Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Q & A: Commitment or Codependence?

Reader Question: Hi Sara, I could use your advice. My problem is not wedding-related, but it is a relationship question.

My boyfriend and I have been together 6 years, living together just over 4 years. I am about to start the third semester of earning my master's degree. I just found out I have been offered an internship for the summer, which seems to be prestigious and resume-enhancing. Only problem is, the internship is in Kentucky (we live in the Boston area). I am really struggling with whether or not I can/should go three months apart from my partner.

This sounds crazy to even say, because I have always been pretty independent. I worked in France for eight months at the beginning of our relationship without hesitation. Now, though, we have built a life together and I would feel guilty to leave him for a summer. We have not lived in the area long, and he has not been able to cultivate many deep friendships, nor does he get fulfillment from his everyday job. Is it codependent to feel responsible for fulfilling some of these needs? Or is this being committed to my relationship? Sometimes it is such a fine line.

We have only talked about this briefly, but his official position is, "if it would help your career, you should do it, but I would miss you." I know if I want to take the internship, he will support me 100%.

I am really looking forward to hearing your take on this. My friends are mostly fiercely independent (which is awesome), but I feel like they would tell me to do it just out of principle, rather than what is really best for me and my relationship.

What do you think, and what factors would you consider when making a decision like this one? What would I do by myself for three months in KENTUCKY?

Thanks so much.

Hooray! A relationship-related question!

There seem to be two different parts to the question. Let's separate them from each other, analyze them, and then put them back together.

First, there is the question of the internship. It's not clear how you feel about it, aside from your concerns about sustaining yourself for three months in a new location and your mention of the internship's "prestige" and "resume-enhancing" potential. Here are some suggested questions to ask yourself:
  1. What are the benefits of accepting the internship? Aside from the external benefits of prestige and resume enhancement, are there other arguments for accepting the internship? Will it challenge you intellectually? Will it introduce you to new and interesting people? Will it expose you to a different part of the country? Will it help you grow into a better person (for yourself and your partner)?
  2. What are the drawbacks of accepting the internship (separate from the relationship-related ones)?
  3. How are you going to spend your three months if you don't accept the internship?
  4. Is this internship a necessary stepping stone for goals you want to accomplish in the future? Will it help you have the kind of life you want for yourself?
As far as your relationship goes, here are some questions to consider:
  1. Why is your partner having trouble making deep connections with friends? If you stay in town for three months, will your presence help or hinder that process?
  2. Why does your partner find his everyday work unfulfilling? Are there ways to help him find more meaningful and purpose-driven work?
  3. If your roles were reversed, would you want your partner to accept the internship or not?
Now putting them back together:
  1. What are your goals in life? What is your vision? Which choice better aligns with that vision?
  2. Pick one of the decisions and ask yourself, "What are the consequences of this decision in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?" Now switch your decision and answer the same questions.
You're the only one who can make the decision that's right for you, and I wish you the very best!

2000DollarWedding Kindred Spirits, do you have any other advice?

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Sarah said...

I studied abroad for about four months a few years back (my fiance and I had been dating for about two years at this point)-- everyone was telling me that our relationship would not, could not last because no one's did.

Well, a few years later, we are still here.

We weren't living together then, but we missed each other fiercely, but we also BOTH got out and did things we wouldn't normally do. My fiance hung out with "my" friends (they felt bad that I was gone and invited him out) and grew closer to them-- now they are "our" friends. He cultivated these new friendships, started new projects. I went out, saw and tasted new things, met amazing people, etc. Four months later, we both came back to each other stronger than ever.

It wasn't a break from our relationship, to be sure, since we still talked and voice-chatted frequently, but it was a different experience for the both of us.

Who knows? Maybe he can take the opportunity to meet some new people at work and be able to find fulfillment that way-- you know, "my job's not great but the people I work with are cool" type-thing. Or he could get out and around and discover your new home city.

So I guess my advice is to reframe the situation-- don't necessarily see it as you leaving him for 3 months for an internship and he's just going to sit at home, pining away for you:) It'll be different and new, but both of you can take advantage of the situation if you decide to go.

Good luck!!

Kat said...

My fiance and I are both in a graduate programs and we are doing the long distance thing already. He also decided to apply to lots of internships all over the country for the summer..which would put him even further away. I guess I am in the situation of the boyfriend. My school work is often demanding and very rarely rewarding (the nature of academia...) and because I just moved here, I don't have many friends.

BUT... I probably said the exact same thing as the boyfriend, "I support you, and I will miss you," and I meant every word. I cannot speak for your boyfriend, but I can say that for me, I know that my fiance will be so happy doing what he loves. It will be fulfilling for him and who knows how this opportunity will serve us in the future.

It is a tough predicament...you don't want to feel like you are choosing your job over people that you love. But it is just for a short time, not an ultimate priority shifting decision

I wish you guys the best of luck!! You will do well either way.

anna and the ring said...

I have lived apart from my boy for a long part of our relationship. It was only 6 years in I was able to live with him. Indeed I spent a slightly longer time on a tiny island in the South Pacific for work and I was not able to talk to him at all except the very occasional skype. I missed him and he missed me but the opportunity was a once in a lifetime. If he were offered a job which meant he must travel but it was his dream I would do everything to support him.

Commitment is not a place but a state of mind.

Do you feel worried this may lead to a permanent move?

If he were to ask the same, what would you say?

It's a no brainer for me. It is only 3 months. You will have a lifetime together.

ellbee said...

My boyfriend (now husband) faced this situation 6 years into our relationship (pre-engagement). He was the one leaving to take a course that would launch a new career. It was 4 months long.

It sucked being alone in my newly purchased house while he was gone. But I took on house projects, joined a volleyball league, started going to a regular yoga class. I was able to visit him twice and we had fun exploring a new city together.

It took a lot of good communication, team work and compromise to make the whole thing happen. We grew much stronger as individuals and as a couple. In the end, that experience led to a mutual desire to elevate our committment by getting married.

But, this has to be the right decision for YOU and as Sara points out, it's a little unclear from your letter whether going to Kentucky is something you WANT to do. Something else I can tell you from experience is: don't decide NOT to go because you'll feel bad for leaving your boyfriend.

LBD said...

I was in a similar predicament when I went to grad school a few years back. Funny thing is, it ended up ME being the miserable one (the person going away) while he all flowered out.

My boy was also working a very unfulfilling job. To keep himself busy and entertained while I was gone, he decided to take some classes for fun and fulfillment. He decided to learn Chinese, and loved it. He is kind a of loner by nature, but being without me kind of forced him to better nurture some of the friendships he did have, and make a few new ones.

I on the other hand, had a really hard time with the stress of graduate school away from my established support network, and had a lot of trouble making new connections, and just freakin' missed him terribly.

So I guess my advice is, for your boyfriend, to pursue something else he loves, even if it's not what he gets paid to do. And for you, that boyfriends can be surprisingly resilient when left to their own devices.

Emily said...

I've also dealt with the academic "two-body" problem. My boyfriend had to move 300 miles away to accept for professional school while I stayed to finish my degree. We estimated 2.5 years of long distance and it was actually 4 years. We saw each other twice a month and it was hard but it was important that we respected each others goals and supported each other through it. And now we're in the same city and are engaged and building our lives *together*

3 months to me sounds like an adventure. It's also great that you'll be in the same time zone. That way you can say good morning to each other every day and goodnight every evening.

Good luck! Whatever you decide is the right decision :)

Stephanova said...

I think that Sara's questions are great. I think if I were in this situation, I'd probably make a pros and cons list to help organize my thoughts too.

I do think that in reading your questions it sounds like there is a lot of fear behind a lot of your questions and that might be something worth exploring also. Do you have a fear of losing the relationship? Of letting down your partner? Of being lonely yourself? Why?

This is a hard (and brave!) decision, but I think that being away from someone can provide interesting perspective on the relationship and on yourself. (I always come back from trips away from my Honey with lots of new things to think about and talk about together.) And, in the long run of a relationship, 3 months isn't a very long time. Plus, having an internship to add to your CV or resume is always a nice thing.

SingColleen said...

I think everyone has offered great advice about how to make the decision, so I'm just going to offer some personal perspective on the consequences (good and bad) of separating for months at a time.

Since my husband and I are in theater (backstage, not onstage), we have, throughout our relationship, had opportunities to go on tour with various shows, or work in different cities, because that's where the work was. Each time we have lived apart has been different, and it all depended on a few factors: (a) What our relationship was like when we parted, (b) How stressful/not stressful the job we were leaving for was, and (c) How each of us dealt with being alone at that point in our lives.

The first time I went on tour, we had each had a pretty easy year. He was settled in a stable job doing something he really enjoyed with people he liked. He used the time I was away to forge stronger bonds with a couple of the guys he worked with. My work up til then hadn't been steady, but I was engaged and learning, and the tour was a natural extension of those experiences. The tour itself was pretty easy, and I got along great with the performers. This made my homecoming easy. We were a bit awkward for a few days as we each got used to living with someone again, but after a couple of weeks it was like I had never been gone.

In contrast, another tour I took was horrible in every way imaginable. When I left, my husband (then boyfriend) had just finished installing a major show that he had worked 16 hrs/day for 8 months on, and the show was not doing well, to boot. We had had a couple of bad fights that year (highly unusual for us) because of the stress of his job and my lack of work, and didn't really need to be apart. My tour schedule was extremely stressful and allowed for almost no time to call home. When I returned, it took us nearly six months to recover from the previous year. Of course, we survived, and are now blissfully married, but we each make those decisions much more carefully now.

It sounds like you are already considering the important factors: where each of you are individually and together, and what the work experience could be like. The only advice I could offer is, if you do take the opportunity, call, text or Skype (or whatever) each other every day. Even if it's only for a minute or two, or if it's mostly silence, it takes the place of seeing each other at home.

Walking Barefoot said...

I think whether a relationship can weather such a separation is a sign of the health of the relationship. With a former bf, I weighed a summer away for a fellowship, and ultimately decided not to do it, in part because I worried what it would do to our relationship. (There was no pressure from the bf - if anything he wanted me to take the fellowship, but I wanted to focus on the relationship.) That relationship is no longer...

On the other hand, I was living in another country for nearly half the time I dated my now-husband. We emailed and Skyped a lot, and he was super-supportive. I didn't worry at all about what would happen to our relationship while I was gone.

Married In Chicago said...

this is such a great question! everyone has left such wonderful and insightful comments, the only tidbit I wanted to add was that you might enjoy working through some of these issues with a counselor. What it means to support and stand by your relationship is a huge question that all of us will most likely face at numerous points throughout our lives. If you are interested in exploring this sort of stuff, you might find counseling really rewarding!

dining room table said...

Set your priorities and whatever you will choose, there will always be a place for understanding and patience.

.:a:. said...

I used to be the champion of "if your relationship can't weather the separation then it wasn't strong/healthy to begin with..."

But then I got sick and I learned that it can be okay to need someone. There are times that my partner and I are fine to be apart or live in different cities and see each other on the weekends. But there are times when we need to set aside our work and activism activities and - to use a bad cliche - tend our own garden. He has given up so much to help me with my recovery - before I was sick (and during the first year of my illness) I didn't want my needs to impinge on him. But somewhere along this long journey I realized that 1 ) We are in this together! and 2) It is a LONG journey. I say, do what feels good now and don't live in fear of a missed opportunity. You have plenty of time.

Holly @ Cat Hair and Glitter said...

I think you should do it. I live in Kentucky and there are tons of things to do. Where will you be interning at?

Catholicgauzette said...

My fiance was deployed to Iraq for 6 months from Thanksgiving to Easter (08-09). It was hard, but it was a career enhancement move too. Yes, we missed each other and yes, it was hard at Christmas, etc. But, I encouraged him to go (similar to your partner encouraging you).

Six months after we get married, he will be going to Afghanistan.

Wishing you all the best.

Catholicgauzette said...

(I encouraged him and ultimately was excited he went and had such a great experience)

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