Unhealthy dependence vs. something more innocuous
Q: I suspect that I am dependent on my boyfriend to an unhealthy degree. We live together and spend most of our free time together. I have a reasonable amount of good, close friends, but most of them live in other parts of the country. When it comes to spending recreational time — going out to dinner, movies, bike rides — my boyfriend is better company than most of my local friends, and when I make a point of spending time without him, I usually just end up feeling I'd enjoy myself more if he were there.
We're actually really happy and get along well, but I worry that if for some reason I found myself without him, my life would be pretty empty.
A: Life is going to feel pretty empty to anyone who loses a good mate. Or a great friend, or a close family member, or anyone who provides significant companionship.
I would describe unhealthy dependence on someone as exerting or submitting to control, feeling panicky when you're apart, needing to be in constant contact, feeling that you couldn't enjoy life again without this person, or sticking around only because unpleasant company is still preferable to having no company at all.
You can be devoted to someone, immersed in someone, and even willingly monopolized by someone, without sacrificing your independence — which I define as your ability to thrive on your own. It's not the focus of your day-to-day life, but instead the underlying strength (or weakness) you bring to it that determines how you'll weather a loss. "I'll be devastated, but I'll manage." If these are words you can say with a straight face, then trust yourself and enjoy what you have.
If you question how well you'd manage, then you do need to ask yourself what your strengths and resources are; how you can address any deficits; and where you can start to branch out.
It's time for both to speak up, tell each other how they feel
Q: I love European travel, but my girlfriend has travel restrictions outside the United States for at least one more year.
I really like her, but this is causing me some resentment; she hinted that she's okay with my traveling by myself — but in a passive-aggressive manner, I suspect. Any words of wisdom?
A: No, just words of disgust. If she won't say what she means, then that's her problem. If you won't say what you mean, then that's your problem. If neither one of you has the nerve to say what you mean to the other, then I can see why you're so hot to get away: You're in hell.
Tell her you're restless, admit you'd rather travel solo than wait another year, and ask her opinion. (Consider offering, as a show of good faith, to make firm plans to travel elsewhere with her, too.)
She can either tell you honestly how she feels, which you and she deal with accordingly, or she can give you false assurances that of course she won't mind at all, the consequences of which she can marinate in while you're gone.
Stay, go, it's immaterial. What matters is that each of you owns your decisions, on travel and all else: You don't secretly blame her for your choices, she doesn't secretly blame you for hers. Live by your words or break up.