Dear Dr. Love,Hi, my name is Michael, I’m 25 years old and have been in my current relationship for a little over 3 months. My girlfriend is great, I really enjoy being with her and feel that I have much more in common with her than other girls I have dated– and I feel confident that she feels the same way about me.But here is the problem. . . we are coming from two very different ‘places’. She is 21 and a senior in college, but this age difference has not been a problem for us since she is not a typical college ‘party girl’ (I don’t think I would date her if she was), and she is very mature and down-to-earth in most ways.However, where the problem lies is that she had just ended a serious relationship (which lasted about 2 and 1/2 years) about a month before we started dating, and prior to that relationship she had dated someone for about a year (I think that there was about 3-6 months between those two relationships). So, even though things have been great with us the past 3 months, she feels that our relationship is getting serious, and has a nagging feeling that she hasn’t spent enough time on her own.Before I started dating her, I had not had a serious relationship for about two years (I dated a couple of girls a little, but nothing serious), so I feel fine about entering into a serious relationship with her — especially because I like her so much. Also, I feel that the time I had on my own was good for me, so I can definitely understand and respect where she is coming from.However, because I do like being with her so much, and feel that we are really good for each other, I would like to figure out a way that we could give her some time and space (as much as she feels she needs) without breaking up. Do you think that this is possible?We have been discussing this a little, and here are some of the things that she has said to me: -She has been very happy in our relationship thus far, and feels that we make a great couple (much better, in fact, than with any other guy she has dated). If it were not for the ‘bad timing’ (i. e. not a lot of time between her last boyfriend and me) she would have no other reservations about forming a serious, long-term relationship with me.She is not sure exactly how much time/space she needs. In other words, whether it is just a matter of spending less time together, or breaking up. At this point, I have basically been trying to convey to her that I respect and understand where she is coming from, and that I will try my best to be patient and understanding of her situation.I have also told her that I, of course, want to stay together but also that I will have no problems (and would even encourage) her to spend more time away from me — so long as that does not mean ‘breaking up’.I’m not sure that this strategy will be effective though. As much as I would like to think otherwise, she is a woman, and what I am trying to put across as patience and understanding for her feelings, she may be interpreting as a sign that says’this guy can be strung along indefinetely’. And this exactly the kind of message I don’t want to convey to her.One other thing that I have been thinking about is this. . . . I know that her previous relationships have not been very mature in the sense that her and her ex-boyfriend(s) would see each other pretty much every day, so I think that she believes that this is what a serious relationship has to be like — smothering. I don’t think that she fully understands the concept that we could stay together but not see each other every day and that this would be okay — and very healthy in fact.Do you think this might be part of the problem? Basically, I am trying to figure out the best way to make this work, because I really like this girl a lot, I feel confident that she likes me too, and I really think that we’re good for each other. But, I’m not sure how to keep conveying to her that I’m willing to give her space without allowing her to exploit my efforts to be understanding.Any advice????
I am very impressed with how clearly you presented your predicament. It sounds like your discussions are open and honest, which is great. You need to ask her what you asked me above regarding whether she thinks a serious relationship needs to be smothering.If her idea of a committed relationship means being together every day, then you may be less compatible than you think! In other words, if you give her some time apart or if you see each other less often and then she decides to go full steam ahead with you, you may feel smothered by her!You have a lot more to discuss and explore. You are a wonderful, sensitive, and very caring man. I see how much you want to make sure that her needs are met. I’m more worried about you. She is quite good at taking care of her needs and I think that you need to make sure that you take care of yours.You need to decide what you will and won’t tolerate. If she wants a temporary break up, then you need to come up with a timetable that works for both. If you are going to see each other less, again, you are going to need to decide how long this is going to last.I don’t think that an open ended plan is healthy for you. If she isn’t able to set an end date, then you are going to need to take charge of your life so that you don’t allow yourself to be strung along. If she won’t set an end date for her space phase, then you will have little choice but to say, ‘Call me when you surface and if I’m free we can see each other then’.Either set a timetable that you both agree on or you will need to make your own plans.