Hello all you spectral crotch-bears, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to win the Kumite.
Normally we talk about dealing with the drama that comes with starting or being in relationships, but what about when it’s time for a relationship to end? How do you go into a relationship knowing that it may have a hard and fast end-point? Is it better to cut ties early or enjoy what you have? And what do you do when someone actually does cancel the apocalypse?
It’s time to use the dim mak on your troubles and doubts, and fight to survive. Let’s do this.
Bear with me here, because this story is as cliched as it gets, but there’s a few twists here. I dated a woman for three years. I loved her, I loved her family, I loved her friends, everything. We were almost perfect together. But of course we were different human beings, and we had some differences. Sexually, our chemistry was more passable than amazing, and we forged ahead knowing that. Also, we learned early on that she really wants to get married, and I’ve heard too many stories from divorced people to be on that same wavelength. We agreed that we’d have to find a therapist or something about that when the time came. The bigger divide for us was the way we used alcohol. As a musician, I kind of drink as a profession, and I haven’t really lost control of myself in over a decade. This is a quality I admire in myself and others.
Unfortunately, she was a little more susceptible. After enough alcohol was consumed, I would watch as some other personality stripped away all of the wires holding together my girlfriend as I knew her, and she’d change. There were a few instances a year where she would get so out of control it became a problem that we had to talk about the next day.
Three very nice years passed. Yes, there were some alcohol incidents here and there, but she was someone I looked forward to seeing and depended on, and she never let me down on that front. But then she got the job offer. Yup, the really good one she had been looking for the whole time. And as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it was all the way over on the other side of the country, in a place I didn’t have the desire nor the resources to move to. I couldn’t let our relationship get in the way of her livelihood, and I was genuinely proud that she got the offer. I wanted nothing more than for her to take the job. I told her as much, and I told her not to worry about what would happen to our relationship. There was a lot of stress and pressure on her already; I wasn’t looking to bust the scales. Besides, we had a lot of fun plans in the works before her move date.
Of course, as life has taught me several times, it is difficult to carry on with a relationship as normal when you know there’s an end date in sight. Our fun plans ended up with an uncomfortable shadow over them, an elephant in the room that we were both too scared to address. We developed an odd form of emotional distance in which we were comforting one another from what we both knew was going to happen. Then, on one of our fun planned outings, the dam burst. She drank too much. The other personality emerged in full force. The drunk personality was incredibly mad at me about something and incredibly sloppy-flirty with a lot of other guys in a way that implied she had gone out by herself and was looking to leave with someone else. At this moment, all doubt left my mind that we could keep any sort of relationship going across the country.
She didn’t go home with someone else that night. She went home with me, I helped her get to the bathroom and puke and clean up and not pass out on the seat and all that fun stuff. I didn’t get mad at her. There was no point. After a certain amount of alcohol, it wasn’t my girlfriend in there anymore. And there would be no memory of the conversation the next day anyway. Unfortunately, the next day had us going directly to spending the rest of the weekend with her family, and I ended up going an entire week without revealing to her what she had done.
Finally, the moment came. We sat down and had the talk about her and the job. I said that it wasn’t going to work for us long distance, citing first and foremost what had happened the weekend before, but also our sexual chemistry and thoughts on marriage. It was not an emotion-driven speech. It was calculated and logical, a case a lawyer might present to a jury. She agreed with my points and said she didn’t want to force me to move away from where I was either. We broke things off somewhat amicably, and I set about beginning my life anew by myself for the first time in three years.
Two weeks passed. There was no communication, because I asked for there not to be. Breaking up is never an easy process, but I’ve done it enough times now that I know how to push the pain away as much as possible. But then, just before I wrote this email, I got a message from her. She got disqualified from the job. She isn’t moving. We will remain in relative physical proximity to one another, enough to theoretically continue dating. The question is, do we? I’m a bit blindsided here, as you can tell from the lengthy email. I’ve already started my new independent life, emboldened by the romantic notion of my past love that just couldn’t be. Now it turns out it could. What should I do now?
Thanks for reading,
A Blindsided Man
Not gonna lie, ABM, I’m not entirely sure what the problem is here. Your relationship was… not great, nor one that leant itself to long-term plans. You had what might be charitably called some serious foundation issues, issues that would ultimately undermine your compatibility in the long run.
Let’s start with the mediocre sexual chemistry. While not every relationship is going to prioritize a sexual connection — asexuals date and get happily married, after all — sexual chemistry is as reliable a predictor as you’re want to find, especially in monogamous couples. Being on the same page, sexually, is vital for the satisfaction of both partners. When one partner’s needs aren’t being met, or feels like their needs aren’t important or valued, sex becomes a breeding ground for resentment, which is relationship poison.
Then there were the long-term plans. One person wanting to get married and the other preferring not to isn’t an insurmountable problem, but it is going to be a pretty high bar to clear. That’s less of an unmet relationship goal and more of an indicator of a values mismatch. And while fundamental compatibility issues like your values can be papered over in the early years when the honeymoon phase is still within recent memory, it’s another issue that ultimately tends to drive couples apart.
But the major issue is, frankly, the booze. More than your differing views on marriage, the alcohol is the biggest indicator of the mismatch in values you had with your ex. The difference in how you approached drinking — including the number of times your ex got absolutely shit-faced — tends to be a bigger problem than most of the others. When you’ve had to have repeated conversations with your partner about what they did when they were blackout drunk, that’s generally not a good sign. Especially when she evidently caused incidents that required some form of damage control afterwards.
Despite how it can seem, alcohol isn’t a magical potion that turns your beloved Dr. Jekyll into Mrs. Hyde. It’s truth serum. Booze tends to wipe away little things like your judgement, ability to read the situation, internal filter, and your super-ego, and lets your id run wild. So when Drunk Ex comes forward with a list of grievances a mile long and starts indicating she’s willing to use somebody else’s dick to hammer you in the nuts… well, that’s a pretty good sign that Sober Ex isn’t too happy with the relationship either.
But hey, you had an out! She was going to move across the country and you both acknowledged that neither of you could make a long-distance relationship work. So, you preemptively ended things, letting you both move forward with your future plans as singles.
And now here you are, with your ex still living in your town instead of in the far-flung reaches of Not-My-Problemville. So what now?
Well… nothing. Y’all broke up. Your breakup may have been based around the fact that she was leaving, but that doesn’t mean that it’s contingent on her leaving. You didn’t agree to break up with conditions, after all.
And honestly? Even if you did? It takes two to date. It’s not as though your ex can take you to Relationship Court and argue that your breakup is no longer in effect viz Geller V. Greene.
Honestly, even if you were seeing your future singledom through the eyes of “haunted by a love that could not be”, you were happy to be single. The fact that your ex lives in the same city as you — as is true for the majority of couples — doesn’t mean that you have to get back together with her. And from what you’ve described, it seems like what worked passably well in the short-term (and three years is short term) isn’t going to work in the long term.
So my advice, ABM, is just continue as you are: a single man. The reasons you couldn’t make long distance work are the same reasons that near-distance won’t work either. The only difference is the address.
If the subject comes up, then just be honest with her: your relationship reached the natural end of its life. Not every love story needs to be an epic poem. Some are meant to be short stories. Some are dirty limericks. You said let go, said goodbye, and you’re ready to move on.
And if she doesn’t accept that? Well… say it again. And a third time. Nobody can force you to be in a relationship you don’t want to be in and, frankly, you seem like you don’t want to be in one with her. Take the out. You broke up. Go and find your future, knowing that your past love couldn’t be — even when she didn’t leave after all.
I’m in a situation that I can’t quite get my head around. Perhaps you have some advice for me?
First, a bit of background information: I’m a 24-year-old guy who’s currently doing a master’s degree in electrical engineering and before meeting my girlfriend, I didn’t have any experience with girls besides going on a couple of dates that — although nice and not awkward or anything — just didn’t have any potential to develop any further. Meeting my girlfriend a little over a year ago was therefore an incredible adventure. Of course, things have settled since, but we are still just as much in love and we are very compatible emotionally, intellectually and sexually so it’s hard to imagine that things could be better right now. In many ways our journey together feels like the perfect love story, so why am I even writing this?
Well, here’s the thing: She’s 37.
It not the age-gap itself that causes me trouble – if that would have been the case, I wouldn’t be in this relationship – it’s the fact that starting a family is going to be very tricky for us. You see, we both think that “kids would be nice, but not right now”, even though biology thinks otherwise. For now, this is fine, but I fear that when the time finally comes, she will be unable to have kids and our relationship will collapse. Compromising and getting kids earlier is not really an option as we both need some time to get our careers going (she had a delayed career start due to a lot of reasons that’s unrelated to this issue) and we potentially need to relocate and settle in a different city. My girlfriend does not worry about this as none of her friends have kids (some by choice, others because their sexual orientation prevents it) but I do since I have a tendency to plan ahead in life. I have brought up the issue with her but I haven’t mentioned the full extent of my worries as I don’t want to trigger a breakup unless there is need for one. I’m also worried that we will grow apart when I start to work as this is a quite big change in life and I’m career-wise more ambitious than her.
As you might have noticed, all of our problems, both potential and near-certain, are in the future and things are really good right now. Lately I’ve started thinking that I’m perhaps just overthinking all of this and that I maybe should just enjoy the ride and see where it takes me.
I mean, the worst thing that could happen is that things we have to break-up in five years or so due to the above-mentioned factors, but at the same time I feel that it would like robbing the last fertile years from my girlfriend for my own enjoyment. I should perhaps also mention that I’m not in any way afraid of leaving if I have to, but this relationship is extremely valuable to me and I will only break up when there are no other options.
So what do you think, doc? Should I save ourselves from a bigger problem in the future or enjoy this trip while it lasts?
Living On The Edge of A Broken Heart
“Lately I’ve started thinking that I’m perhaps just overthinking all of this “
Congratulations, LOTEABH. You, like many nerds, have the worst super power in the world: the ability to find every possible Worst Case Scenario. You have What-If Vision. What if you decide you want kids when it’s too late? What if your job pulls you apart? What if the world is about to erupt into a ball of atomic fire because somebody started a war on Twitter?
My dude, you are doing something that I see so many people do: you’re borrowing trouble from the future. If the X-Men have taught us anything, is that the future you’re expecting may well not exist.
Your visions of a relationshipocalypse are based on these dire predictions that you’ve played out in your head. But unless you’ve managed to build some sort of time window, those are all speculation, not reality. (And if you have built a time window, let’s talk Powerball numbers.)
The big sticking point here is the question of children. Once the two of you are in a place where having kids won’t derail your other dreams, will it be too late? Sure… if you didn’t have literally hundreds of options available to you to solve the problem. If you’re sure you both will definitely positively want kids in 5, 10 years, she could freeze some eggs. You could make plans now to adopt children — domestic adoption is a process that can take 5 years. You could adopt overseas. You could look into surrogacy. You could become foster parents.
The fact is that while yours are legitimate concerns, they’re solvable. But you’re far more focused on all the reasons why this could break you two up. So now you’re focused on this horrifying potential future instead of, y’know, just enjoying what you have now.
And hey, my dude, I’m here from the future to tell you: every relationship you ever have might end in you two splitting up. In fact, every relationship you will have in the future will end… right up until one doesn’t. And here’s the thing: you will never know which one that will be.
But just as importantly, the fact that one of you didn’t die in the saddle doesn’t mean that your relationship was a failure or that it wasn’t valuable or important or meaningful. If your relationship ends because of children or job stresses and not because one of you died of old age or consumption while singing a heartbreaking aria doesn’t mean that your relationship was any less important. It just means that, like A Blindsided Man above you, your relationship came to the end of its natural life and that’s ok.
The only real problem here, LOTEABH, is the fact that you’re wasting your time right now. You have an amazing relationship with someone you love madly. The time you spend worrying about what might happen is time that would be better spent savoring what you do have. Your prognostications aside, you literally have no idea how long you and your sweetie have together. You may only have a few months. You may have a lifetime. But the time you spend gaming out the end of things is time you will never get back with her.
And no matter how much time you have together… wouldn’t you rather spend it with her in the here and now instead of focused on theoretical futures? I mean, I know what I’d choose. And I suspect it’s what you’d rather have, too.
Let the future take care of itself. The problems that will come, will come no matter how much you worry about them ahead of time. Enjoy what you have now. As the sage once said: just one year of love is better than a lifetime alone.
Did your break-up get cancelled unexpectedly? Have you had to navigate long-term conflicts in your relationship? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. We’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blogPaging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.