Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Picture life without distant boyfriend, then decide next step
The Ties That Unwind: My boyfriend and I lived together for a year while he finished college and I (already a grad) took a local job. He told me he would be taking a prestigious job in another state after he graduated, but I guess I thought we were strong enough to weather the distance. But now our nightly conversations are strained and he seems emotionally distant. He has made friends there, while I'm lonely in our old city without him. Unfortunately, I don't like the city where he's living now, so I don't want to move there, but somehow I thought we could work things out. Am I hanging on to something that's already dead?
Carolyn: Maybe. Try this internal exercise to help you find out: Declare the relationship dead privately to yourself, and start planning your next step as if he won't be a part of it. Where do you really want to be, doing what? Figure that out, and even start taking some nonbinding, preliminary steps to get there — looking up new cities, jobs or schools on the Web, for example. Until you're sure, don't be afraid to leave your relationship unresolved until it either resolves itself or you feel moved to resolve it.
Anonymous: Re: Ties That Unwind: Personally, I would be horrified to think that a person I was in a relationship with could be so cold as to "declare it dead privately" just to see what would happen from there. If you are in a relationship and having doubts, don't you owe it to the other person to bring up those doubts? Even if you're not ready to break it off, they need to know so you can either work on it together, say you don't know together, or declare it dead together. Isn't that "together" part of what being in a relationship is about?
Carolyn: "Horrified"? That's awfully fired up over a mental exercise. It's not as if s/he doesn't love him anymore and needs to run through all the options before dropping the bomb. This is someone who's still in love and plainly wants the relationship to go on. The exercise is about dealing with the information that the other person might not be in love anymore, and thinking through what life might look like after that.
(The pronoun tango is getting difficult, so I'm going to play the odds and use feminine pronouns for the writer.)
So, I'm advising her to figure out where she is professionally and emotionally, to figure out what she wants, and to take that information into her relationship in progress. For all we know, he's pulling away/sounding distant because her gloom is tele-contagious, and her bringing new energy to her thinking could revive their conversations. It could also re-orient her thinking to where she realizes she has moved on, at which point she can end the relationship or change the terms.
Both, I believe, are better than jumping straight to "Are we okay?" There may be a time for that, but why get into that grim sequence right away, when she might accomplish more from spending a day or two in careful thought about what she wants from her life?