How best to prepare for boyfriend leaving for 2+ years?
October 11, 2006 8:29 PM   Subscribe

In February, my boyfriend of a few months will be leaving to do a two year stint with the peace corps. We're emphatically in love with each other, and the thought of him leaving my life is absolutely dreadful and deeply saddening. How can I best prepare myself for what is to come?

We've only been dating for about four months now, but it's the best relationship that I've been in. He is actually in Thailand for the next couple weeks do conduct research, so this is kind of like a dry-run of what it is like to not have him around as I am used to. We aren't living together, but we do spend nearly every night with each other, just to give you a sense of how common we are to each other. I love him dearly, and I just don't want to loose him.

I haven't wanted to think about him leaving until at least January and just live it up with him until then, but he's pressing me to think about it now so it's something that can be talked about while he's here rather than when he is gone.

I forecast much sadness and longing for myself, and I'm not looking forward to it. Having to balance that with the current day-to-day relationship is interesting, to say the least. What do you think I should do to prepare? I only see us becoming closer in the next couple months.. How can I minimize the sheer suckiness of the situation?
posted by virga to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For starters, make plans to visit him. International travel is not as expensive as you might think.
posted by tkolar at 8:31 PM on October 11, 2006

It's going to be tough, and no doubt. A half year relationship that will undergo a 2 year separation. The odds are not favorable, which is not to say non-existent. I don't know if this is the best advice, but you may want to consider scaling back the relationship, once he leaves, to friendship only level, and see if you want to pick it up when he comes back. Otherwise you have two years of trying to maintain an extremely long distance relationship, and the stress of that may end up dooming anything further.
Two years can be a long time for people to change when not in proximity to one another.
I don't know, but I hope things work out.
posted by edgeways at 8:37 PM on October 11, 2006

Best answer: To extend what edgways opined, I say that you must be prepared to tolerate a large amount of ambiguity in the status of the relationship. It will be literally up in the air until a month or two after he returns. You will both change and grow.

In the end, you *will* be fine, but of course long-term is not what you're thinking in right now. In the short term, it is scary! Drink tea with friends, keep yourself busy, keep a diary to order your many complicated feelings.

I have a friend who's partner is doing a four-year peace corp commitment in Africa. I sympathize with your feelings.

Best luck,

posted by wires at 8:49 PM on October 11, 2006

Take comfort in the fact thousands have been in your shoes; make sure to write. I'd also make sure to discuss what happens if, while away, you (or indeed he) find someone else.
posted by oxford blue at 8:50 PM on October 11, 2006

Two years! Wow. I don't know how anyone can prepare for that. I had an amazing relationship similar to yours - only a few months old, and then apart for the summer - and I don't think we lasted more than two months apart. In our case we were going to be re-united at the end of the summer but then apart for another year shortly after, and neither of us wanted to live with the pain of being apart for such a long time after having a taste of it. Long distance is hard. The longer the distance and the longer the time apart, the harder it is. It's also compounded if it is difficult to get in touch regularly by phone. In my situation we said 'we'll give it a try but if it gets too hard it will have to end.' and it didn't take too long before it got too hard. This may be all you can really hope for.

The trouble with short relationships is that you can fall in love but you're not at the point where you're making life plans together. It's probably unreasonable to suggest that you go with him on the peace corps or he cancel his trip to stay with you. This might not be the case if you had been dating for a few years.

An interesting question is why is he pressing you to talk about it? Does he have something else on his mind - like breaking up, or staying together but in a non-monogamous way, or maybe getting engaged, or something? Have you asked him what he wants to talk about? And what would you prefer to do?
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:52 PM on October 11, 2006

Hope for the best, of course! Protecting yourself from this is useless.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 PM on October 11, 2006

Edgeways offers wise advice.

As my dad always said, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder ... for somebody else."
posted by jayder at 9:06 PM on October 11, 2006

Response by poster: I think we both know that we won't be "dating" while he is away. We have talked about what could happen when he gets back, basically that we'd just have to see where each other is at in life and go from there. He said that he wants to talk now because basically when I'll be sad and tearful, he wants to be here for me, instead of away and incapable of really helping. I just can't keep putting it off, he told me.

I'm pretty sure that we both know that a standard long distance thing won't fly for us, just given the reality and logistics of it all. I believe it just comes down to not knowing how I'd be able to watch him go from here, much less how i'd move on from him, especially when emotionally we never waned.
posted by virga at 9:13 PM on October 11, 2006

Write long, long letters, like old fashioned couples. My grandparents spent only a few days together before he left from Wales with the US Navy and they exchanged letters for two years, when she came over on a boat to marry him. It isn't impossible. Plus, your hypothetical kids (if things work out very well) will treasure the letters. Email is another possibility, but there's really nothing like a letter (that and postal service might be easier to get than internet, depending on the circumstances I suppose).
posted by MadamM at 9:33 PM on October 11, 2006

Your relationship has almost no chance of surviving.
posted by matkline at 9:47 PM on October 11, 2006

(not that you want to hear that now)
posted by matkline at 9:47 PM on October 11, 2006

Join the Peace Corps, travel the world with him, do some good, have a blast, the end.
posted by iconjack at 10:00 PM on October 11, 2006

take heart in the fact that this does not doom your relationship. it's an obstacle, of course, but think of it this way: other people have less intense relationships with less intense obstacles. fighting over who takes the garbage out or where to go on the weekend. you have a more intense relationship, and a more intense obstacle. it wouldn't be fair if you got someone this awesome without some kind of struggle, right?

it's not perfect logic, but it helped me. the pain and the heartbreak will be there, but they are an acceptable part of a life, in the right proportions. it will seem like forever at the start, but when it's over it'll seem like it was faster than you realised.
posted by twirlypen at 12:09 AM on October 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar situation that started over 10 years ago and she and I are still together.

It sounds cheesy but, "if you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if they don't they never were." This is true. I recommend having an open relationship for the the time he is away. Be realistic about your needs and urges but also be safe and considerate with your BF. If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you are with.
posted by chillmost at 4:27 AM on October 12, 2006

Join the Peace Corps, travel the world with him, do some good, have a blast, the end.

This is silly - it would be difficult for you to be in the same country as him, or even in the same geographic area as him if you were in his country. You could be days apart via local travel, even in a small country, and then you'd be doing LDR in some random country just because of him. Now if you want to do PC bc you just want to....

In my experience most pre-PC relationships didn't last. It's harder than a normal LDR, bc the PC person is much less accessible than people usually are, and also bc the PC person (and possibly both ppl), is going through all kinds of emotional growth and change. So it's quite common to grow apart. But a couple of people from my group are now married to their pre-PC SOs, although they broke up during the PC stint. Two guys I know are now married to their then-fiancees (and they obviously stayed together during PC) - one of the fiancees did PC in another part of the world, the other fiancee stayed in the US but was very involved in his PC experience.

As for tips... enjoy the relationship now, and don't try to be together - no matter how tempting that will be when the time comes for him to leave - during his PC time. Try to stay in touch as friends, send him care packages and letters. Letters are like gold in PC, and care packages are heaven on earth. I liked receiving snacks, music, pictures, sometimes books, new underwear (but I'm a girl). He'll probably be very lonely, and he may not even realize that, for a while, and it's possible he'll try to assuage that loneliness with a relationship with someone in-country, but it's also possible that his connection with you, and the letters he receives from you, will be incredibly meaningful.
posted by Amizu at 5:53 AM on October 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

And do please post again in two years to let us know the outcome.
posted by dmd at 6:27 AM on October 12, 2006

Best answer: Two years ago, I was in the exact same situation as you are now, and my girlfriend and I are still together. It's been a lousy, shitty, wouldn't-wish-it-on-my-worst-enemy two years, but we did make it, and we'll be living together again within a few months. So I know where you're coming from.

We initially decided to break up, but within a month of her departure we both knew that that was a bad idea, and we decided to resume our relationship, inasmuch as we could, with me in Wisconsin and she in Samoa.

We decided that, since 27 months is a long-ass time to go without sex, we would not necessarily be exclusive, but neither would we start up any new, committed relationships. Her two rules, which I think very wise: 1. safe sex only, please. 2. neither of us is to inform the other person of any dalliances unless s/he asks about it. We both abided by this, and it was a good move.

We emailed a lot - that was our main link. Her connection was a shitty dial-up, so Skype, etc., was out of the question. If your boyfriend has a faster connection, take advantage of all kinds of internet magic to keep in touch.

I bought a bunch of phonecards from Nobelcom, and we talked as often as we could, which was not that often. But it had to suffice: she had (as an aside, it's delightful to use the past tense, finally) no regular access to a phone.

We wrote letters and sent packages. She especially loved the packages of goofy shit I sent her: toys, candy, homemade trinkets, junk food. Oh, and hard copies of The Onion. Always a big hit.

More broadly speaking, I would suggest that, if a problem or question about your relationship comes up, you address it immediately. Communication is essential to any relationship, but it's especially crucial when you're separated by a great distance -- it's all you have, really.

One thing that was difficult for me was that, in the two two-week visits we had with each other over the last two years, we (or, perhaps, I) tried to deal with all our relationship issues/baggage in those concentrated bursts of togetherness. This caused problems, as what we should've been doing was enjoying each other's company. Again: address matters as they emerge, not later.

There were some pretty rocky patches, to be sure, and you should expect them. My girlfriend and I are extremely trusting of each other, and we both have a great deal of faith in our relationship -- these things, along with open communication, brought us through, ultimately.

In short: it will be a lousy two years, but you can minimize the damage it will do to your relationship. It can work - pay no mind to the naysayers upthread.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:21 AM on October 12, 2006

I give your relationship about a 2% chance of surviving six months. Sorry.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:51 AM on October 12, 2006

I second what wires said, except instead of "drink tea" I'd go for tequila. There's nothing like regular happy hours with friends to make you feel better and take your mind off of things.
posted by Kimberly at 8:17 AM on October 12, 2006

"[T]he thought of him leaving my life is absolutely dreadful and deeply saddening. How can I best prepare myself for what is to come?"

Find somebody else to play with sooner rather than later. You will anyway, probably "by accident," so you might as well do it on purpose and find a good one.
posted by davy at 8:34 AM on October 12, 2006

My best advice for you is to come up with plans now for things the two of you can share, and things that make you feel like you're a part of each others lives still.

Whether that's letters, sending each other packages, regulary timed phone calls - make sure you establish now ways to keep your connection alive.

(This was, in hindsight, one of the things I think made my last long distance relationship fail. And certainly the most painful aspect of the way it ended.)
posted by lastyearsfad at 10:18 AM on October 12, 2006

You're a girl. You're going to find someone else. Actually you're not going to find them, they will find you. My greatest hope is you will prove me me wrong, but you won't. :(
posted by 31d1 at 9:16 PM on October 12, 2006

Response by poster: ^ actually, I'm a guy.
posted by virga at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2006

Very late into the game here, but geez some of the posters here are depressing.

My parents were separated for 3 years right after they registered their marriage (no time for a proper ceremony!) as my dad went to do his Masters in Turkey (they're from Bangladesh). All they had to go by were letters - no phones, definitely no Internet at the time. It's been over 30 years and they're still together.

My boyfriend and I are in a similar situation now. Together 3 months, separated (starting a few days ago) for another 3 months due to uni holidays. It will be hard, and it will be painful, but if you're detemined to make it work, it will work. But also let the best happen to you - even if that means a breakup.

Listen to your heart. And good luck.
posted by divabat at 4:36 PM on November 20, 2006

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