Tell Me About It: ‘I like this person but feel like I’m betraying my independence’
PROBLEM: I am a student in a long-distance relationship and I am coming to the end of my studies in a few months. I am deciding what to do next and feel conflicted about how to manage the fact that I want to make a decision about my career but also want to take my partner into account.
We have been doing long distance for some time, and it is definitely challenging – we would prefer not to keep doing it. I find this very difficult, as I like this person and want to take them into account, but it feels like I’m betraying my independence and my feminist values if I choose what to do based on them.
ADVICE: The long-distance relationship is now very much a norm as couples work and study in different cities and countries, but people warn against such relationships as they are extremely difficult to maintain. Issues of commitment, jealousy and simple lack of involvement in each other’s lives can lead to a struggle to keep the relationship strong and engaged.
Most couples expect that fidelity in long-distance relationships should be assumed in the same manner as in same-country relationships, however talking about this is important as temptation and opportunity can be a constant issue. Most younger people have experienced a long-distance relationship at some stage. Some couples manage to make them work, usually because both agree that their career demands it – at least for the time being. The issue of fairness comes in here: it is likely that one person will be in the more advantageous situation while the other waits their turn. As you and your partner make the next decision, it is likely that one of you will be happier than the other. This can lead to resentment unless you are both clear and committed to the decision being made in the best interests of the person who is less happy this time.
In other words, reciprocity is important even if it cannot happen at the same time or even in the same year. You are at a stage of finishing your studies and beginning the exciting phase of reaping the rewards of all that hard work, so denying yourself options would not be healthy. However, keeping the relationship going also requires loyalty and dedication and this is tricky to achieve. If you decide to keep the relationship going (at a distance), having supportive families and friends who understand your ambition is crucial, as is involving your partner fully in your work and friendship circles. These will help keep you together when the going gets tough.
There is no avoiding that you are facing a big decision and neither you nor your partner might feel that the time is right for this
Talking and listening, via all the media options, is necessary but you cannot assume that your partner has the same communication pattern as you do. This can mean that you like to chat a couple of times a day, but your partner might prefer one long call every three days. It is much easier to manage these differences when you meet in person, as we pick up so much meaning from a simple look or gesture, so patience and kindness are very much required when it is possible to read negativity into a message response from your loved one.
Lots of adjustments will need to be made and all assumptions will have to be dissected so that communication can be close and intimate. Text, email and video calls all facilitate this, but you as a couple will need to be clear that you are on a relationship trajectory in the same way as others and milestones need to be created and met. There is a temptation to either move too fast in the relationship, creating a false intimacy, or perhaps letting the non-committal situation go on too long; constant and real communication is the key in this situation. There is no avoiding that you are facing a big decision and neither you nor your partner might feel that the time is right for this.
What you do appear to be clear about is your right and need to explore all the career possibilities that the world can offer you and that the relationship will have to accommodate this if it is to survive. If this is to happen, then you both need to face this with eyes wide open and plan for lots of evidence that the relationship is up there in terms of importance. You may need to agree to meet for a long weekend once a month, to support each other’s career dreams and to manage the inevitable difficulties with thoughtfulness and reassurance.
You can ask friends to support you by being positive about the relationship when you feel lonely or pessimistic, but ultimately this next phase will test the solidity of the relationship so it will need your full backing if you can commit to this.