that you’re not having sex with people because of. Love—adult, mature, solid love— is about building your life with someone. (Yes, there are couples who have to be apart for years who are in love, but they want to be together).
Being together for the two of you acts as almost a time machine. Here’s this person I’m so comfortable with, whom I have fun with, who makes me laugh, who has known me since high school, but I don’t want to let him into my real adult life and he doesn’t want to let me into his. Doesn’t that strike you as a mighty convenient way to stay stuck in the past? Once or twice a month, when time permits, you get to be with someone whom you’ve known since before you could vote and live in that world with him. But it’s not real. He’s a holding pattern.
Naturally, you do not want to fuck/love/fool around a little bit with other people because you haven’t broken up with or even begun to get over this guy, which, when/if it happens will be a gargantuan feat. I don’t know that either of you currently has the capacity to imagine a romantic life with anyone else because you’ve been together for so long, and at such a young age. But you don’t need to imagine life with anyone else. You have to imagine life with yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it will be ROUGH to end things. I think you’ll both be tempted to talk and text and lean on one another through the process, which will inevitably prolong the pain of the breakup, but all of us have to learn our lessons at our own rate. I think one of you may even break down, take a trip to see the other person and spend a weekend boning and end up even more confused as to why it can’t work between the two of you. The end will be long. There will be a lot of mourning to be done. Mourning that this guy isn’t your future. Mourning that you aren’t his. Mourning future plans and past memories. It will take months and months to feel better and probably years and years for the imprint of him to finally abate. (Obviously, there will always be something there).
That said, I think the other side of all this pain will be glorious. I think both of you—even if you can’t imagine this now— will find fuller lives, free from the burden of traveling back forth. I think you’ll realize dozens if not hundreds of things/opinions/habits of yours that were stuck in high school and college because you haven’t been able to fully grow. You’ll discover who you really are outside of this lifeline to the old you. After a long while—or a night spent looking at photos of Henry Golding—you’ll warm up to the idea of finding someone else appealing.
You’re like a sweet little potted plant who needs to move to a new, bigger pot in order to grow and live. Sure, right now, you may still be mostly comfortable, but that won’t last long. You can’t do this for another few years, in my humble, outsider opinion. If you let this go on, the time will come where it will become an emergency; one of you will do a whole lot of growing really quickly, the ending will be abrupt, and it will hurt even worse to end. At least, that’s my prediction.
Now, maybe I’m very wrong. Maybe you read this letter and think “THAT IS NOT US AT ALL. WE HAVE A FUTURE!!!” If that’s the case, great, I hope my answer got you riled up enough to get over yourself and move to him.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.