How the heck do I handle relationships, and the possible end of a promising one, in my mid-20s?
January 2, 2011 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Dear MeFi, How the heck do I handle relationships, and the possible end of a promising one, in my mid-20s?

In September, my ex and I broke up. We had been dating exclusively for 8 months, and I wanted things to move forward in terms of just general feelings of potential future commitment. We weren't on the same page, and we broke up. All things considered, it was a great relationship after a stretch of pretty bad ones for me.

In early November, I started dating a new guy who lives and works about an hour away. He's very awesome, and he asked about where things stood earlier than I expected. I told him that I had no other irons in the dating fire, but due to my recent breakup, I wanted to take things slow, and wasn't ready to define the relationship. He also said he wasn't dating other people, and was fine with taking it slow. During this same exchange, I noted that when I finish my masters in a couple of years I'll have to conduct a national job search (it's a field that requires you to be open to moving anywhere to advance your career), so I couldn't say if I'd be in the area long term. He's also in a field where opportunities to move up are often far away, and said he also was in a place where if an opportunity came knocking, he'd seriously consider it.

I had just gotten to a point recently where I was beginning to feel more emotionally ready to step up and define the relationship (basically we've been dating exclusively, but have not defined things as "boyfriend/girlfriend") and also feel ready for more physical closeness (things have been pretty PG-13, no sex yet - we've talked about this and he's been cool with the slow pace).

Fast forward to now, and that opportunity has come knocking for him - in a country on the other side of the Atlantic (we are in the southeast United States). He has only been through a phone interview for what he describes as a dream position (except the location - he would prefer to remain domestic). Although he has certain reservations about the country, if an offer is made, it seems chances are good he'll take it because it would be such a boon to his career. I'm happy for him to be advancing his career, but I'm having trouble figuring out what to do next, and I feel pretty upset right now (in a sad/wistful way more than anything).

We haven't talked too much about how this would affect our budding relationship. I'm not interested in long distance, and I don't think he is either. I want to keep seeing him while he's here, but I told him that this may mean I keep things at the same slow state so I don't get too emotionally attached if he's going to leave in a couple months. He said he understands and respects that.

Other relevant details:
a) I am 25 (female), he's 28.
b) I am in therapy for some anxiety issues, many of which were brought to light by the breakup in September
c) Although I've had sex during flings before, I generally dislike it and prefer sex in the context of a defined, committed, long-term (or at least not, "I might move away in 3 months") relationship.
d) I would eventually like to be in a relationship that progresses to marriage, but am deeply ambivalent about having children.
e) I've been in a few "expiration date" flings and relationships before. But before, the expiration date was certain - this time the expiration date is up in the air and not even certain.
f) I did not know he had applied for this job (as he told it, it was more of a "I'll apply for this but I'm not holding my breath") until he told me about the phone interview. He told his parents right before he told me about this whole thing (he is close with them), so I don't feel he was keeping me in the dark. I am not aware of any other potential jobs he's looking at, though I know he has applied to (and in some cases declined) other jobs across the country previous to meeting me.

My questions:

1) Any advice on how to proceed with this particular guy? I think it's premature to call the whole thing off at this point.
Part of me feels like I'm putting the cart before the horse (which is the kind of person I often am) - this job is far from a done deal, and there are also other candidates and lots of bureaucracy/potential visa issues. And it very well may be that I could hit the job market before he does if this offer doesn't go through, and we could have the same situation in reverse. So I really would like to find ways to keep enjoying whatever time we have together while a) recognizing the possibility it may only last anywhere between a few more months and a couple more years and b) learning to balance the need to protect myself without closing myself off to intimacy and the reality that all relationships have the potential for heartbreak, and c) figuring out whether to keep things at the comfortable (slow) state they're at, or if/when to step things up the way I was prepared to do.

2) How does someone who can be guarded, but bonds fiercely once things are a bit more solid and especially when sex enters the picture deal with the transitory nature of relationships in your mid-20s?
posted by mostly vowels to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would approach this as though there's no expiration date in sight. You're in a developing relationship, and yeah, something might come up and it might end, but relationships always have the possibility of ending.

(This is a question 1 answer, I think. Whenever you're stepping things up physically as the relationship progresses, and cross the bridge of his potential job opportunity when you come to it. I don't know what to do about question 2, since all relationships are potentially transitory -- this sounds more like something to discuss with your therapist.)
posted by J. Wilson at 5:12 PM on January 2, 2011

How does someone who can be guarded, but bonds fiercely once things are a bit more solid and especially when sex enters the picture deal with the transitory nature of relationships in your mid-20s?

I think that you're not at all unusual and may even be in the majority of folks in their mid-20s. You seem to be handling this quite appropriately, by talking stuff out with him and respecting each party's needs and boundaries. If it doesn't work for him, it sounds like you've made a space in which he can tell you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:26 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are both of you taking the sex thing so seriously because both of you value the worth of intimacy, or do one or both parties acquiesce to the lack of sex because they think that being with the other is the "only chance" they'll have? For a lot of people, an 8 month relationship without genital-genital sex is a dealbreaker. Do you want to have sex with him before he leaves? If the relationship isn't going to continue once he leaves the country? Knowing exactly what both parties think about sex may be an important thing.

That said, after you get your MA, you're going to be looking at jobs anywhere. After 2 years of on-job experience, your partner may just be looking for a better position, anywhere. Both of you would be in the position of looking for the best job/career available at the same time; lots of companies understand this exact same situation and may either sweeten the deal for the partner that they're looking to hire to compensate the other partner or actively try to find something for the other partner.

Some higher-flying countries have "bonuses" or incentives where they give their employees credits to fly their spouses/partners/whatever to where they are once or twice a year - especially if they are posted overseas or hired to be "overseas."

I'd say, discuss in depth about the situation. Being in academia, I've seen lot of relationships work where the partners are apart for 1-5 years and end up choosing cities based on jobs/careers together as well as seeing one spouse put their careers on the backburner for the sake of the other spouse - which sometimes works out a lot better for their children - and I've seen many men who put their female spouse (and/or child) ahead of their career. This might also be something you could discuss.
posted by porpoise at 7:19 PM on January 2, 2011

Porpoise, I think you may be mixing up my previous relationship (which lasted 8 months - not long by many people's standards, but long by my own history. Which was "boyfriend/girlfriend" and was sexually active), and the current guy-situation.

Feel free to restate your question, I think I'm having a hard time understanding your answer with the strikeouts.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:31 PM on January 2, 2011

Most people bond fiercely once sex is thrown into the mix. Pop culture notwithstanding, sex is generally a big deal. And that's ok.

It's also ok to love people who may not be in your life for as long as you'd really like them to be.

This guy may be leaving the country in a couple of months. Or he may not. If he's sticking around, sure, you can deal with standard localized relationship-progression anxieties. If he's leaving, you'll still have a connection regardless of whether you sleep with him or not.

There's no right or wrong answer here, it's what works for you.

Perhaps you should consider continuing to take it slow until he knows what his future holds. Once you know that, you'll have an easier time making decisions, as the major uncertainty will be out of the way.
posted by swngnmonk at 9:42 PM on January 2, 2011

One note: Despite what I said in my previous post -

It's not just what works for you - it's what works for him, and for both of you.

posted by swngnmonk at 9:44 PM on January 2, 2011

Whoa! A heckuva lot can happen in one month. Since I always mine the old relationship questions, I always like follow-ups, so here's mine:

As it turned out, the guy I was seeing got a job offer in a nearby state (but too far away for us to consider continuing to date, as neither of us are really LDR people) almost at the same time as the overseas one. He ended up taking the position in the nearby state. We managed to hang out a few more times, and he was very accepting of my reluctance to escalate anything since he was moving. We had a really lovely last date recently, and I think we ended on a good note. I definitely have gained a very awesome friend, and I think he feels the same, since he called me en route during his move to chat for a little while.

Thanks MeFi, as always!
posted by mostly vowels at 7:44 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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