The next few months were difficult, but we remained as strong and close as we were when we lived in the same state. Plans were made for where we would live, which set of pots and pans we would buy, what color we would paint our bedroom. We had monthly visits, we texted all day long, and we typically had a phone conversation every evening to talk about our days. He talked about how much he loved me, how much he wanted to be with me once I graduated, and fantasies about our future together.
Then I had the rug ripped out from under me. I had booked us a four-star hotel here in my home state for our monthly visit, made dinner reservations, and psyched up my whole family to FINALLY meet the guy that I had been talking about non-stop (I think some of them doubted his existence), when two days before he was supposed to get here, he calls and says that he’s facing a deployment. He also said that he would not be coming to visit me, he doesn’t want me to move to be with him, he thinks he’s getting cold feet and has commitment issues, and he “hates talking on the phone.” He has never seemed commitment-phobic in the past, so this was all very shocking to hear, especially when I thought things were going so well.
We spent the next few days exchanging teary conversations that ran in circles. Finally, I told him that I understand he is dealing with a lot, and I want him to be able to figure it out at his own pace. I agreed that moving to a new state and trying to start a new life is not a good option if I wouldn’t have him at my side. I asked him to please not throw away what we have simply because he is scared. He asked for time to think, and I am giving it to him. However, I am now getting antsy, and my feelings are hurt that it’s taken him over a week to respond in any way. I want to honor his request for space and stay true to what I told him, that he can take this at his pace, but at what point is enough, enough? This “not really together, not really broken up” state is really confusing and painful. Am I getting strung along by a commitment-phobic guy, or is this stress from the deployment? — Stuck in Limbo
When you say you don’t want your boyfriend to throw away what you have because he’s scared, I believe you think he’s just scared of commitment. But the truth is, he has much more than that to be scared of right now. If he’s about to be deployed, he’s probably dealing with the fear of losing his life, being severely injured, witnessing other people being hurt or killed, and, of course, losing you. It’s great that you two have managed a long distance relationship so well, but deployment is a different beast entirely, and it’s understandable that as the reality of that beast looms, he would freak out about how it will impact your relationship. It’s understandable that as he begins to realize how much sacrifice will be necessary on your end — you being someone who probably has little to no experience with military life — to make this relationship work in the long-term, that he might rather get out now, save you from making said sacrifices, and save himself from losing you down the road after he’s invested even more.
We all put our hearts on the line when we let someone love us. Those of us who have been in or are currently in long-distance relationships know that the risk feels even greater at times. We may go weeks or months without seeing our significant other, relying on texts and emails and phone calls to fill the gap. The missing-ness is hard. Sometimes it’s so hard it can feel like there’s isn’t enough air to breathe until we’re reunited with the person we love. And the good-byes? Ugh, forget about it. I still get a sense of dread when I pass couples saying good-bye in airports, remembering how sad it was to always be leaving Drew when we still lived in different cities.
But all of that is a cake walk compared to having a partner deployed. I mean, people do it all the time. Military families are constantly separated. Spouses wait upwards of a year or more to be reunited. Kids go entire school years with a parent deployed somewhere dangerous. People do it all the time, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. And it doesn’t mean every relationship survives. Many of them don’t. And brand new relationships where a couple has only spent two months living in the same place? The odds are stacked against you. You just don’t share a very large foundation to hold the weight a deployment demands of a couple.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it doesn’t mean you couldn’t survive and be happy forever after. But it does help explain why your boyfriend is suddenly pulling away. It does explain his fear. He knows better than you do what deployment does to relationships. He knows better that you what kinds of risks he faces. You can’t blame him for wanting to spare you from facing and sharing those fears, too. You can’t blame him for wanting to spare you more missing him, and for sparing himself the anxiety of losing you later, after he’s already let himself hope you might wait for him.
As for how much time to give him to figure out whether the risk of losing you is one he’s willing to take, only you can decide that. A few days seems like a drop in the bucket if you’re talking about someone you could potentially spend your life with. Days, weeks, even months of limbo seem small if you truly see a future with this person. But I also don’t think you should forgo potential happiness with someone else because the guy you love can’t commit to you while he’s deployed.
If I were you, I’d give him a few more days and then reach out again. Tell him that you love him and want this to work and ask him what he needs from you. You’ve had great communication until now, so just keep the doors open and let him know he can talk to you about his fears and that you aren’t going anywhere. But also don’t put your life on hold for too long for someone you’ve only known a few months. If you decide to continue a relationship while he’s away, whether it’s monogamous or not, do some research into what being a military spouse is all about. You may discover that it’s a lifestyle that isn’t right for you and that the man you think is a perfect match maybe isn’t so great in the long-term after all. Or you may decide that you’ve got what it takes to be committed to a pilot in the Air Force, deployments and frequent moves and long hours and all. I just wouldn’t decide anything for sure — and I definitely wouldn’t move to be with your boyfriend — until you get a taste of what that life is like. This deployment will give you that, whether you’re ready or not.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.