Q: I’ve been dating a really great guy for over six months now. We have a ton in common, have a lot of fun together, and recently, we’ve gotten comfortable being much more vulnerable with each other. The only problem? In three months, he’s moving across the country for a new job. Neither of us has any interest in long-distance — we’ve both tried that before and been burned. I know it’s not for me! And I’m happy in my city, at a job I love.
We’ve so far decided to stick it out until our “expiration date,” because we’ve been having such a good time, but recently the inevitable end has started to eat away at me. I feel the pressure of our limited time together, and want to make the most of every moment, which means I’m stressed and sad a lot more of the time than I’d like! Is it worth it to stay together until he leaves, or am I just setting myself up for a bigger heartbreak? How can I let go of what I know is coming and just enjoy the moment?
A: I am of the mindset that any and all efforts to mitigate heartbreak are doomed to fail. In a way, there is no such thing as “bigger heartbreak” or really its counterpart a “smaller” heartbreak because the sadness you’ll feel is the sadness you’ll feel. It’s not like you’re going to be happy when it ends because it could have hurt worse. You’re not going to be crying in bed thinking, “Oh thank God I’m only at 74% capacity for heartbreak!” Whatever space this relationship occupies in your life and in your heart (even if you aren’t saying “I love you”), you are going to have to mourn when it ends, however it ends.
Cool, Sophia, got it! Thanks for that bummer! But is there any way to make it hurt less? Or to make a better decision in the here and now? Not to cop out of my job of giving advice, but uh, not really.
The problem with life, the big grand tragedy of it all, is that you get to do it only once. You can’t run a control test and then say, dang, that sucked, let’s try it again where I don’t kiss Travis during my senior ski trip, which leads to us dating for four miserable years throughout all of undergrad. (Do schools really take ski trips? I don’t know!) You can’t try things both ways and then figure out which one led to the best possible outcome. So much of adulthood is trying to figure out what would make your future good — or at least better — without very much info. On top of that, as my mother very memorably taught me, our choices are so rarely between one obviously good and one obviously bad option. It’s never like, “do you want to fall and slip into a pile of horsesh*t every 16 days or get $4,000?” No! The options we’re deciding between are usually both good, both bad, or each a bit of both.
In fact, there usually aren’t just two options. There’s a full spectrum of choice, which is what you’re facing here. You don’t just have the choice to cut it off now at the knees or wait until the last day he’s here. You could end things in two weeks, realize that sucks a lot, and then keep going until he moves. Maybe he moves and you end things the night before and never speak to him again.
You might end things the night before and keep talking and then the two of you realize long-distance is inevitable because you like (love) each other so much. I don’t know. You don't know. He doesn’t know. And more to the point, no one knows which of these options will provide you with the most happiness and the least strife.
My inclination is to suggest that you keep seeing this guy, not because I think that is so obviously the path to happiness. Or even because I’m some mega-romantic who thinks being with someone is always better than not. More because I think if you do end things now, while he is in the same city as you, you’ll be sad about the end of things and then you’ll think to yourself, “Why am I sad when he’s right here in town and there’s no reason for us to not be together? What was I thinking?” And either you’ll blame yourself or you’ll get back together with him, which is likely to be a little messy. Maybe you’re thinking, “But I won’t do that! I’ll remember exactly how I’m feeling now, the agony of not being able to enjoy my time with him!”
This is possibly true, but I’m sorry to report that hearts have a short-term memory. As soon as a feeling is over, it’s difficult to remind your heart that you felt that way. It’s much easier to feel like you’re desperately sad and the reason you’re sad is that you’re not with him — and the solution to that is to be with him.
Perhaps you’re more emotionally disciplined than I am — you’re willing to end a relationship because it’s long-distance, which I can’t imagine myself ever actually following through on — but I suspect we’re all fallible, adorable humans who bumble around and muck up the ends of relationships. It’s incredibly difficult not to because the end is always going to hurt a certain amount, and in our efforts to avoid that pain, we flail around like a trapped animal, often hurting ourselves worse.
My advice here, to continue a little bit with the trap metaphor, is to be still, to allow the pain of the end to come. (Hint: it’s already here! That’s what you’re feeling when you’re not able to be in the moment!) Give yourself room to be sad, to not feel totally present. Maybe you two talk about it! And acknowledge, wow, tonight feels sad because I am having such a nice time and I know it will end. You can have a nice time while grieving something; it happens all the time about the ending of so much. You absolutely do not have to hurry up and do the breaking up now just to start the heartbreak clock sooner. Although, that’s fine, too. There’s no way out of this without heartbreak. But there’s no way out of this without heartbreak because you care, because you’re having a great time, because things are so good.