Coming to terms with a long-distance breakup

Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared in 2003.

Dear Carolyn:

My long-distance girlfriend of five years has suddenly come to the realization that I’m too “emotionally dependent” on her. Because I add to, and cannot relieve her of, other emotional burdens (her mom, sister and school are all stress factors), she has decided to break things off. She also thinks that after so many years of this relationship, I don’t understand her feelings enough (like when I get upset when she doesn’t return calls). I thought emotional dependence is part of being in a relationship. When we move to the same city (planned, soon), aren’t these problems rectifiable? I know it sounds bleak, but after all these years and an awesome relationship, now she realizes this? Is something else at work here?

— East Coast

There’s always something else at work with a rejection like that. But first, I’d like to process your remark about “emotional dependence.”

(Loud choking sobs.)


Thank you.

Every rejection has wiggle room (except “I don’t love you anymore,” which pretty much quashes debate). Your ex, for example, offered a specific complaint — thereby leaving the door open for you to rebut the complaint, and replay every moment of the last five years in your head, and nurture little sprouts of hope, and argue to her in anguished midnight phone calls that you really can change even though you’re technically not any more of an emotional burden than any other boyfriend would be because boyfriends are (muffled wail) supposed to be an emotional burden.

But here’s the unspoken “something else at work” beyond a rejection like hers: You may want to fix the problem, but she doesn’t. For whatever reason, she decided there was too much bad to make the “awesome” worth saving, no matter how awesome it was.

My guess is, this decision wasn’t sudden so much as your introduction to it was. But that’s moot speculation. Regardless of how quickly she came to it, it is simply her opinion, and an opinion is not “rectifiable” unless she wants it to be — not by logic, not by history, not by proximity, and not by attempted coercion, which never works, even when it works. Let fate have this one, and let go.

Dear Carolyn:

Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? My boyfriend and I have been dating a year and a half — almost a year of it apart. We finally made what I think is a mature decision to break up until we can be together permanently in three months. We had a really difficult time communicating over the phone and often took the slightest sigh the wrong way. If we can’t communicate on the phone, will it really be any different when we’re in the same city?

— Richmond

Absence does make the heart grow fonder, except when it doesn’t — see above — which suggests absence itself isn’t germane. Contentment, however, consistently warms the heart — just as excess maintenance cools it. Forcing a relationship to last (i.e., being so afraid it won’t last that each sigh has a seismic effect) is hard work and therefore, ironically, a great way to kill a relationship. Near or far, your best chance to stay together is to make peace with the odds that you won’t.

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