The usual (and good) response to relationship questions is "talk about it." That's not so easy here.
October 4, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

The usual (and good) response to relationship questions is "talk about it." That's not so easy here.

Will try to keep this shortish.

Met and started dating an absolutely amazing woman. Despite knowing that she'd be leaving to travel for a couple of months, we went into the relationship full steam ahead. Things were great - the best they're ever been for both of us. Both of us had - and expressed - our hopes and plans together for the future. When I imagine the sort of partner I'd like to meet, she far exceeds it. I really feel fortunate to have found her.

When she left, things were good. For a while, I'd get e-mail and phone calls, and she'd mention how much she missed me, had some regrets about the trip, couldn't stop talking about me, and was looking forward to returning. She even mentioned that moving in together on her return, although she acknowledged it was a bit early for that.

Then things changed. The calls and e-mail came a bit farther apart, and the content wasn't the same. There wasn't all of the romantic stuff that made the distance feel a bit smaller. So, in a non-accusatory way, I asked her about it - through e-mail. Her response was to tell me how wonderful I am, how I've been perfect the whole way through, but (of course) that the distance and time have been very difficult, that she's feels separated from her life back home, is scared to come back, and that "we'll know" when she returns in three weeks.

So! I just don't know what to say or do. How do I understand this? How do I respond? Should I?

I have no way of calling her, which would be my preference. It's often difficult for her to call me, because of phone availability and the time change. If I e-mail her, I don't even know what to say. My only interest is in helping thing work out; I have no desire to lay blame or indignation. Because it looks like we're not at the same place anymore, my immediate thought is to not respond, but to let things cool down for a bit, so that I can disengage a little. Telling her how much I love her and miss her would probably push her, and it's already been said.

What advice can you give? I'm sorry if this is scattered - I can be reached at to clarify.

For background, she's 25, I'm 30, and we've both been in several long-term relationships. We've been together 4 months, and half of that has been l/d. I realize the short time might be a red-flag, but I'm not sure it's a clearcut sort of thing.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
She was missing you, so she kept up her end of the relationship because it was meeting her emotional needs.

She's met someone else while abroad, so those needs are now being met somewhere else.
posted by Oktober at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

If she has email, I assume she has internet access. IF phone calls are not possible, and this is important to you then time zones are meaningless. Skype each other. You both need to exchange energies and feed the flame a little to keep it going until you meet again. I suspect the challenge of the trip and travel and the distance without voice or human contact have made it difficult for her to feel the sense of connection. Are you writing to her in the meantime or simply responding to her emails? If she's important to you then it doesn't matter how weird you feel writing to her how you feel or just corresponding. Looking at your ages, I suspect you're both IT/internet children and have no memory of writing long letters by hand to someone and waiting by the postbox for a letter in reply, even days later :)
posted by The Lady is a designer at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2010

Just tell her you're looking forward to seeing her when she's back, and yes, it's been hard for you. There's not really anything else you can say that won't push her to think "yep, i was right, this is way too much hassle".
posted by modernnomad at 11:14 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

You guys haven't been dating very long. She's not sure if the relationship will continue once she gets back to the states, but right now is not interested in putting energy into it. Sounds like she might be interested when she gets back. If you want things to continue, I think you should tell her that you look forward to her return, continue a light correspondence, and see what happens when she gets back.

On preview, yes, what modernnomad said.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, bud. She's just not that into you, and doesn't have the ability or willingness to just say it.

If she comes back and proves me wrong, terrific. But be prepared to have The Talk.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think you're on the right track here:
Because it looks like we're not at the same place anymore, my immediate thought is to not respond, but to let things cool down for a bit, so that I can disengage a little. Telling her how much I love her and miss her would probably push her, and it's already been said.

It sounds like she's experienced a personal revelation of some kind while she was travelling and now she's re-assessing her life back home, including her relationship with you. She might come back and be exactly the same as when she left, but she might also come back wanting to make changes. You should prepare yourself for that.

I know your mind is probably in a million different places right now, but try to concentrate on yourself for a little while. Let her finish her vacation, let her come back, and then see how she is.

And for what it's worth, my long-distance boyfriend went through a similar routine (less contact, no more romantic language) and it turned out he'd been cheating on me and was waiting to break up with me. So there's that.
posted by fight or flight at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2010

You've effectively been together for two months, then you've spent another two months apart. It seems that she's not into this relationship as much as you apparently are. Do the math.

Wait for the three weeks. You can't really do anything productive in the meantime. I suggest you spend the time thinking about how you're going to cope if the spark isn't still there. If the spark is there, then you get a bonus, and if it isn't (which seems much more likely to me) then you'll be prepared.

Hassling her for another game when she's already taken the cards off the table periodically is going to do more harm than good.
posted by Solomon at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would respond via email, ONCE, in a way that's warm but not smothering, and brief but not curt. Try to avoid using the following words: "but," "should," "have to," "need to," "must," etc. (You get the idea -- avoid the language of obligation or demands.) Something along the lines of that you know the trip has been a significant experience for her and you respect that, and you are happy to see where things are and where they might go once she gets back. Sign off as you normally would. And that's it.

Then: you have to bear the anxiety of the next three weeks. You just do. It will be hard. You will likely feel some combination of anxious, nervous, scared, desperate, irritated, and confused. The thing to do is to realize that A) these feelings aren't going to last forever, and B) they are not a signal that you need to do anything about them other than acknowledge them and let them pass.

In order to help the time pass (and let these difficult feelings ebb and flow as they will), I would plan on some concrete, constructive things for the next three weeks. Make plans with friends to see a movie, go to see a band, go out for dinner. Exercise regularly (go running, hit the gym, take a yoga class). Don't put your life on hold. This doesn't mean you'll put her out of your mind -- that's not really possible, nor is it necessary or healthy, because you care about her and things are still in limbo -- but it does mean you will put this present conundrum in a certain place in your life for now.

As frustrating as it is, there's nothing definitive you can do to get a concrete answer or to solve this right now. You can't actually fix it, or determine the outcome. There will be an answer, eventually (maybe she met someone else, maybe she's just not that into you, maybe she's decided to go live in a monastery in Thailand for a year; all of this is just speculation and presently unknowable), but you don't get to have it just yet. All you can do is find a way to accept the not-knowing.
posted by scody at 11:29 AM on October 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

Check out this thread - How much distance is too much distance?. In the responses, you'll see a lot of personal stories about how even though they love their SO to death, sometimes that "missing you" feeling just doesn't apply.

There is no reason to assume that she's met someone else, had second thoughts, isn't as into you as you are into her. She's been traveling, doing (I assume) tons of awesome things, filling up her days with exploring new places and meeting new people. You are at home, doing the same things you always do. Of course you would miss her more than she would miss you. Of course she feels separated from her life back home - she's been gone 2 months!

Do what scody says, and send a brief email. Try to stop stressing about this. She'll be home soon and you'll know what's up then.
posted by coupdefoudre at 11:39 AM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

Some people find the romantic stuff tortuous vs. fun. Some people long-distance would rather introduce emotional distance or try to avoid thinking about a relationship.

Also sometime that shit just gets boring, in a real-time relationship there's other stuff to do to replace it, though, so you are less likely to feel abandoned when there's less "I miss you! No, I miss YOU!"
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

As miserable as it is, I've always held firm with

#1 Listen to that little voice;
#2 When email, texting, etc. (contact) decreases without a real reason (death in family, etc.), then no, they're just not as into you and it's time to move on. Sorry.
posted by dzaz at 11:40 AM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would respond via email, ONCE, in a way that's warm but not smothering, and brief but not curt. Try to avoid using the following words: "but," "should," "have to," "need to," "must," etc. (You get the idea -- avoid the language of obligation or demands.) Something along the lines of that you know the trip has been a significant experience for her and you respect that, and you are happy to see where things are and where they might go once she gets back. Sign off as you normally would. And that's it.

Do this. Your girl is off having an amazing adventure and is in a totally wonderful and understandably different headspace. If you truly care for her you'll allow her the time and freedom to have this experience. Be patient -- three weeks is not that long to wait.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:59 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can she not just be busy with a novel and time-consuming temporary situation? I've been on both sides of this equation, and it's the one who stays home that has a crapload more time to think and dwell and stew and imagine.

Unless you have reason to believe she's lying, I think you should believe the email and accept that you've got a bad case of "what about meeeeeeee?" and let it go until she gets back. You can't really make her do or feel anything, but I think being critical or jealous of her attention to other things is certainly not going to put your best foot forward.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe she isn't into you anymore, but for now I think you should take her response at face value - it sounds like she's far away and maybe doing some emotionally taxing work?

You'll know when she's back in three weeks. Even if these things hadn't happened - the decreasing contact and her response - you would still have to see where you were when she got back. You've been separated awhile, haven't known each other that long, and maybe she had the kind of experiences that change someone.

The advice above re: the email response sounded good to me - good tone, sounded spot on. Go with that, and stress as little as possible for the next weeks. Be optimistic but prepared.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:18 PM on October 4, 2010

You could rad all kinds of things into this, she's met someone else, she's not into you any more, she's undergone some huge life revelation that no longer includes you. Or it could just be that she feels separated from her life at home, is a bit scared about what it will be like returning, and you'll both figure it out in three weeks. You know, like she said.

She's off doing new and unusual things. Some of us don't do well with long distance contact, personally I feed off the energy of physically being with someone and find writing emails a drag (including to my partner). Meanwhile you're at home with your same old routine (making it so much easier to miss having her there) and a big hole where information and attention from her used to be. It's really easy to fill that up with all kinds of stuff, stuff like you're being fed in this thread, but that doesn't make any of it real.

Three weeks isn't very long so tell her that it's difficult for you too and that you miss her, then try to stop speculating in the meantime because you'll drive yourself away from her regardless of what's actually happening. I think scody has great ideas about how to do that.
posted by shelleycat at 12:18 PM on October 4, 2010

So! I just don't know what to say or do. How do I understand this? How do I respond? Should I?

Laconic is your secret weapon.

"Let me know when you're in town and we can discuss it."

That's all, that's it. Nothing more, nothing less.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:06 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with coupdefoudre on this. Distance can be a bitch, and not everybody handles it well.

All this proves is that the two of you probably shouldn't attempt any sort of long-distance relationship in the future. Wait the few weeks, and see where things go from there. Give her the benefit of the doubt.
posted by schmod at 1:31 PM on October 4, 2010

A lot of people above seem to think this means your relationship is nearly over. I don't think it has to mean that, though.

My personal opinion is it's normal for things to cool off a bit after a long period apart. I mean, it would be romantic if I could say when my partner was away for 6 months I thought of her all the time - but the truth is I got less enthusiastic about the CD of relationship memories after having it on loop play for a few months. And it's pretty hard to make new romantic memories over e-mail.

When you get back together, and you're at the live performance again with all new music, the fact you got tired of the CD gets forgotten. Or at least, it did for me.

Of course, maybe I'm wrong and everyone else is right - I guess in 3 weeks you'll have your answer.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:38 PM on October 4, 2010

I agree with scody. And 3 weeks really isn't that long. Get a couple good books, or a TV series you've been meaning to watch, or whatever you enjoy doing, and before you know it she'll be back.
posted by grapesaresour at 1:53 PM on October 4, 2010

I too think scody's advice is good, and I'd take her at face value - maybe there's something else going on but there's no benefit to driving yourself crazy over it and there's a million variables in travel including the big one of doing significant thinking and needing space for that, and if you live your life not expecting to hear from her until you talk on her return, you're getting good practice at both (1) living your life for yourself, in case this won't continue, and (2) living your life for yourself, in case this does continue.

One important thing I find difficult but vital is this: you can't make some want you or like you more through efforts when they're distant, but it's usually a fertile time for making them want to be around you less if they need some space. Be cordial, be available, but ask for nothing and sit out the painful three weeks.
posted by carbide at 2:18 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm also with scody. In fact, I'm currently waiting out the last six weeks until my sweetie moves back to my area and we can have an actual conversation and make sure we're still nuts about each other after a few months apart. Due to different time zones, we talk maybe once a week, sometimes for only ten minutes. And we've been together years, lived together, and are talking marriage/babies. Sometimes you just have to see each other in person.

Communication frequency is not equivalent to commitment. Keep busy, and use this as motivation to do something fun/cool/exciting that you've been putting off so you have stories of your own to share with her.
posted by momus_window at 4:04 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I'd take her comment at face value, and accept that she wants a little space, and there may be a chance that when she gets back, things will pick up, perhaps at a different spot than where they left off, and that things could be good.

I am, however, not you. I had a three year relationship that didn't survive a year apart, and email was essentially how I found out. Up until the last 'we need to talk' email, every other email had been warm and loving, and always signed 'Love, ~'. Then it stopped, and then it was over. These things happened, and in some way, I think you should acknowledge that possibility, and be ready for it. Don't decide in advance that it's over, just be ready if that's the direction things head. Maybe everything will be fine, and that'd be great. Just don't set yourself up to be crushed.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:54 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been this girl. Probably a few times, to be honest. And the first time, actually, it was when I was 25 and had a LT boyfriend back home. As a consequence, I've done a lot of thinking about what happens to your relationships and your default life assumptions when you remove yourself to a foreign environment for an extended period. I don't know where she was traveling, but if it was somewhere pretty remote from her usual culture and comfort zone, this effect can really be exaggerated.

My two cents: she's not trying to find an easy way to let you down. She doesn't know. I've said those things to a loved one back home that she has said (feeling separated from that life, etc). I said those things because the world I was inhabiting and the world he lived in (my previous world) suddenly seemeed to have no relation to one another, and it was incredibly psychically jarring. It was as if that place back there was something I'd dreamed up, and what did it have to do with the things I was experiencing day to day? When I recognized this, I started to call friends and ask them to just tell me about the mundane things in their day, to remind me and ground me back in that world.

She may feel herself to be a different sort of person than what she understood herself to be before, and she may kind of like it. At the same time, she may also be aware that however she is feeling, it's probably not a permanent state and that back home there is someone that she took to be a Very Good Thing, and when her head is back where it was, she may think so again so she doesn't want to blow it. But she's had an amazing experience and is not sure if she wants her head back on again exactly the way it was, and that may be why she's scared.

I recognize I am realllly projecting a LOT here, but it just sounded very familiar and I wanted to share my experience. I agree with those that say not to push her, and just to tell her you look forward to seeing her when she gets back. I think you should be very eager to let her share her experiences with you so you can be part of that, and maybe have ideas for adventures you two can have together, so she sees you as a partner in these things. Good luck!
posted by oneaday at 6:59 AM on October 5, 2010

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