one third long distance relationship
February 21, 2011 7:13 PM   Subscribe

my boyfriend goes out of town to deal with difficult things, I miss him: I need to keep these feelings 'normal and healthy' as opposed to 'irrational and demanding'


my boyfriend goes home for 4-5 days every second weekend to visit his father, who is terminally ill. he also occasionally goes away for longer periods of time as well. I of course miss him, a lot, when he is gone, and have spent a good chunk of time dealing with that without saying anything.

When we started dating (6 months ago) I didn't want to communicate things to him like - I miss you, I need you to tell me you miss me, can we speak more when you are gone - because I understand him to be doing things that are a lot more important than saying 'hi' to me. We do speak when is is away though, every day, just only ever at the end of the day when we are both going to bed though. Either way, last weekend I told him the particular sadness I feel when he goes away, which is that it feels like he doesn't miss me when he's gone and really, all I need is for him to send me a quick 'hello' early in the day and, if he misses me, to tell me so. he told me that OF COURSE he misses me when he's gone, it's jsut that he is (as i said), dealing with bigger stuff and doesn't always have time to talk to me (which is true, I've been there, you don't have time to do anything other than help his parents). either way, he's become super wonderful about sending my a quick 'hello' early in the day and tell me he is thinking about me, which does heaps to make me feel better.

problem: I still feel insane. part of it is just the way I am in a newer relationship, part of it is just that of course I just miss my boyfriend when he is gone, but mostly I can tell that at this point, the way I am feeling is mostly just 'manic' and that I truly cannot ask to hear from him anymore (and nor would I want to).

I try to keep busy when he is gone but I miss him so much regardless, and don't want to say that because I don't want to give him any more pressure than he needs to deal with. please help me with any advice about switching constantly from seeing each other almost every day to barely speaking for five days.

(I will also agree with anyone who says 'it's probably good for you to occasionally barely speak for a little while': this is true, and when we come back it is so so good to see him, but I still feel bummed when he's gone and that's about a third of the time)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, what are you doing when he is gone? I don't know much about your life, so I am not sure if it may be good for you to use the time to do bulk cooking/freezing (less cooking = more time together!), or if you are going out and catching up with friends (it's good to keep up with friends, especially during the honeymoon phase of a relationship), or even just volunteering somewhere. If you are just hanging around the house, of course you'll feel a bit bummed, and more likely to dwell on him not being there.
posted by kellyblah at 7:23 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you go with him, if not for the whole time, for a few days?
posted by yarly at 7:27 PM on February 21, 2011

You are probably what's called "anxiously attached." This behavior is normal for you because you are highly sensitive to relationships and need lots of reassurance. Our society pathologizes this but if you realize you have it, you can learn to reassure yourself better. I interviewed the author of a book about it (which may be helpful) here.

It's definitely quite helpful to just realize that it's OK to be this way and to explain to your partner about it. That way, you can both laugh at it a bit and avoid driving each other crazy.
posted by Maias at 7:29 PM on February 21, 2011 [14 favorites]

Write. Keep a journal (physical notebook, text file on your computer, whatever), or write at (as secure as you want it to be), but just write it out. Whenever you start to feel those manic, panicky, longing feelings, instead of trying not to think about him and how much you miss him, write about it. Even if it's just "I miss Boyfriend" over and over until you get sick of writing, do it. You'll be surprised at how much it helps.
posted by palomar at 7:32 PM on February 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

If it makes you feel better, I too would feel neglected when my husband spent time away from me to be with his terminally ill father. We had just gotten married and I hated being alone in the house without him. Even just coming home from work and not seeing his car in the drive would make my heart sink. I felt awful about it--I loved his dad, too, and didn't resent a second that my husband spent with him, but I still missed him.

You'll get through it. Maybe it will help you to ask him to give you a "job" while he's away so you can feel like you're supporting him. Collect his mail, feed his pets, do his laundry, get groceries so he'll have a full fridge when he gets back. He'll say, "Oh, you don't have to do that," and you'll say, "It's no trouble," even if it is. It'll help you feel useful--a big part of feeling neglected is feeling left out, and it'll be nice for him when he gets home too emotionally exhausted to deal with practical things. It's a way to stay connected.

And then try to stay connected to your life, too. Hang out with your friends, tackle some projects, go see movies he wouldn't be interested in. Take care of yourself. He'll need you when his father passes away, so be strong for him.

I'm sorry you're going through this. It'll get better. Hang in there.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:54 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Instead of relying on him to send you morning "hello" messages, why not send him emails/texts throughout the day? My SO and I live 2 hours apart and we could probably both go a couple of days without contact at all since we're both working etc. & neither one of us have the neediness you describe, but I still send him texts throughout the day --- a photo of some unknown bulb sprouting in my garden on an unseasonably warm late-winter day accompanied by "have a groovy Tuesday!" or "sitting in the waiting room bored and missing you!" or "hope your dad's appt. goes well, thinking of you!" Earlier tonight I texted him with "miss me?" so I can have something nice to read when he replies.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel connected with your boyfriend while he's away, and there's nothing wrong with going ahead and making that happen. Contacting him is not the same as clinging to him, and if you feel like you can contact him whenever you like, you might not feel the same desperation that you're feeling when you leave it all up to him.

And definitely get out there and get busy. Do things, touch base with him, do more things, etc.
posted by headnsouth at 8:16 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to be like this and uh... I drove my ex crazy with my needy and got dumped. So be forewarned.

You need to find other things to do when you are lonely. Get hobbies, go places, hang out with your friends, write in a journal, get a stuffed animal or giant pillow, something. You're right that you can't really expect more attention from him at this point, and asking for more would only get irritating. But you need to put more focus on stuff you do rather than the giant hole in your life that is him not being there for you.

I actually disagree with the "contact him as much as you like" advice, mostly because (a) I drove my ex nuts, especially when he had other things to do than deal with me being needy all the effing time, and (b) well, uh, he IS busy. He has enough burdens going on right now without your adding to them. He already has to take care of a parent, which is a really heavy one. It won't help him if he feels obligated to keep answering your texts/e-mails/calls a day because you are feeling really lonely.

It's not that he doesn't love you. You know that, right? Can you trust in that? Can you trust that he still cares even if he doesn't have the time to talk to you as much as you want?

I know this sounds harsh, but I have seriously been there on both sides of Teh Needy Feeling by now and I don't want you to end up the way that I did. Restraint is a good thing, taking care of yourself is a good thing. And journalling. Lots of journalling.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:49 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

The normal and healthy thing to do would be to figure out how best to help him deal with the care of a sick parent and the imminent loss of his father. Acknowledge your feelings of sadness, but really: a man is dying. Put that man first. That means make sacrifices. That's what normal, healthy people do: they find meaning and strength through service.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:50 PM on February 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

Regarding that book... "Attached" is seemingly bringing a practical line of explanation for relationships dynamics. Please note that the dynamics between you two is dyadic and it is not necessarily you who is anxious (meaning, those are not "ideal types", your partner can be more avoidant than you anxious; the book omits avoidant-anxious subtype), so the optimal solution comes from both you and him trying to find a secure balance. The NPR interview with Levine and Heller coincidentally analyses the situation of one partner going away on a trip.
posted by Jurate at 9:57 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with jenfullmoon and BitterOldPunk: make use of this time. If you can't help with the dying father (really? there's nothing mundane over at his place that you can help do to ease things a bit, like laundry, batch cooking, picking up reading or listening material, etc.?), then make this alone time about you. Hang out with your friends. Get started on a project you've been putting off. Volunteer. Keep both your mind and your hands busy, and the time will fly.
posted by smirkette at 10:08 PM on February 21, 2011

I second the do NOT "contact him as much as you can" sentiment. If you see him most of the time, and you are freaking out about him being gone 4-5 days every two weeks to do something that is important and nessicary to him, your relationship is unhealthy. His taking care of his father IS more important than your relationship. Sorry to say it, but it's true. You have things in your life that are more important than your relationship as well. You should. That's normal. And if you don't, either you'll find some, or the relationship will end, because it's not healthy.

Your boyfriend is dealing with some heavy stuff. You are a capable adult person. You should think... "what can I do to help him with what he needs?" not "how can I get what I need/want?" because the truth is, you don't need him around all the time. Remember you're pretty awesome, and your partner is dating you because he likes you and gets something out of the relationship. What can you give him? If you start thinking about your relationship like that, it will foster a healthy mindset. (please note, I'm not saying you should never evaluate if you're getting what you need from a relationship. you should do that. But that is way hard to do if you are mixing up your actual needs with neurosis and thinking about what you have to give and what you can give reminds you that you are able to have a positive impact on the relationship and the person you love, you're not just a passive agent in this thing.)

Just because something is MORE important than your relationship dosen't mean your relationship is unimportant. It's still important. But the problem here is in your head, not in the relationship. Now, normally I would say you should communicate with your partner. But this isn't a problem that he can help solve. you're irrationally upset about something that you shouldn't be if you had a healthy mindset on relationships. I mean, it's normal to miss some one when they're gone. It's not normal or healthy to pine so much that you can't function. Now, you can say "Hey, I'm dealing with this thing. I know it's irrational and my problem, not yours, but I feel like this and I'm working on it and just thought you should know." You could also ask him if he could use any help with his father... but if you do go to help, remember you aren't there to "be less lonely", you're actually there to help. Dealing with a terminally ill person might be too stressful on you or on your relationship at this point. No shame in that. But only go if you feel you can actually put aside your irrational feelings and help, not if you just want your boyfriend's company. (it's that thinking what you can give vs. focusing on what you want thing I was talking about before)

What has worked for me is writing first of all. Dosen't have to be a special "dear diary" sort of thing. I would just scrawl on whatever paper I had handy when I felt like i was stuck in a negative obsessive thought loop. I'm a fairly logical person and so I used diary keeping to talk myself out of my irrational feelings by writing down my irrational feeling, aknowledging it, and then writing a sentence or two as to why it was an irrational thought and not a logical, clear, reasoning thought. But only do this on paper, not in your head, or you could get yourself in a sticky obsessive thought loop. When you finish the thoughts don't belabor them outside of the paper. They should be trapped in the paper, dumped there to get them out of your head. Like a recycling plant for negative thoughts.

Also, whenever you get an "OMG I miiiiiiiiisssssssssss him!!!!!" thought, instead of trying to think yourself out of it in your mind and rationalize it, just try to clear your mind. Some people find that breathing excercises or meditation work, but nothing works for me as well as a few minuets of a video game. However you do it, attempt to think no concious thoughts for at least a minuet. It's like hitting the "reset" button when a computer gets "stuck", only it's your brain. Mind clearing is different for everyone. Once the thought is cleared, you can move on to something else to occupy yourself, try to keep your brain busy.

Also, I found St Johns Wort helped with my relationship anxiety. I know people have totally different results with that and you have to take it every day for like 2 weeks before it even starts working, but it really helps me without any preceptable side effects. You might also want to add Omega3 and a B complex... both of those are great for helping improve the brain chemistry end of anxiety. (And yes, this IS an anxiety issue, even if it's only centered on relationships and NOTHING ELSE, it's still an anxiety issue.)

I have been in your shoes. My boyfriend and I are very career oriented and live about 1.5 hours apart. We've been dating for a year and a half but we only see eachother one day a week most of the time due to our work schedules. And yeah, I had some anxiety about that for a while. These techniques worked for me and I have much, much less anxiety over our relationship, but it took a good 4 months of me working on my mental state EVERY DAY and relentlessly forcing myself into healthy thought processes to get here. My boyfriend knew what was going on and was supportive, but ultimately it's not his battle to fight because he hadn't done anything to cause this. But him knowing and caring enough to be patient as i work my shit out meant the world to me.

Sorry I come off so harsh. I"m not trying to be mean or cruel, I've just been there and I wish that this was the sort of thing people told me.
posted by RampantFerret at 11:42 PM on February 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

Or rather, I should say "your view and expecations of the relationship are unhealthy" and not the blanket statement "your relationship is unhealthy". It dosen't sound like from what you've said that your interactions with your boyfriend specifically are bad.
posted by RampantFerret at 11:44 PM on February 21, 2011

Well, I think that it's normal for many people to feel super intense bonding emotions in the early part of a serious relationship, so I can see why these thoughts might become intrusive.

In early love we often we want to display and demonstrate our love by bringing small, meaningful gifts to the object of our affection, creating a love language, cocooning, establishing small routines and rituals, all in aid of weaving the two lives more closely together. Part of this is related to the New Love chemical rush, but I believe that part of it also is because in that early stage we don't have the one thing that most eloquently reflects true love: deep and abiding history. So we make our love offerings and mirror our partner and make anniversaries of the The First Time We Met, and The First Time We Kissed, and in Magpie fashion we gather these various items, actions and behaviors as building materials for our long-term relationship to construct our still rickety metaphorical "love nest" — but only time will build the foundation.

Your instincts (that don't care much about the finer points of unselfishness and sacrifice) are rebelling at the delays and interruptions of this primal urge, but you must try to think of it as an unusual opportunity, which it actually is. While the normal course would have you simulating a history and signifying devotion with mix-tapes, bouquets of flowers, silly pet names, and minor daily rituals, you have the opportunity right now to display the sort of profound love offering that usually only comes much later: You can demonstrate depths of love by being strong and solidly supportive of your partner during this protracted crisis period. You can make this easier for him. You can help him. The ways are many, but chief among them is to not add to his burden.

Do all the things suggested by thinkingwoman, smirkette and others above. Spend time researching care for the terminally ill, effective therapies, and the grieving process; learn all you can so you know what your boyfriend is dealing with, and how you might gracefully ease this incredibly painful time for him. This is the mature expression of true love, and you can embody that instead of uselessly mourning the temporary absence of the minor notes that really only stand in as markers for the serious stuff that usually comes later. This is the serious stuff. This is love.
posted by taz at 12:04 AM on February 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

Your instincts (that don't care much about the finer points of unselfishness and sacrifice) are rebelling at the delays and interruptions of this primal urge

Quoted for awesome. His situation isn't about you right now, and that's really hard but learning to sit through the anxiety and ride it out without reaching for him to make it go away will help you both grow and mature. You're doing well to recognise the issue, good for you.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:36 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you have other friends you can hang out with and socialize with while your bf is out of town? That might help.
posted by fuq at 5:51 AM on February 22, 2011

My own father died six months ago, after a year long illness, during which I, at first, visited often, and ultimately chose to move home to spend as much time with him as he had left. I just couldn't bring myself to care about or pay any attention to the day to day existence I'd been leading before his cancer was diagnosed. Very quickly, I started to resent anyone or anything that was trying to keep me tied to my life in Brooklyn, and away from my dad.

If your boyfriend's experiencing things at all like I did, that last thing you want to do, for his sake, and for the sake of your relationship, is ask as any sort of anchor keeping him away from his father and family. Also, most emails and voicemails will go un-replied-to, and the more they build up, the more they make him feel is expected from him, the more he'll cut himself off.

My best advice would be to try a fake-it-'till-you-make-it approach to being the best easygoing, no-maintenance, rock-star girlfriend you could be. When he goes away, tell him that he can call/text/skype you any time he wants, but that you're not expecting to hear from him until he's coming back. Don't make a fuss about how much you're going to miss him in hopes he'll say he misses you, too -- instead, talk about how great it is what he's doing for his family, and how much is mother must appreciate it. When he's away, you don't need to cut off contact with him, just make sure he knows that you're fine with it being one-way. Send him email updates that keep him abreast of what's going on with you and your shared friend, being clear that he doesn't need to write anything back. Seek out words of sympathy and support from his friends to pass along; it's always nice to know that people don't immediately forget about you when you're not around. If you can leave voicemails without ringing his phone, do so - it'll be nice to hear your voice, but again, only if you're clear that you don't need anything from him in return.

Basically, be a source of solace and cheer, someone who makes things easier, and never piles on any more problems or expectations. Know that this will run contrary to the way you actually feel at times, and understand it's the best mitzvah you can do for him at this point. I think you might find that all of the effort you put into being wonderful, carefree and easygoing could lead to actually feeling that way in real life. At the very least, by making it clear just how little consideration you need from him right now will keep you from feeling stung by unmet expectations.
posted by patnasty at 11:09 AM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

My boyfriend's gone away on a training course for a few weeks, will be back for only a short visit before heading out again on another 3 week course. When I asked what I can do for him while he's away, he asked me to write him letters.

It has been very helpful in dealing with my missing him. Writing about "us", "my feelings for him", "what I adore about him" etc. has me focusing on the things I really cherish about our relationship, a sort of self-medicating for getting that reassurance I need. And I make the effort to write it well, because I want to send him something that he can re-read whenever he's feeling lonely and overwhelmed and missing me too.
posted by lizbunny at 11:34 AM on February 22, 2011

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