Dear Wendy: Love Lessons In A First Relationship

I’m 23 years old and in my first relationship with a guy who is three years younger than me. It daunted me at first because I felt dating younger meant dating someone more immature, but something with him just clicked. We’ve been dating for half a year and it’s been great, but now I’m beginning to think the honeymoon phase is over.

I’ve graduated and moved into a full-time position, meaning my free time starts only after 6 pm and weekends are open. My guy is still in school with a bustle of club activities and schoolwork, leaving him very busy in the day and catching up on school club activities and homework at nights and weekends. I feel like things aren’t the same anymore. When we manage to have conversations (phone or online) they are fewer, and on his side they are beginning to be less detailed and shorter when I inquire on his day. It used to be he would relay little happenings that occur, but now he keeps it short and to the point (“went to lunch,” “went to class,” etc.). Often there are just pauses where we don’t say anything and I feel like I’m the one just asking questions and trying to stimulate the conversation. I share all I can on what is happening in my life, whether it’s small or big. I know we both have busy schedules and recently, fewer opportunities to see each other, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m being selfish in thinking that he could do more in keeping us connected in these times when we’re apart. I often end up feeling very unsatisfied at the end of a conversation and then feeling guilty afterward when I think it might be because he’s busy and tired and I’m just being immature (when I’m the older one). I know busy schedules mean you have to face the fact that you see each other less, but at the least, I thought communication could somehow hold on. Am I being selfish and asking too much from someone with a busy schedule? This is my first relationship ever and I want to do it right! I feel if I don’t do something about it now, it’ll continue to get worse and I’m the kind of person who likes to nip things in the bud. What should I do???? — First-timer

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if she’s being selfish for wanting, you know, to be treated decently, I’d be able to afford a two-week vacation in Fiji. Maybe even a three-week vacation there! Everyone — women, men, children, and all of you in between — listen up: It is not selfish to demand respect from your significant others. You are not crossing a line or being self-absorbed when you ask the people you’re in relationships with to treat you as well as you treat them. You are not being prima donnas by asking for your significant others to carve some time for you or to have the common decency to let you know when they no longer have the emotional space or desire to make you a priority.

If you want my honest opinion, First-timer, it sounds to me like you and your boyfriend have grown apart and he doesn’t have the balls to let you know he isn’t into it anymore. It’s totally natural for people who are at different stages in their lives to grow apart — and let’s face it, a 23-year-old woman with a 9-to-5 job lives in a different world than a 20-year-old guy in college. Those three years maybe didn’t make such a difference when you were both in school, but given your recent transition into the full-time workforce and your relatively short relationship, it makes sense that things have changed and you’re unable to find common ground. There’s also a possibility that your boyfriend feels intimidated by your new life. You’re like a real grown-up now, and he’s still a college kid. Maybe he feels like he doesn’t fit into your new life, doesn’t have anything to talk about that you’d find interesting.

Why don’t you sit down and tell him how you’re feeling — that you’d like to spend more time together and talk on the phone the way you used to. Let him know that just because you’re working full-time now, your feelings for him haven’t changed. Then listen for cues on his end. If he continues making excuses like he’s just “really busy” without figuring out a way to carve out some time in his schedule for you, that’s code for: “I’m sort of over it but just don’t want to be the one to end it.” If that’s the case, the good news is that you’re 23, this is only your first relationship, and you have plenty of time to date around until you find the right person who puts you first and keeps you there. You may be out of school, but your relationship lessons have just begun. The most important one? Don’t ever settle for anyone who makes you feel less than special.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]