Dear Neely,

I am 30 years old and in a “somewhat” and “it’s a bit complicated” relationship. I truly care deeply about my boyfriend and I feel that he feels the same for me, but he’s afraid that he may be holding me back. He is an amazing man and we bring the best out of each other.

A little background info on me/us:

1. My boyfriend and I live in different states. He is in California and I’m in Seattle. When we met, we hit it off so well that even after he left 2 days later, he still wanted to call and text every day since then. We have been seeing each other for 8 months since that day and made it exclusive around Christmas time.
2. He has two kids that I adore so much. He is currently in a custody battle that I can tell is taking a toll on him. I feel terribly inept of the capabilities to be a good girlfriend since I am all the way in Seattle and he is in California.
3. There have been multiple times when I seriously thought about moving to be with him, but there are so many factors that would need serious discussion on both parties.

I love the insights that you have on relationships. I’ve been wanting and working for a committed relationship for quite some time. I know my situation is specific and possibly rare. I’m wondering what kind of complimentary advice would you have for my situation? I’m not here to ask for a hand-out, but I’m just looking for someone to tell me that I’m not making a mistake and that I’m not wasting any of my time for this man.

I’m tired of hearing “you deserve to be happy” type advice from my friends who don’t understand my specific situation. I know that everyone else are just spectators who are outside looking in and only my boyfriend and I are in control of our relationship. But as one who is outside looking in, what could you tell me about what you think of our situation/relationship? I understand this is a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s worth asking for the sake of my relationship.

— Sleepless in Seattle

Dear Sleepless,

While your situation is, of course, specific, the general themes are common ones for a lot of singles:

1)      You want me to tell you what you want to hear

2)      Long-distance relationship dilemmas

3)      Settling for less than you deserve in a relationship

4)      The importance of timing in relationships

Let’s address each point one at a time:

1) You want me to tell you what you want to hear

I understand that it is frustrating to hear from friends what you don’t want to hear. Sometimes friends can have really good insights into your relationships, and you should listen to themToo-often-singles-want. Other times, taking advice from friends can be problematic. It depends on how close to you these people are and what they’re own personal lives are like. I’m glad you reached out to an objective third party (me!), because I have no emotional attachment to you and am therefore better able to look at the situation objectively. Talking with a therapist, though, in your area about what you’re experiencing, would be the best decision you could make, because there’s only so much I can know from a 350-word email.

But back to the main point: It’s often difficult to hear advice about your dating and love life that you don’t want to hear, because it means you actually have to question the type of relationships you’re in. Having to question a relationship means possibly facing the reality that the relationship isn’t right. That ambiguity can be really scary. It’s easier to turn a blind eye to your issues and dig your heels in. But you’re better off for really reflecting on and struggling with the questions when it comes to whether or not this relationship is right for you. So don’t make it your goal to seek out validating opinions. Too often singles want me to tell them what they want to hear. But how does that help them move forward and grow and create what they really want to create in their lives?

2) Long-distance relationship dilemmas

Long-distance relationships are difficult. Been there, done that. In fact, for many years, it seems I was only attracted to men who lived far away (definitely a deeper-seated issue for me). But eventually I started dating someone in Boston who, several months later, had to move to NYC for a job. For more than a year or so, we tried to make it work. It just flat out isn’t the same as a relationship in which two people are in the same location and can see each other without bus or train or plane tickets getting in the way. And when you start a relationship off as a long distance one, well, that makes things even more difficult. Who is this person after a long, hard day at work? What’s it like being with him when you’re not swept up in the romance of passionate and fun weekends together? What is lost when your major form of communication is via technology instead of face-to-face, arms wrapped around each other, eyes not separated by a computer screen? Add the fact that this man is in the middle of a custody battle and you’re just adding fuel to the fire. I’m not saying long-distance can’t work (you may very well be able to make yours a success!). I have seen couples successfully navigate this type of relationship. But think about how long you are willing to do the long-distance dance. Another 6 months? 1 year? What are your priorities when it comes to your love life? Would you like to settle down in the next 1-2 years? It is unlikely that he would move for you (given his kids’ location), so the burden of changing your entire life around to be with a man who you’ve only known for 8 months is on you. Are you willing to take the leap for a man who you’ve only been with on weekends? If so, have you mapped out a plan with him for making this happen?

3) Settling for less than you deserve in a relationship

I’m guessing that what you yearn for is to be in a committed, healthy, happy relationship with a man you can be there for and who can be there for you, Most-men-are-honestyes? So when it comes to this relationship, how are you settling for less than that? Single women like to say: “I’ll never settle!” To which I always say, “What does settling to you actually mean? Will you not settle for someone who is under 6 feet tall, someone who makes less than 75K a year, someone who is balding, someone who has annoying quirks and flaws? Or will you not settle for someone who can’t give you what you need, say, emotionally?”

In your case, I would ask you to ask yourself: “Am I settling? Am I settling for a man who isn’t able to give me the emotional support I need in my life because he’s dealing with difficult situations of his own? Am I settling for not having someone’s physical presence next to me when I most need it? Am I settling for a man who is holding me back?” Regarding that last question: It seems he is telling you point blank that he is. Most men are honest people. They may tell us things when we’re dating that we don’t want to hear and we like to shove what we hear under the carpet, because of the connection and chemistry and love we feel for this person. So ask him the hard questions you are asking me and see how he responds. Keep in mind: He may tell you what you don’t want to hear.

4) Timing is everything.

I get that you have a connection and bring out great qualities in each other, and I take you at your word that this guy is great, but even so, that doesn’t always mean it’s meant to be. In the end, he may want to give you more, he may even be falling in love with you. But the timing in his life is just plain bad. I’ve seen and experienced many relationships that had great promise falter in the end because the timing for one or both people involved was off. And it’s a really tough pill to swallow. Because if it’s so supposedly great, how could Just-because-you-feelthat possibly mean it’s not meant to be?! But imagine meeting a man near you who is wholeheartedly looking for a committed relationship (and not a “somewhat” or an “it’s complicated” arrangement), who is not in the midst of dealing with difficult situations such as divorce and custody battles, who is able to give you what you need in a relationship, and who believes that he’s not holding you back but enriching your life.

Well, wouldn’t that be nice?

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