Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“He Says the Timing is All Wrong”

lockheart

A year ago I started dating my co-worker. Everything was great for a while, but as time went on, of course, I grew to want a commitment. He is pursuing medical school, and, since he has decided to apply broadly, each time the topic of a relationship is brought up he says he can’t see down that path right now, that timing is wrong, and that he needs to gather what he’s trying to achieve as far as getting into med school. So as silly as it sounds, I always ask if that means he can never see a future with me. He has always answered that he can’t really answer that because he knows he’d be setting us up for failure if we were to commit right now. He’s 32, and I feel as though at that age men know what they want. I’m 26 and I’m pretty sure I want him to be in my future. He says he cares about me and he’s attached, but I can’t figure out if he really is straying away from commitment because of school obligations or if it will never happen. Your input? — Ready for a Commitment from Med School Guy

If, after a whole year together, a man in his 30s isn’t considering you and consulting you in his future plans, like where he’s applying to school and how you might navigate a potential long distance relationship, and he’s telling you that he’s attached but “the timing is wrong,” what he means is, if the situation were different and you were still you and he were still he and you met at a different place or time in your respective lives, he’d probably be all in, but right now he isn’t. He’s saying that where you both are now relative to where he wants to be five years from now doesn’t give him the luxury to put you and your relationship first, and his feelings for you, however strong they might be, are overshadowed by an ambition for something else — an ambition he has to put before you.

Medical school is all-encompassing. It doesn’t leave a lot of time or room for personal relationships. Your boyfriend probably knows this, or at least has a strong suspicion that this is the case, and it seems to me that he’s being as kind as he can by not committing to you when he knows — or strongly suspects — that over the course of the next many years he will not be able to be as present with you, both physically and mentally, as you might want or need.

You are not silly to ask whether your boyfriend sees you in his future. You want what you want, and you’d like the assurance that he wants the same thing. And he’s telling you that, right now, he can’t give you that assurance because what he wants most is something else — something that neither includes nor necessarily excludes you (but, frankly, won’t leave a lot of time for you). But you should understand that, if your boyfriend gets into medical school, it could potentially be years before he’s able to fully invest in your relationship. Only you can decide if his lack of commitment at this stage in your life and in your relationship is something you can deal with for the foreseeable future.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

26 comments… add one
  • avatar

    kerrycontrary July 8, 2014, 10:16 am

    I agree with Wendy’s advice, except for the fact that med school is all-encompassing and it doesn’t leave much room for relationships. Plenty of people I know personally have dated, got engaged, and/or gotten married during med school. If you want to make it work, you will. But clearly this guy doesn’t and that’s all that matters.

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    • Raccoon eyes

      Raccoon eyes July 8, 2014, 10:27 am

      WWS.
      LW, he’s telling you he is just not that into you. Whatever reasons he is telling you to not commit or fully commit or whatever are enough. You cant reason him into a more committed relationship. or, if you did, he would resent that… until you broke up.
      I know when you feel it is right the other person MUST FEEL IT TOO, or you MUST CONVINCE THEM, and if only they heard you well-reasoned explanation, then BLISSFUL LIFE FOREVER. But that just isnt the case.
      Move on and find a guy who is feel the same way about you. It hurts to let go and move on, but you will look back and realize that it was definitely best to put YOU first.

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    • avatar

      emily85 July 8, 2014, 11:11 am

      I totally agree with you! I dated a guy in med school for 3 years. Things didn’t work out with him, but it wasn’t because of med school or residency. We made time when time could be made and basically just tried to make the best of it. Those 3 years I was in law school too, so it wasn’t like I had all the free time in the world either.

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  • avatar

    peachy July 8, 2014, 10:28 am

    Hmm, I’m not as sweet as Wendy is – I don’t see an “all-in-if-things-were-different” here, I see that he likes you fine for now and has concrete plans for the future that don’t include you – sorry, LW!
    If I had a dollar for every man or woman who helped put their significant other through med school I’d have a lot of dollars, so medical school is not a barrier to intimacy and commitment for people who want to be intimate and commit. He’s giving you the message that he’s not up for what you want and if he’s stringing you along, that makes him a darned cold fish. I think you can definitely do better! Best wishes.

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    • Raccoon eyes

      Raccoon eyes July 8, 2014, 10:43 am

      I was thinking the same basic thing, Peachy. You said it much better. 😉

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    • avatar

      snoopy128 July 8, 2014, 12:22 pm

      I think what he is saying is he is putting his ambition and goals before this relationship, no matter what the cost. It’s not necessarily that he doesn’t like her enough, it’s just that he’s decided that med school comes before all else.

      That being said, you and he are at totally different points in your lives. You want to make relationships a priority, and he doesn’t. He’s willing to drop them in a second to get the other things he wants. This isn’t the person you want to keep on going on a relationship you see as serious. Sure, you might be able to keep your relationship going if he gets in, but there will be a huge power imbalance because you will come second to him, but he will come first to you.

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  • Portia

    Portia July 8, 2014, 10:32 am

    I also want to chime in that if he’s going to medical school, he’s planning to be a doctor. Most medical fields do not leave a ton of time for relationships and require a partner who is willing to be extremely flexible and understanding of when they have to leave at a moment’s notice. My dad’s a doctor and I saw that life was tough on my parents when I was growing up. My dad was not present for much of my day-to-day childhood – he did what he could, but I knew if he was on call he would have to leave my tennis match or recital or whatever on a moment’s notice. He had one of the more stable medical careers, but my friends nicknamed him “the invisible dad.” And even then I know now he was working extremely hard to be present as much as he was. Just something to consider…

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    • Portia

      Portia July 8, 2014, 10:36 am

      Which is to say in this situation, he sees the writing on the wall and what he’s saying is what everyone else is echoing, that you have to be really committed to agree to this, on both sides of the equation, and he doesn’t see that yet in your relationship. If it’s not to that level before med school, I agree with him that it’s probably best not to string you along.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 July 8, 2014, 10:36 am

    I’m with the others, I just see him not wanting to be with you in the long term, he is happy with what he has now, and that’s that. I also know plenty of people in long term relationships that were in medical school, and if he really wanted to he could make time… Though maybe the fact that he is looking to apply for schools that would put you in a long distance relationship might be also be part of the reason why he doesn’t think he could make time.

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope July 8, 2014, 10:40 am

    My friend’s 23 year old son is in the process of choosing a med school that’s right for him and his girlfriend (who will also be going to med school). Or at least the schools need to be in the same vicinity. He’s also in the process of buying her a ring. So it’s quite possible to go to med school and have a committed relationship. Unfortunately, your boyfriend doesn’t see a future with you.

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    • avatar

      Morgan July 8, 2014, 3:21 pm

      So they’ll both be applying this cycle? Best of luck to them trying to end up in the same geographic vicinity!

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. July 8, 2014, 10:43 am

    I think this guy has a plan for his life and right now it doesn’t include you. I’m sorry, but I think the best thing is to let him go.

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  • avatar

    lets_be_honest July 8, 2014, 10:44 am

    My brother is finishing up his residency this year. Its his 8th year of medical school. Then he’ll have 2 more years of a fellowship. So 10 years of just medical school. He’s had to relocate cross country 3 times and will again next year for the fellowship.
    My sister is in her 3rd year of medical school. She relocated once for that, and will have to again for residency next year, and then again if she does a fellowship. She just spent 7 weeks basically in hiding (phone off, facebook off, no visitors, responds to emergency e-mails a week later) studying for boards.
    I’m a busy person. I’ve worked full time while going to school full time and raising a child alone. I have not once felt as busy as I’ve seen them. I think its time to accept what your boyfriend is telling you. The timing is wrong.

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  • avatar

    AndreaMarie July 8, 2014, 11:14 am

    LW, our boyfriend is basically telling you that, though he has feelings for you and your relationship, that commitment/marriage/kids/etc are not in his near future plans. He’s not ready to think about or plan for the future because right now his future is finishing medical school.

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  • avatar

    SasLinna July 8, 2014, 11:32 am

    The key here is that his reasons don’t matter: Whether it’s a timing issue or he’s just not that into you, in the end what matters is that he can’t make a commitment to you. You need to take that at face value and move on. This will give you the opportunity to meet someone new who can give you what you want.

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  • avatar

    zanderbobm84 July 8, 2014, 11:42 am

    He’s 32 and thinking about applying to med-school. Its not that he’s just not that into you, it sounds like the man doesn’t know what he’s into. He’s at an age where most of his peers are probably married and starting to have kids and/or raise them. You don’t mention whether you’re in a medical-field. And no offense to the LW, but you say you’re “co-workers” yet you have a 6 year age gap, and I assume he isn’t any type of a superior to you since you’ve been openly dating. The guy is probably realizing he’s 32 and not on a career path. And for a lot of men, when they think of marriage they think of their ability to provide. He can’t provide for a wife and kids while in medical school (at least probably to the level he would think sufficient.) He’s probably having a quarter-life crisis, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’d say move on, and if he realizes you are something he has to have in his life he’ll let you know.

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    • mandalee

      mandalee July 8, 2014, 12:36 pm

      I have to say I completely disagree that just because he’s not a young 20-something applying to med school means that he’s having some kind of quarter life crisis. Before deciding on NP school, I strongly considered med school and at 27, I was about in the middle of the pack age wise at most of the med school information sessions. Not everyone jumps into their life-long careers right out of undergrad and med school is a huge financial undertaking, where sometimes people like to work first to save up some money and gain some work experience before jumping into a career that is so demanding.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 8, 2014, 12:40 pm

        Also, if its a quarter life crisis at 32, the good news is he’s living to 128 (right?)! Maybe he has some anti-aging secret and that’s why he’s headed to med school?

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      • mandalee

        mandalee July 8, 2014, 12:45 pm

        lol, right? No wonder why he’s in rush to settle down, he’s got so much life ahead of him!

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      • avatar

        snoopy128 July 8, 2014, 1:10 pm

        I agree with Mandalee, there’s nothing odd about a 32 yr old guy applying to med school. The average entry age where I am is 27-28… If at 28 he realizes he wants to go to med school, it probably took him like 2-3 years of updating courses/marks, taking the MCAT, etc etc in order to get ready to apply and save the money to afford to continue living during med school.

        zanderobm84, you make a loooot of assumptions in your response (this must be a quarter-life crisis or why else would people change jobs/update education etc, he’s feeling he must be a provider before settling down, he wasn’t already on a career path).

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  • muchachaenlaventana

    muchachaenlaventana July 8, 2014, 12:36 pm

    What stands out to me is his isn’t even in medical school yet, hasn’t even applied and is basically already using that as an excuse for why he can’t make a commitment to you. To me this sort of just implies he doesn’t want to make a commitment to you, if he did you wouldn’t have been together a year and aren’t even boyfriend/girlfriend yet (right?) idk just inferring that from the way you phrase things in your letter. I wouldn’t really give him more of your time if he is plainly telling you he sees this as an in-the-moment convenience thing. It *could* change eventually, but why would you wait around for that? More often than not in these situations the partner wanting the commitment waits around for years only to be surreptitiously left when the other person realizes its time for them to settle down and find someone they legitimately want to commit to. Timing is really really important, and although I don’t think that is what is going on here-if it truly is, than just take him at his word and find someone with the time for you, who wants to commit to you. Just don’t waste your time waiting around on something that someone is telling you will likely never happen.

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  • mandalee

    mandalee July 8, 2014, 12:42 pm

    LW, I really don’t think your boyfriend’s age has anything to do about knowing what he wants. Right now, his focus in life is getting into medical school. Admission is so competitive that he may apply to a lot of schools and only get into one, which might across the country from where you live now, in a metro area that may have no job prospects for you, not be somewhere you want to live, and the list goes on. It’s hard enough to plan a life change like that for one person, it’s another to consider how it would work for someone else.
    .
    Some people can and do juggle relationships with commitments like med school, but they have to want to do it and both partners need to be all in. I understand your need to feel like your relationship is going somewhere, but if he feels like he can’t give you an answer right now, that’s an answer within itself. He doesn’t know if you’ll be in his future at the moment and you have to accept if you are okay with the ambiguity for now or not.

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  • avatar

    Morgan July 8, 2014, 3:13 pm

    The thing about med school admissions is it is a long, expensive, stressful process, in which the applicant has very little control. My bf just finished going through it (although you could say he’s still in it, as he is on the wait list at his top choice, although at this point he is very unlikely to get off it). Some of his coworkers just went through it, weren’t successful, and now are facing the prospect of doing it over again.

    My bf and I were both applying to schools at the same time, him to med school and me to both law schools and jobs. We crafted our lists very carefully to maximize the chances of ending up in the same geographic region. He applied to 20 schools, and got into one (as well as on a handful of wait lists) so we’ll be about a 20 hour drive or couple hour flight away next year. And it’s going to be hard. But we are already 5 years in and committed to making this work. Without having already been that committed, I can’t imagine adding the amount of pressure trying to take the relationship into account while applying.

    Your bf said he can’t see what the future looks like right now, and I get that. He’s probably imagining 15 or 20 different futures, one for each school he’s applied to. I get that. Once he starts getting interviews and not getting interviews, he’ll probably have a better idea what that future looks like and if he can see you in it. But that’s only the future for the first couple of years. Then there’s rotations, residency, fellowships, all of which add more uncertainly and over which he only has so much control.

    He likes you, he cares about you, but he has no idea what the next ten years of his life will look like. He’s being honest when he tells you he doesn’t know. It’s up to you to decide if that’s okay, if you want to keep the relationship going, wait til he has a better idea, and keep figuring it out as things go. Or, recognize you need more now, and move on.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster July 8, 2014, 7:32 pm

    I wanted to chime in earlier but was too busy. So my boyfriend is just finishing med school and his being in med school has never been a problem for us. If anything he is much more committed than I am. Have there been times when his med school related stress levels have negatively affected our relationship? Yes. We’re experiencing some of those effects right now. However, none of that has anything to do with his commitment to our relationship.

    Whatever reason this guy is giving you is irrelevant. He’s telling you he doesn’t want a commitment. End of story. Time to MOA.

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  • avatar

    spark July 8, 2014, 9:58 pm

    I disagree with Wendy a bit. What he’s saying is that if he were him and you were you in a different time and place, he still would NOT BE INTO YOU. If he wanted to, he would make it work. He really would. The med school thing is a cop-out: no one has more free time than students, regardless of the type of school. Work, school, whatever the “problem” is–it’s only a barrier if that person wants it to be a barrier. I’ve known plenty of people who went to med school and/or law school (myself included) who had plenty of time for sex and relationships and personal lives. Nothing is so all-consuming that you can’t make time for love if you want to. It’s just a made of priority. If something is that important to you, you will ALWAYS find a way to fit it into your life.

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  • avatar

    Ali July 9, 2014, 11:12 am

    I think one other thing that needs to be considered is the fact that there is no guarantee that you will be “paid back” for years of loyal hanging around as the not-quite-girlfriend of someone who may or may not see a future with you. Let’s assume for a moment that this guy is being completely honest and that he really and truly cares about you a whole lot and would be willing to make it official if it weren’t for the fact that his life’s ambition is going to suck up all of his resources for the next decade: who says he is going to feel that way in a few months or a year or two? Even without medical school, the balance of affection and investment in this relationship seems off. With this possibility looming, it sounds like you are saying you are in love with this guy and are willing to traverse the obstacles of a life with a doctor-to-be, but he is not willing to do the same–even though he’ll be the one reaping the benefits of having someone who supposedly understands what she’s signing up for and whom he “cares about” and standing by him as he works toward his dream. If that was what he really wanted, he’d be having his cake and eating it too. But he doesn’t want that, and he’s basically telling you that in a nice way. A year into the relationship is quite a while to have gone on without already having a commitment to each other, expressing concrete feelings, or breaking up due to bad timing or different life situations, and to me, that signals issues already since it sounds as if you have been gunning for a commitment from the beginning. I married a doctor, and we’ve been together since I was in undergrad living together the whole time. We barely spoke during the months he studied for boards, and had barely enough to live on. I considered leaving many times because I didn’t know if I could handle the lack of time (not to mention money) he had to give. We had made a solid commitment and moved in together the moment his plans solidified, and that still didn’t prevent it from being one of the most difficult times of either of our lives. If this guy is not all in, you’re in for a terrible time.

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