Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Boyfriend needs to grow up and grow — and let her do the same
Va.: I'm studying abroad next semester. I'm very excited, and though my boyfriend says he's happy for me, he's been miserable since I told him. He kept saying it was because he was going to miss me, but he told me the real reason a couple of days ago. He's worried I'll change while I'm away, and not want to be with him when I come back. I love him and am completely committed to him, but the thing is, what he's worried about would be possible even if I never left my neighborhood. What can I say to console him?
Carolyn: Tell him that if your relationship is dependent upon your maintaining your current intellectual and emotional state, and if those are dependent upon your never leaving your shared environment, then your relationship is toast anyway. Those are unnatural, unrealistic conditions.
I'm good at this consoling stuff.
He apparently needs more time in the incubator before he's ready to breathe adult air. Which is fine, he's still in college. But it does mean your relationship, which depends on compatibility, has two people in it who still have some changing to do. He needs to let go and trust himself to handle whatever happens — better for his health, but also, the best chance you'll maintain a healthy relationship.
Your efforts to console him are well-meaning, but probably enabling the mope — not to mention granting tacit legitimacy to his view that growing is bad. Yuck.
Anonymous: The biggest mistake I ever made was to be in a relationship while studying abroad. I didn't visit nearby countries, didn't do much of anything except go to Internet cafes and talk to my then-boyfriend.
Carolyn: Thanks. Seems the boyfriend is the one who's most aware of this.
Va. Again: I see the point, but what's the solution? Breaking up with my boyfriend because I'd like to travel/learn abroad seems pretty lame.
Carolyn: You free each other to live in your separate moments, no obligations, no grilling, and no promises other than to be honest about your feelings when you get back.
Another Opinion: Breaking up when you don't want to? That's no prescription for happiness. You can't live your life based on your current perception of what hindsight will tell you. For no other reason than you're probably wrong, anyway.
Carolyn: True. And people who, for example, squander time abroad in Internet cafes will learn a valuable lesson in having the courage to let go.
But I do think that if you anticipate feeling regret for remaining tied down, breaking up makes sense. If you're not ready for that, then . . .
Married 11 Years: For Abroad Person: My now-husband and I spent three years living in different countries. We had an agreement that we would let each other live our own lives and stay in touch as we went through our various changes. We also said that if we met someone else we would deal with that when it happened.
Carolyn: Well done, thanks.