Wendy is on vacation, so we’ll be posting some of her more popular past Dear Wendy columns (that some of you may have missed!) to get you through the week.
I’m 28, my boyfriend is about to be 27, and we’ll be celebrating our 5 year anniversary in a few months. We’ve been living together for about three years now and about a year ago I started bringing up buying a house, marriage and kids. I am not in a huge hurry to start a family, but I want to make sure my man wants to move in the same direction I do. I can never get a real answer from him about this. He always shrugs at me and says, “I’m not ready and I don’t know what I want yet, but I know I love you and want to be with you.” Soon after I broached these topics, my boyfriend got VERY mopey and down about his life. It has been very hard on the relationship, but I have been understanding because he finally started to go to counseling. I thought things would start getting better, but he dropped a bomb the night before last. He says he wants to get his own place so he can “find himself.” BUT, he says he does not want to break up with me and expects that things won’t change.
I know this is something that has been on his mind for a long time and it was VERY hard for him to be honest with me. I am trying to be calm and level headed about this, but I almost screamed at him that there is no way things won’t change. How do I take a huge step back in our relationship and expect everything to be okay? Is it really possible for the relationship to survive this? I am leaning towards no, but it is hard for me to give up on a five year relationship with someone I love who treats me well. My head is telling me to break up with him and tell him when he “finds himself” he can come back and see if I am still available, but I won’t wait for maybes. My heart is telling me to stick with him and give it a chance. — Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Sure, it’s possible for a relationship to survive a “huge step back” like the one you’re describing. In some cases — including yours — it may actually be necessary to take the step back if the relationship has any chance for survival at all, actually. But that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear and that you can sit back, relax, and “expect everything to be okay.” In fact, I’d recommend rather than continuing to see each other once your boyfriend moves out and acting as if nothing has changed, you take an indefinite break instead. Give yourself three to six months with minimum contact at most — no face-to-face visits, no phone calls, and very little emailing.
The reason you both need some breathing room is because when your boyfriend tells you he needs to “find himself,” what he’s really saying is that he needs space — space from you and your relationship. He’s been with you since he was 22 — practically a baby! He’s had almost no time as an adult without you in his life. No wonder he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants! He needs time away from you to gain some perspective, get to know who he is as an individual, and give some deep consideration to the future he wants and whether he sees you in it. He needs to experience not having you in his life before he’ll know for certain whether he wants you in his life forever.
I realize this is a risky move — there’s no guarantee your boyfriend won’t decide he’s actually happier on his own — but the truth is that staying with your boyfriend right now may be an even riskier move. By staying together, your boyfriend won’t get the clarity he desperately needs and your relationship will either be stuck in limbo forever or will slowly and painfully implode. It’s like that old cliche goes: if you love something, set it free; if it comes back to you, it’s yours. Your boyfriend is asking to be set free right now, and you have to believe that if you’re meant to be together, he’ll come back to you.
I’m not suggesting you wait around for him, though. You’d be wise to use your time apart to evaluate how happy you can be on your own, as well. You may even consider doing a little dating (just be sure you agree on the ground rules of dating other people before you part). Make certain that the reason you want to move forward with your boyfriend is because you can’t imagine your life with anyone else, not simply because you’ve been together for five years and buying a home, getting married, and having kids are the next logical steps. Sometimes the next logical step has to be backwards in order to finally move forward.
*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.