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February 7, 2012 12:06 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I are going to be on different sides of the Atlantic from March to September. Should we break up?

We're both 20-year-old college juniors. We've been dating for the last 7 months, and have been good to best friends for the last two years. I'm going to be studying abroad in the Middle East (!) during the spring, and my SO's going to be interning in Africa (!) during the summer, which means that we'll see each other once, for about a week in June, between March and September. Do we break up (with the possibility of reconciliation once we're in the same place again), or stay together and try to do long-distance?

Generally, I don't like long-distance relationships. My experience with long-distance relationships, both romantic and platonic, has been they feel like they've been kept in stasis; even the longest emails or phone calls weren't worth a hour spent merely living together. I've valued the correspondences I've had, but ultimately the changes in my relationships have all happened in person. Specifically to this situation, both of us are so young, and we're going to be in entirely new exciting places, with new exciting experiences, and I want to be totally open to them--I don't want to spend a ton of time wishing I was somewhere else, or feel like I'm beholden to someone back home. And I worry that my SO and I don't have a good enough foundation to last transatlantic: while our friendship runs deep, our relationship has moved slowly, which has been good! and what I want! but when I think of us saying "I love you" to each other for the first time over Skype or whatever, a little part of me curls up and dies. We'd be long-distance for about as long as we've been dating. I'm so scared that I won't let myself be changed by this awesome experience abroad because I'm too invested in a relationship back home, and that I'll end up unfairly blaming it on my SO. Obviously that would kill the relationship. And I'd much rather have a clean break than that.

And yet...and yet...I know that breaking up now means accepting the real possibility of never getting back together. I know that both my SO and I can and will meet many others we can love, but this is such a great relationship. I don't want it to end. My SO is truly the best person I know, and inspires me to be kinder and more thoughtful, simply by being around me. I know that I've already changed for the better because of this friendship/relationship. And of course, we're super attracted to each other and, when we see each other, are all over each other all the time. I'm completely in love; my SO hasn't said that back to me yet, but I can tell that they care for me immensely, and that it's getting close. I have no interest in dating anyone else, and I have a hard time believing that I could change so much in six months that I wouldn't want to keep on dating my SO. If we can make the distance work, surely our relationship would be all the stronger for it.

So I'm feeling really conflicted. Part of me thinks that I'm throwing away a wonderful relationship because I'm scared; the other part thinks that I'm just a dumb kid blindly setting myself up for a fall. What do you think we should do?

We've brought this up with each other, but we haven't really discussed it. Neither of us knows what to do. We've agreed to talk about it in a week. I just want to get my own head straight on what I want before then. I'm sorry that this is such a long muddle, and thanks so much for reading and answering.
posted by flawsekno to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You will grow and change during your trip, regardless of whether you're in a relationship. Great relationships are rare and precious.
posted by superfish at 12:23 AM on February 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

If either of you fell in love with someone new while on this trip, wouldn't you basically have this same problem, come September? You love the person you're with now. If they figure out soon enough that they feel the same way, I'd say aim to skip the drama at both ends of the trip and see if the LDR works out. You may actually find some comfort and security in knowing the new people around you on this trip are just going to be friends.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:36 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

You should probably wait and see what is said when you discuss it. For instance, do you know if he's at all amicable to breaking up with the idea of potentially getting back together when you return? If he's not then you have a different decision to make.

I'm thinking you should also really evaluate the reasons you'd want to break up. Do you want to be open to hooking up with other people while you're abroad? If so, breaking up would make sense. If it's more the "I don't want to spend a ton of time wishing I was somewhere else" part then that seems more dubious to me. I'd imagine you can still have an awesome time even if you miss him, and if you do break up to escape this feeling you might end up missing him just the same (or worse).
posted by Defenestrator at 12:37 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good relationships are harder to come by than you think and I don't think you should be breaking up just because you're young. But if you genuinely feel like it would be the right thing to do for both of you then I don't think you should just stay together for the sake of staying together.

But you do sound like you're in love. That's a different kind of relationship. Not really one worth throwing away for the sake of a little bit of time.
posted by mleigh at 12:50 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Generally, I don't like long-distance relationships
Chiming in here to say that this is beside the point. This isn't some general relationship, it's a specific and special one (I hope). Also 7 Months? Dude.

(We read stories via a cheap phone connection to each other every night of my 2-years Postdoc fellowship abroad. Whatever works...)
posted by Namlit at 12:57 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you think you can, or if you think you can't, you're probably right.
I'm so scared that I won't let myself be changed by this awesome experience abroad because I'm too invested in a relationship back home, and that I'll end up unfairly blaming it on my SO. Obviously that would kill the relationship.
This seems to be the crux of your fear. You seem quite confident in the relationship itself with the exception of him saying 'those three words, are said too much. They're not enough...'

I would propose that your anxiety over this relationship may stem from:

1) You are committed to him and have said 'I love you'

2) They have not said 'I love you', therefore whilst you enjoy the relationship, you do not see the same level of commitment in the present moment.

3) Thus, would it be fair to say that your concern is you have six months ahead of you that are (for lack of a more subtle way of saying it) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you are afraid of wasting it on a relationship that A) you really enjoy, and B) has not yet demonstrated it will survive six months apart.

In terms of developing surety in your own perspective, perhaps it will help to consider your own developmental goals outside the relationship.

Are you going into this with the expectation that this will be six months abroad, and then you will return to your present location and continue your pre-existing life?

Or are you going into this with the expectation that this is six months that will change your life direction?

In terms of six months abroad, one has seen it both ways. For some, it is their big moment to explore, and then they are happy returning to continue to a pre-existing path. For others, it's the beginning of a new life. And whilst there obviously aren't hard answers, perhaps there is an inkling of it at the moment -- a slightly crescent of realisation that will come into greater view in time.

Overall, it's a good exercise to consider these thoughts -- especially the self-awareness that this is a special time for you, and you don't want to 'waste' it by waiting for a relationship that's going to fall apart anyway. And thus, maybe there is a light-touch centre point.

Can you leave, being mostly committed to your current relationship, and allow the answer to take root over time? It is irrational to be afraid of saying, "I love you" via Skype. That indicates that you have a very specific view of how you want this relationship to go. Maybe you are abroad and day-by-day, fall deeper in love with your partner. So much so, that you cannot wait to return and do not care how the I love yous come. Or, perhaps day-by-day, you feel yourself change into someone else, and realise that your future holds something different from you and your partner individually.

Guess the point there is not trying to force it to either be a heavily committed relationship, or a break-up. Let it be where it is -- a great relationship which you both enjoy -- and see if it grows or withers. I suppose it's a point of trust most relationships reach -- where you to allow the relationship to be what it is, and stop controlling it.

All that being said, I would focus less on the relationship and more on the opportunity ahead of you. As you will come to find out, these opportunities are ephemeral, and they can truly be life-changing, or they can be simply six months somewhere else. That usually depends on what energy one puts in.

Have fun and don't waste it. And remember, whatever you do is indeed the right thing!
posted by nickrussell at 1:01 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I signed up for MetaFilter to respond to this.

I've been lurking for about 9 months. Often while reading an AskMe I say to myself "I should sign up". But I don't.

I just did.

So basically I'm spending $5 to tell you this:

1) You are not as old as you think you are
2) Your SO is not everything you think they are
3) No one can convince you that either of the things I'm saying are true
posted by sanderman at 1:50 AM on February 7, 2012 [26 favorites]

I don't see why this has to be an either/or thing, nor do I see why you should leave for new experiences committed to closing yourselves off to new experiences.

Is there some reason you can't just say "Given both the newness and the greateness of this relationship, we will declare a moratorium on the relationship with the hope that we can resume when we are back in the same place?"
posted by DarlingBri at 3:49 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Generally, I don't like long-distance relationships. My experience with long-distance relationships, both romantic and platonic, has been they feel like they've been kept in stasis; even the longest emails or phone calls weren't worth a hour spent merely living together

Seems like you answered you're own question right there. At this point in time at least, your O just isn't all that S to you.
posted by timsteil at 4:10 AM on February 7, 2012

Would you break up now if the impending distance wasn't a factor? If yes, then do it. If no, I don't see why a pre-emptive break is necessary. Just see what happens. You can always break up later if things don't work out, but undoing a breakup is much, much more difficult - especially from different continents.
posted by sonika at 5:10 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're thinking too much about this. Just see what happens.
posted by jayder at 5:59 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Word of advice from someone who has been in a long distance relationship that survived.

My husband and I have been married for 5 years and a few months. We have two children. We've been together for nearly 12 years. 3-4 years of our early relationship was long distance.

We met my first year of college, his third.

Our relationship survived my going to Russia for an entire academic year, his moving to Boston during that year, my going back to our school in the Hudson Valley after coming home from Russia while he was still living in Boston, my moving back in with my parents when he moved to Vermont after I graduated and my going to the Middlebury Language Schools that same summer. Then it survived my living in Boston while he was living in Vermont.

Then we got married.

And our marriage survived nine months of his living in Vermont and my living in Boston.

Then we moved in together for the first real time. We had a few stints of my living with him over a summer and visiting him for a few weeks here and there, but never anything that could really count as truly living together.

And we seem to be doing okay. We had a fight yesterday morning that neither of us were all that pleased with, but that happens from time to time in any relationship. The catch to make a long distance relationship work is to allow for growth. The relationship won't stop you from changing and growing. It just won't. But you both have to allow the other to do that growing and meet each other again after that growing and changing. Long distance relationships can work if you accept that people do and will and can and should change.

So if you're in love, and you love this person as much as you seem to, don't break it off for a few months away unless you're going to break it off for other reasons. Sure, there's a chance it could fail. But that's true of any relationship at any time. Long distance doesn't automatically mean a relationship must end.

In my case, we reached a point where our relationship had to change. Our options really were break up or get married. So we got married. It's worked out well so far. :)
posted by zizzle at 6:18 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Agreeing completely with sonika. 20 is young, but lots of people I know met their eventual spouses at 20. (And lots of people didn't until they were 35, or 45, so if you do break up now, you will find someone else.)

You will change as a person regardless of whether or not you 'let' yourself be changed. I dated my high school sweetheart for four years, and we went to the same university. By the end of sophomore year I realized that we were totally different people, even though when we moved in together at the beginning of that year I was convinced that This Was It. I grew and changed even though I didn't want to, and especially didn't want to grow away from this person I've known for a third of my life. But I did, so we broke up. (We're still friends.)

If, at the end of this experience, you realize this relationship is no longer for you, you can break up then. What's the harm in staying together and breaking up later? Pretty much nil. What if you break up now and decide at the end of the six months that you did want to stay together? Well, that's a lot harder to undo.

In the meantime, enjoy a good thing, and try not to think too much about how it all goes down eventually. I know that's hard, and lord knows I'm not good at it, either, but try living in the moment. I don't mean "seize the day", though you should do that, too; I mean try to cultivate an awareness of your current state of being without imbuing it with some kind of meaning or value. Your relationship is. Enjoy that.

Plus, it might be fun to have someone to tell all your experiences to - the small things that you encounter while travelling that no one other than a best friend would care about.
posted by Phire at 6:18 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have to break up because your relationship won't progress while it's long distance (which is for a set, and not that long, period of time). Why not put it in stasis? Not say I love you to each other over Skype?

If you want to be open to dating other people while abroad, you should break up. And maybe you do: you're "young" and want to be "totally open" to new experiences. But if you just don't want to miss out on really living while you're living, you can do that without breaking up. You don't need romance in a foreign land in order to soak in the total experience. Just make a point of making friends and exploring, and not sitting around for hours every day on Skype with your long-distance SO.

Anything can happen, always. But you're exactly right that breaking up now means accepting the very real possibility of never getting back together. If I were your SO, and you didn't want to give a shot to a few months of long distance, I would wonder why and assume it was because you wanted to be free to hook up with other people while you were there. That would kill the magic for me, or I would think we weren't as solid as I had wanted, or something -- but that something would lead to "it's over." Which is what a break-up is: it's over.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:21 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes! Break up amicably and with genuine good wishes for each other to fully, totally immerse yourselves in the once-in-a-lifetime adventure you're both about to experience. You will not regret it. ~signed, mom
posted by headnsouth at 7:07 AM on February 7, 2012

Yes, you should break up. My college girlfriend was in Turkey for a year, and we did the long distance thing. I wish I had that year back.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:23 AM on February 7, 2012

After having been in a several month LDR across US coasts in which we saw each other every month, I say put the relationship on hold. You don't need to break up with finality, but you should break up and see where things are when you're in the same place again. An LDR is really, really tough when you're very committed to each other. It's nearly impossible when you are only sort of committed, which is what you guys sound like.

You will change a lot while you're apart; these experiences will change who you are. You need to be independent. If you're in the relationship, you will not be able to get the most out of these experiences. That's not to say you can't keep your SO as your best friend while you two are apart, of course. But relationships -- especially LDRs -- take a lot of energy. You need that energy with you, for your semester abroad.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:30 AM on February 7, 2012

Seven months (including one week of togetherness) is not that long, and there is no reason that is has to end if neither of you wants it to. If at least one of you does, then things are over. Of course, this is no different than if you lived two blocks apart.

A good friend of mine was accepted to grad school at Harvard. At the same time, his wife was in grad school at University of Toronto. He said many concerned friends approached him and asked variations on "How will this work?" He used to just shrug and say, "I guess we will have to get divorced." Of course, they did not and are quite happy together to this day.

Look, to my mind, this is a non-issue. Of course, I have a job that involves lots of travel and for fifteen years I did not have a relationship with anyone in the same area code. The nearest was about 500 km, and the furthest about 15,000. You live in what is the first time in history where long-distance relationships can work anything like the way regular ones do. Take advantage of that. Put things on pause if that makes you both more comfortable but being separated for a few months is far from the end of things.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:34 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have friends who went out for about a month in the fall semester of my junior year, then each proceeded to study abroad for even longer than you will be. They stayed together for years afterward. I'm sure that wouldn't be the case for everyone, but it's a data point to show it's possible.

I think you are right that if you do break up now, it's unlikely you'd get back together.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:42 AM on February 7, 2012

Two very good friends of mine went through a similar situation during the last academic year. IIRC their Friendship to Dating ratio was similar to yours, though they may have been dating for a while longer than that beforehand. They were both undergrads. Anyway, "D" graduated from the university they both went to (on the west coast, US) and spent the next year at a school in Spain. "E," the other half, remained behind and did her senior year and her thesis and graduated, all while D was gone. They were able to spend Christmas break together (in Spain!), but that was really it aside from scheduled Skypings and all that.

That was a year ago, they're still together, and they've professed that their relationship is all the stronger for it. Each of them grew tremendously as individuals, learning more about themselves and each other.

If you feel like maintaining your relationship is a reality, I go for it - it could turn into something amazing! It could also do other things, but you won't know for sure until you give it a shot!
posted by Chutzler at 8:52 AM on February 7, 2012

So, I'm a little older than you and went through/am currently going through a similar situation. In our case, we had been dating for about four months when I went abroad and then did an internship in another city, so we saw each other for a little less than two weeks total over 8 months. We're currently in the same state, but several hours away, which has been the situation for the last five months.

It hasn't been easy. We went through some drama when we had The Conversation about the future (we actually "broke up" for about four hours). Neither of us knew what the situation would be like after our extended time apart because he was graduating and didn't know where he'd be when I got back to school. We basically decided our relationship was worth giving it a shot, and that we could always break up if it didn't work out (and really breaking up on a different continent is easier than breaking up when they live two minutes away, I'd imagine) but that we could take it one stage at a time. Over a year later, things are still working out :).

In some ways, I think being long distance made us stronger as a couple. We got much better at talking and communicating, since... that was all we had. No more using making out as a way to avoid discussing important stuff. We also definitely grew as a couple even though we were apart, and having him as support when I was lonely in another country was invaluable.

As for being held back while you're abroad, well, it's not like your SO is the only person you're leaving behind at home. Your parents and friends are presumably still going to want to hear from you- adding an extra hour or two of skype time every week isn't going to impede your adventures in another country. A lot of your most important relationships are going to be long distance all of sudden, and it sucks but it's part of the growth process.

Ultimately, I guess I thought of it terms of Dan Savage's insight: every relationship ends until one doesn't. Why throw up roadblocks before they even become roadblocks?
posted by MadamM at 8:58 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My now-husband and I broke up under similar circumstances 13 years ago, and the breakup lasted all of about 2 months before we went rushing back into each other's arms (metaphorically; we were still long distance until the beginning of the next school year). Looking back, trying to act so rationally seems very silly, but it was still a really good idea for precisely the reasons you outline. If we hadn't broken up, I don't think we could have figured out that we couldn't live without the other, no matter the distance.

Later, we were long distance for about a year and a half and stayed together, but we were sure then. If you're not sure, part amicably with a promise to meet for coffee, storytelling, and picture sharing in a year.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2012

You could have a long distance relationship survive. Hell, it's only seven months. Some people have done it for years and managed.

However, you both have to want it, and have to want to put the effort into it. It sounds like you're not interested in putting the effort into it, regardless of your "love." So...might as well break up if you're not willing to try.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2012

I've had more LDRs than I can count. It's tough. Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes it isn't.

Yours sounds worth it. And hell, if it gets to a point where you don't feel like either of you are getting the most out of the experience, or you meet someone else, BREAK UP THEN! Honestly, if you break up right before you go, you'll probably be dealing with more feelings and drama than you would had you committed to trying a LDR. It's not hard to schedule in a few Skype calls and write a few emails a week. And if you guys last the whole time, you'll be WAY stronger for it.

I know that when I was dating a guy in Australia and in South Africa on a semester exchange in college, it was nice to have someone to talk to about what I was experiencing. I actually tried a few things that I normally wouldn't have, like scuba diving and joining some other single travellers, because of his influence and support. As it turns out, I love doing that stuff. We didn't talk every day, but it was nice to have someone who could help me process it, especially because he had travelled extensively and could relate. It sounds like you guys will be able to relate to each other's experience. That's not insignificant. Not everyone gets how awesome and also how difficult it is to live somewhere else.

Don't break up just because. You'll probably regret that more.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:22 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live abroad and meet countless students when they come for their semester abroad.
There are two major things that come to mind when I read your question...
1. Many couples who seem to stay together when one goes abroad DO seem to miss out on experiencing the place they go because they often revolve their lives around Skype time or missing out on social events because they are lonely, unaccompanied, don't want to get hit on, etc...
2. Most couples that break up ONLY because of the distance ALSO seem to waste away time longing the person, waiting around for them in the offchance they'll be connected to chat, skyping "as friends" (but not really), etc... until they eventually get back together.

So to me, as long as you verify that your SO is on the same page as you in terms of the relationship, you would probably be better off continuing to live the course of your relationship even while you will be apart. If so, the best advice I could probably give you would be to have a serious conversaiton about your concerns and come to some agreements regarding your times apart. Talk about how it may be not only difficult (internet access/connection) to do frequent skype dates but there's a possibility that you would be limiting your ability to get out and do things and make local friendships if, for instance, if you're trying to spend every night online or something ...
So, for instance, maybe you could initially agree to one weekly long video chat and otherwise leave each other a couple messages or emails in your free time between those chats. Agree to try to be understanding and not cause guilt that the person abroad shouldn't spend all their time tied up on the computer/phone. Some flexibility may be needed of course if one of you is going through a really tough time or having trouble adjusting.

Depending on your situations these agreements will vary, but if you set some expectations you will both have something to look forward to, and it will be easier to fulfill expectations, avoid feelings of neglect/jealousy, and feel on the same page. You may be a little more at ease about the time when you are not together. Its kind of miserable to skip out on excursions, nights out, etc.. because you have to be home to chat. Its also counter-productive to sit around on the internet in the hopes that maybe you'll catch them connected... So set up something to look forward to, and enjoy your experiences the best you can in the meantime!

Have FUN! Time apart moves so slow at first, but before you know it the days til you see each other will be flying by, probably faster than you want them to!
posted by nzydarkxj at 1:28 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about making your relationship open for these 7 months? I know this is something most people don't consider until a relationship is much more long-standing and steady, but temporary long distance is a bit of a different situation. My girlfriend and I were apart for 8 months after the first two months of dating, and I think it worked out for us because we were open for those 8 months. (Nothing really happened, but not being restricted in that way allowed both of us to live life normally until we got back in the same place.) You can be "free" to enjoy your experience, but still maintain the support of your partner and a plan to be together when you get back home.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:10 PM on February 7, 2012

I'm very interested to know what experiences you're worried you'll miss out on, because apart from sexual liaisons, I can't think of any. And given how slowly you two seem to have developed your relationship, it seems unlikely to me that you are the type to have fleeting interactions (of course I am just guessing, possibly your relationship is a completely different thing entirely, and casual liaisons is exactly the sort of thing you had in mind) and if that is the case, then I think you'd be nuts to prematurely end a relationship. In my opinion, relationships survive and grow, or they don't, and I don't think there's any way (or perhaps any point) to artificially end them to save pain later.

On the other hand, a deep and true friendship is a treasure, and will be an asset to you both during your time away. I can't help but feel stupidly sentimental about the notion of you both off exploring the world, experiencing amazing new places and things, with the touchstone of your friendship to centre and ground you. I think it would be wonderful to share your experiences with one another, and I'm going to suggest you write actual letters to each other during the time apart, not emails. It's a great way of making your experiences and observations real, and tangible, the scent of the paper, the colourful stamps, the snippets of local bits and pieces you can include.

*I* hope you'll stay together, if apart, and allow your relationship to play out in its own way and time. But of course, you both know best what will suit you, and I hope your adventures are truly amazing. Good luck!
posted by thylacinthine at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

7 months is not a long time apart from each other. My wife and I coped with 5 years of LDR from Canada to UK, when we didn't see each other for 3-6 months at a time. We talked when we could, usually every day or two, wrote letters and emailed.

It's even easier these days due to Skype, so you can see each other. Now when we're traveling, even with time zones, we'll Skype and I'll work away and chat while she dozes off to sleep and I get to watch her sleep (which is the best!).

It's not a bed of roses, you'll have to work at communication, but for the right person, it's worth it. We've been together over 17 years, married for 12 and she's the light of my life. Good luck!
posted by arcticseal at 6:47 PM on February 8, 2012

There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting the relationship on hold or breaking up while you're apart. You can still be friends and talk via email or Skype if you want, but it is so important to really throw yourself into your new place, meet people, go places, etc. Lots of contact with people back home can prevent this. I have done the ldr, the we're not broken up but have few daily obligations to each other, and the full on break up. The only one I've ever regretted was the ldr - I wasted some chances for awesome experiences. And my current relationship survived a break up that we amicably chose because we were too young, the relationship was too new and something didn't feel right about long distance. We did eventually get back together and often say that the break was ago much better than an ldr because we grew up a bunch and really appreciate what we have now.

But ultimately you have to do what feels right to you. Listen to yourself. Good luck.
posted by mosessis at 4:28 AM on February 12, 2012

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