Our letter this week comes from Jennifer, who's wondering if she's just being "too needy" while trying to navigate a relationship that's about to become long-distance.
Here's her story and my response.
I would love to read your advice on my current dating situation.
About 6 months ago I began going on dates with this guy who I had met in class. I immediately found myself drawn to him since the first day I saw him but I was too shy to initiate anything during the semester. Luckily for me (or maybe not) we reconnected two months after our class ended and began going on dates.
During this time we really connected over our shared faiths, career goals, and personal attributes. Although it was clear that we really liked each other we never made it official. He had been accepted to an out of state medical school and didn’t want to make me any promises that he couldn’t keep.
During these 6 months we went on a date once a week, texted a few times in between dates, and of course were sexually active. It wasn’t a friends with benefits deal but it wasn’t a full relationship either. Despite all my needs not being met, I stuck around because I had fallen in love with him.
He is by far the most intelligent, loving, and compassionate person that I have met. I truly admire him.
It was hard because I wanted more. I wanted to be able to call him my boyfriend, introduce him to family and friends, and feel secure with him. I never pushed him further than our arrangement of enjoying our relationship without any long term promises. I’m also eventually applying to medical school and so I understood where he was coming from.
Long distance is hard and medical school is even harder.
Now that we were nearing the end of whatever we were, I decided that I couldn’t handle the uncertainty of how he felt about me. I decided to say goodbye to him and explained that I was walking away because I needed more.
I told him that I loved him but that I thought it would be best that we no longer communicate. I eventually blocked him on everything. During this time he had been out of town for about a month traveling. I had missed him terribly and decided to unblock him on the date I knew he would be coming back home.
To my surprise he texted me and begged me to do long distance with all the strings attached. I agreed and we became official.
We worked out that I would be flying out to visit him whenever I could. Giving him an ultimatum seemed to have worked. But now that I finally could call him a boyfriend, I realized his prior bad communication wasn’t due to me not being his girlfriend, it was simply who he was.
It’s extremely frustrating for me because I had waited months for him to decide to be with me, I had thought that as soon as we got settled in as an official couple, we would be going on more dates, meeting family, and having communication during the week.
To no luck, none of those things happened.
He’s a serious and honest person, I do believe that he wants to make our relationship work and that he cares about me but I can’t help but cry myself to sleep at times thinking that his lack of communication is due to my physical and personal shortcomings.
Not hearing from him makes me feel like I’m not enough. I feel like I’m too needy but at the same time I don’t think it’s normal to not feel like a relationship.
I’m uncomfortable texting him or asking to see him. Seeing how things are I don’t have much confidence in a functional long distance relationship with him. We only have two weeks left living in the same state until he permanently moves away. During this time I wanted to spend it together but we haven’t.
His best friends came into town to visit him and he is completely prioritizing them over me. It’s difficult even getting a reply from him. I understand that he has to host them but at the same time it feels so terrible losing all of this time.
Am I being too needy?
I wish he would just communicate better with me. The time that we do spend together is always amazing and I do feel strongly about him. I’m just extremely frustrated and feel even lonelier than before.
I’m willing to try to accept him as he is (not a big communicator) but perhaps there’s a way to make him understand that I need more. I don’t need to be a priority (he isn’t my priority either, School comes first!) but I do wish I felt more important.
Please tell me your thoughts on our relationship. For all I know I’m so caught up in the idea of him that I haven’t even realized that he is being a jerk.
I'm so glad you reached out. You've got a lot going on and I'm hoping my words are going to help give you some perspective here so you can feel like you're the one doing the choosing, like you're still in control even when it feels like you're not.
First of all, I'm not seeing someone who’s being a jerk. I'm seeing him being who he is.
I'm seeing him doing what he likes to do. I'm seeing him prioritizing what's important to him in the moment without thinking his prioritizing one thing means he's excluding something else. He's not seeing this as a zero-sum game.
It sounds like he wasn't expecting to have to make a decision on the two of you before he went away, so when you decided to say goodbye to him because you knew yourself well enough to know you weren't going to be able to handle the uncertainty of being apart, he realized he didn't want to lose you.
What I'm sensing is that you have an idea - an expectation - of him, of relationships, of love in general and he's not matching that expectation.
It's not that you're being "needy", it's simply that you have things you need in order to feel emotionally safe in a relationship with someone and those things may not come natural to him, or he may not be capable of giving you those things. What this is really about, is whether or not the two of you are on the same page.
You said he's a serious and honest person. That you believe he wants to make your relationship work and that he cares about you. But on the other hand, you can't help but cry yourself to sleep at times thinking that his lack of communication is due to your physical and personal shortcomings. So not hearing from him makes you feel like you're not enough.
These are two very different things.
One is about him and who he is - especially in terms of character. The other is about you and how you feel about yourself.
My feeling here is that you're looking for him to make you feel good about yourself in the areas you're still unsure about. This is the tricky part because most of what we've been told about relationships isn't helpful. Yes, they're romantic, but they're not helpful and they do us such a disservice when we're in a real relationship with a real person - not a fantasy - trying to figure out what it is or if it's worth staying in.
When our "normal" relationship barometer has been set at nothing less than having a guy complete us, give us our worth and make us feel confident and complete, we're walking a fine line between waiting for the fantasy, and accepting a real guy.
Your needs absolutely matter, Jennifer. And being with someone capable of communicating absolutely matters, too.
But my concern here is that you may be buying into the fairy tale more than the reality of what a real relationship is all about. Men can't read our minds. They don't always know how we feel without us telling them. They're simpler and more practical and logical than we've been told, and they often don't know something's wrong unless we tell them.
These are generalizations, but we've been sold on the idea of a relationship filled with so much fantasy to the detriment of our real relationships.
Relationships are about being with someone who complements you, not completes you. They're about being with someone you can actually talk to, not someone who's judged by his ability to read your mind.
The more you can think of him as being human, the better your relationship will be for it. The more you can think of yourself as human, that’s better, too.
Look at your expectations. Look at what you're expecting him to be.
Are they based on someone being human? Real? Their own person? Is there room for him and who he actually is, or is there only room for who and what he's "supposed" to be?
If you were enough in your own right, what does that look like? What does that mean? If you didn't have your own doubts about yourself and your own physical and personal shortcomings, how would you feel about him then?
We're all human, Jennifer. That's the biggest takeaway here.
You're not supposed to be perfect and either is he. The question is whether your imperfections and shortcomings are a match - or at least whether they make you compatible enough to see where this relationship will go.
Long distance relationships can be hard. Medical school is going to be challenging, too. What matters is that you can communicate through any issues that arise, that you can keep talking through the tough times you might encounter. This is life.
When you say you're not comfortable texting him or asking to see him, that's where I would look deeper. Why aren't you comfortable communicating your needs and what you'd like to see? Is it because you believe you're not "supposed to"? Is it because you believe he's supposed to know what you need even when you don't tell him? Is it because you believe he's supposed to want to see you as much as you want to see him?
What if you told him how you were feeling using "I" statements? Like, "I know you've got so many priorities right now before you leave, but I would love to carve out some time for just us before you leave.”
If you're afraid of his response, don't be.
It's valuable information you need to learn more about him and your relationship and what you can expect from him. Honestly, that may well hold the answer you’re looking for.
Don't be afraid to be direct. I was never direct and it was one of my biggest regrets. I hear this from so many of the women I work with as well.
You can be direct, owning what you want by using "I" statements instead of telling him what he's doing wrong or what's wrong with him.
One last thing:
What if you didn't take any of his actions personally or as a reflection of you but instead if you could view him simply doing what works for him right now during this transitional phase of his life? That doesn't mean you don't matter and your needs don't matter, but it means you're looking through the lens of the way things are right now and not as they "should" be according to the lens you're looking through.
Without knowing more specifics, it's always hard to know exactly what the full story is, but from what you've said, my biggest feedback for you is that he sounds like a good guy who doesn't want to lead you on because he doesn't know what the future holds given the uncertainties of long distance and different schools for both of you.
It doesn't sound like he's pushing you away or not prioritizing you as much as he's trying to fit everything in his last two weeks and figuring this out as he goes along, just like you.
The question for you to answer is, can you accept that? Can you accept him where he’s at? And is it enough for you right now?
It doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks, Jennifer. It matters what you think. No one else is walking through this. You are. Be honest with yourself. Think about everything I’ve brought up here. There are no “shoulds”.
There is only what you can live with and what you can’t.
I hope this helps.
What do you want to tell Jennifer? Share your own words of advice in the comments below!