My Relationship Has An Expiration Date. Should I Stay?

Illustrated by: Michaela Early.
Dear Kelsey,

My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for almost two years. We met on Tinder — shockingly — and things have been great ever since. I’m so happy and feel like I can be myself. Early on, we often talked about moving away and continuing our lives together — building a future together. Back then, I was in a bad job situation, and he was in community college, planning to go to university out of state when he finished. I was going to go with him. But now, things have changed, and our plans have been turned upside down.

I’m now in a great full-time job that I can’t see myself leaving. He’ll be finishing community college in a year and a half and still plans to leave for the out-of-state university. In the meantime, we’re moving in together — but I’m already heartbroken, knowing the end is just a year and a half away.

My boyfriend always says he would never make me leave my job (especially now that I finally have a good one) to go with him, even though that's what he wants. He says a healthy, good relationship is one where each person can let the other go, so they can accomplish what they want in life. Of course, I twisted it around in my head and made it seem as if he doesn't care enough to stay or try a long-distance relationship. It leads to an argument every time. Whenever we hang out with friends, they always comment on how great a couple we are, telling me not to let him get away because he's such a good guy and cares so much about everyone (which is very true). It tears me up inside because, trust me — I know how lucky I am, and I feel like our relationship has an end date.

At this point, I'm thinking,
What’s the point?! We're going to break up down the road, so what's the point of being together now? He and everyone else point out that it's still a year and a half away, and who knows? Things can always change on the job or work fronts. But I'm just preparing myself to be alone.

Am I overthinking things? Am I being too sensitive or selfish?

Sincerely,

Always Left Behind

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Illustrated by: Michaela Early.
Dear Always,

Last week, I got to my subway station just as the train was leaving. I had to wait about 10 minutes for the next one, and I wound up using that time to get in a little fight with myself over how the hell I’d let this travesty happen. Did you really need to take the time to put on eyeliner today? Why did you waste eight minutes looking at Twitter before getting out of bed? You look at your phone too much. You’re an addict and you’re vain and now you’ll be 10 minutes late for everything forever, and you deserve it.

If this makes no sense, don’t worry. My subway melodrama has nothing to do with your question. I’m telling you this tale of woe only to demonstrate one important thing: Sometimes, it’s not your fault. Sometimes, there is no fault. Things just happen.

It’s telling that the question you asked wasn’t, “Should I break up with him or stay?” but rather, “Am I being too sensitive or selfish?” Sensitivity and selfishness have nothing to do with this — at least not in any practical sense. Your thoughts and feelings didn’t cause this. You didn’t “overthink” this into happening, and you can’t think or feel your way out of it. This is one of those lousy situations in which no one is to blame, so first thing’s first: Stop pointing fingers, especially at yourself.

It’s natural to want to look for answers, but first, I think you just need to let yourself be sad for a moment. Better yet, be sad with your boyfriend. He may have a different take on the practicalities, but this isn’t fun for him either. (I know it’s hard when tensions are high, but try to take him at face value: He’s moving in with you. He knows you love your job and doesn’t want you to sacrifice that. You feel safe enough to be yourself and talk about your future lives together. Whatever else he’s feeling, it sounds like there’s real love there.) If you two can just look at each other for a minute, before making any decisions, and admit that this sucks, then at least you can move forward together — even if (or when) you wind up moving apart.

You don’t have the blame here, but you do have a choice. I think you know that, and I think you’re avoiding it.

In calling yourself “Always Left Behind,” you’ve cast yourself in a passive role. But you have just as much agency as your boyfriend in terms of what happens next. You can quit your job and go with him. You can break up with him now if you want. You don’t owe anyone any explanation for either of those things. You can even ask him to consider other schools near you. All those are active responses, and yes, taking action means taking on some responsibility and living with the consequences.

Stop worrying about how to feel, and start asking yourself what you want. No cheating: I know you want the situation to magically be different, but that’s out of your hands. What do you want, given this set of circumstances? There really is no right choice here. The “rightest” thing to do is just make the choice itself. Whether you go, stay, or wait and see if things change, those are all things you can choose to do.

It’s true that a lot can change in a year and a half. A lot can change in a day and half. You can guess and hope and worry all you want, but there’s only so much in this world that we get a say in. Other people’s choices, the timing of the trains — that’s all out of our hands. So when you get a chance to choose, do it. Don’t let your life happen to you.
Welcome to Unprofessional Advice. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I'll take on your issues with compassion and humor (and I'll keep it anonymous). Got a question for the column? Email me.