Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“The Stress of My Post-Grad Life is Ruining My Relationship”

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Around six months ago I graduated from college. Since then most of my friends have moved away, and I have yet to find a secure job. It’s been tough and it has affected my relationship with my boyfriend. We started dating almost a year ago, and then, around a month ago, I broke down a bit from the stress of post-grad life and growing insecurities and we broke up.

We recently got back together because he said he had made a mistake and that I was “the one.” Things resumed rockily at first but are going very well now. That is, until yesterday when I asked him if he still thought we might move in together in a few months when his lease is up. He was the one who had originally asked and I was the one who wasn’t ready. Now he says that he hopes we have a future together, but that he can’t give me an answer and it’s too soon to make any plans for our future (even just two months in advance). He told me he thought that we had gone through a lot only a month ago and he is focusing on the now. He says he’s still unsure of me, and that really hurts my feelings.

He says I have so many qualities that are exactly what he wants, but at the same time he also seems to have issues with how shy I am around new people, and he wishes I were more outgoing. I fear I may never be enough for him. And I’m confused about how someone can go from begging to get back together with you to being cautious and reserved about planning anything for a future with you.

I can see myself marrying this man, and he used to see that with me, but I really don’t feel like he does anymore based on his not being able to discuss any plans. Should I break up with him, or remain in the “now” too? — No Longer His Dream Girl

Oh man, your letter brings me back to the post-grad identity crisis I experienced many moons ago when I finished college, my friends all moved away, I couldn’t secure a good job, and my relationship suffered (partly) as a result of my ever-growing insecurity and general mental and emotional instability. It was not a good time. In fact, I consider that whole first year following my college graduation as probably the darkest of my life (which, I realize, is saying something about the relatively trauma-free existence I’ve led so far). But I also consider that formative period of my life one of tremendous personal growth, and the lessons I learned during it continue to inform the kinds of decisions I make and the advice I give.

One of the mistakes I made during that period was clinging to anything in my life that I believed would return the sense of stability and security that had so quickly been yanked out from under me. If I couldn’t have my friends or the college life I had loved so much or even a job that meant anything to me (or a job, period), then, dammit, I was going to make my relationship the center of my world (and, essentially, my identity). If everything else about my future remained totally murky, I would at least get some solid relationship plans set so that I had something to anchor me, to hang my hat on. I may not have known where my life was headed, but I could know who it was headed forward with, and that was something!

As in your relationship, my boyfriend was the first to make grand plans about our future and I initially wasn’t ready to move so quickly. While he was talking marriage and babies, I felt anxious about committing to all that. Until, suddenly, “all that” became the only potential image of a future I was able to actually picture. And just like that, I became super neurotic over any sign that my boyfriend might be changing his mind about me, about us — that maybe he wasn’t as committed as he had initially seemed to be. I picked fights with him all the time. I cried constantly. I was so nervous about losing the one thing in my life I thought I could count on that, of course, that’s exactly what happened.

I won’t pretend that my general state-of-mind and crazy-town behavior were the only reasons for our demise; we weren’t right for each other for a variety of reasons (and, of course, in retrospect, I’m very grateful I didn’t end up with this guy). But I certainly pushed my boyfriend away with my clinginess and neediness and confusion and misplaced anger and frustration and sadness. His feelings for me changed, but I had changed. Was changing. I was shedding my adolescent/young adult self and forming what would become my mature adult self, and there were a lot of growing pains involved in that metamorphosis.

That’s where you are now. And my advice to you is more in the vein of life advice than relationship advice. Because your relationship is just a metaphor for the internal struggle you’re dealing with. It’s an extension of your identity crisis. You can’t separate the two because nothing can be separated from what’s going on in your head right now. I know because I’ve been there. And I can say that you will get through this. You will get to the other side. But the other side may look completely different from what you’re imagining right now. And no amount of clinging to what feels familiar is going to protect you from the discomfort of shedding your skin.

So, stop clinging. Stop trying to control the outcome of your relationship. Do as your boyfriend suggests and live in the “now.” Take things one day at a time. Look for footholds outside your relationship to grab, and stabilize yourself. Reach out to those friends who have moved away. Can you visit them? Can they visit you? Take up a new hobby (or re-focus on an old favorite), especially one that gets you moving and releases stress. For me, that was kickboxing. I went to class four or five times a week and just worked that shit out. It was super empowering. I got in amazing shape in the process, too. And as my body got stronger and stronger, so did my spirit. Years later, during another challenging period in my life, I started volunteering at my local no-kill cat shelter, which proved to be a very healing environment and experience for me. (It’s also where I found Miles!). I recommend you seek out opportunities and activities that have the potential to bring you similar joy and satisfaction and that can provide a much-needed break from the anxieties currently driving you.

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Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

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

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Sunshine Brite May 28, 2015, 8:08 am

    WWS & consider me a +1 for post-grad identity crisis as well. I felt so worthless.

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  • Raccoon eyes

    Raccoon eyes May 28, 2015, 8:18 am

    Wendy’s advice is sooooo spot-on. Looking back, I can see now that at a few times in my life when things were going downhill, I then clung to whatever relationship I was then involved in. Ick, that makes me kinda sad. That being said though, the whole older-and-wiser thing is nice now. I know that doesnt realy help you, LW, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
    *
    Also, Im not great at math/time, but it seems like within the last 2ish weeks you got back together with your bf, things were rocky at first (a week?) and now they are going very well you say, and also in this time period he told you that you were “the one” (ugh) and then is now backing off of it. And you all were together about a year, through your college graduation, after which you had a breakdown of sorts, he split and now you want to talk about moving in together ? Honey, you need to put on the BRAKES here. Table this marriage/the one/moving in talk for awhile…like at LEAST 6 months, if not more than that. Get your sh*t together, then get your (plural) sh*t together. Good luck

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy May 28, 2015, 8:30 am

      Yeah, I didn’t go there in my answer since it was already long, but if you broke up with someone a month ago, “recently,” got back together, experienced some “rockiness” at first and now things are going well (so, that’s, what, a few days of things going well?), it’s way, way, WAY too soon to discuss moving in together. When reuniting after a break-up, give it at least a few months to stabilize before you start discussing future plans.

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      • Raccoon eyes

        Raccoon eyes May 28, 2015, 8:36 am

        *Great Minds Think Alike* 😉

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph May 28, 2015, 8:37 am

    I did have a job right after college but I went through exactly the same thing. Within a month of graduating, I moved 1000 miles away to start working in a city where I knew nothing and nobody. I was so lonely, and my boyfriend was the only thing in my life that seemed “normal” and I did exactly the same shit that Wendy and the LW describe. We were long distance, too, which made it even more clingy and isolating.

    Point being, it’s easy for those who didn’t find a job right away to feel like “if only I find a job, everything would be ok” but that might not help either. Just like the boyfriend isn’t the answer and the end-all, neither is a job, or any other thing that you think will make things seem normal. It’s just a tumultuous time when you graduate college and your whole life changes. Like Wendy says, you are going from adolescence to adulthood and that’s gonna be painful no matter how things are working out.

    I think my advice to my younger self and the LW would be to relax. You think you are old and need to get your life together… but looking back from 28, you are young and you have time to figure it out. I don’t want to minimize any financial concerns, but it is ok to be unstable and unsure of the future at this age. You’re doing it right. (…or if not right, you’re doing it as wrong as everyone else, so take comfort in not being alone!)

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  • kmtthat

    kmentothat May 28, 2015, 8:54 am

    It sounds like you two need at least a year of smooth sailing before you contemplate moving in together. You are young, there is NO rush, and I agree with Wendy that you may be focusing on this as the one thing you think you can control. I actually think your bf is being smart and not trying to overwhelm you at an already difficult time in your life. Moving in together is wonderful but can be VERY stressful and challenging. You do not need that added stress on your (not very long term) relationship. Also, if I were him, I would VERY REASONABLY want you to be financially stable before moving in with you. You should not think it’s ok for him to support you financially at this point in your relationship especially when he is already likely providing heavy emotional support as well. It could create a really difficult dynamic.

    Move forward, take up hobbies, cultivate your networks (blindly applying to online positions should not be your only “strategy”), get (another?) internship to build more experience, volunteer so you your can get out of your own head and also have something to put on your resume for this non employed time (this is key).

    Move in when you are both emotionally and financially stable and when you have more easy adult time together under your belt. Wait until you are at a minimum 25 or 26 please. If you haven’t lived alone, do that first. It’s so important to be fully independent before you throw yourself head first into a partnership.

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  • othy

    othy May 28, 2015, 10:33 am

    As someone who moved immediately from college in with my now-husband, I am always a bit sad that I never lived on my own. (Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband, but I wish I had had the opportunity to have a place that was just mine). Don’t rush moving in with him. Focus on what you want to do with your life long term. What steps can you take now to find a job you enjoy and pays you enough? Can you find some hobbies to make new friends? Work towards becoming a full functioning adult (it’s hard and it sucks, but it will come) before you’re worried about taking the next step with your husband.

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    • avatar

      mertlej May 28, 2015, 1:08 pm

      Same here. Especially when i REALLYREALLYREALLY want to decorate with a specific bedspread or couch or something and he doesn’t like it. UGH. Compromise is the worst.

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  • JenjaRose

    JenjaRose May 28, 2015, 10:33 am

    Oh man, I feel this so hard, though I’m not a college grad and my relationship isn’t new.

    I’ve been with my boyfriend for 8 years now and, despite the fact that we are committed to each other, we fell into a terribly unhealthy pattern of fighting and we stopped living together in March. The idea was to get out of each other’s faces, deal with our own person problems and get our own lives together, and rebuild the foundation of our relationship.

    Only now, just a few months later, I’m in crisis mode. I’ve realized that he is the only consistent thing in my life and lately I have been desperately trying to force things to move faster than I should be. I already want to move back in together and, for the first time in 8 years, I’ve been hoping that marriage is in our future. I’ve made a lot of progress in my personal life and we’ve made huge leaps and bounds forward in relating to each other (therapy for the win!) but I know now that it’s too soon and we still have things to rebuild. He’s still hurt over being “kicked out” of our apartment, and there’s trust and feelings of partnership that I need to be more patient and understanding in letting him regrow. But I’m realizing for the first time how empty my life is when I’m not with him or working on our relationship, and that’s scary and unhealthy. No wonder we’ve been fighting so much all this time! My expectations were unreasonable.

    So now I realize that I need something else in my life. He has photography, drawing, computers, and biking as his outlets, and I have nothing. So I’m in the pursuit of hobbies and interests to help fill up this hole inside me that I’ve been trying to force my boyfriend to fill all by himself for so many years. I’m learning patience and it’s already been the best thing for both of us. I’ve never been able to maintain interest in anything for longer than a few weeks or months (damn ADHD) which is part of why I think my relationship has been so all-encompassing to me; it was the only consistent thing in my life and my identity. I’ve been in and out of college for years, changing my major over and over again, because I can’t hold onto anything. I change jobs every few months. I’ve never had a really long-term hobby because I drop the idea almost as fast as I pick it up. I need to overcome this and find something else to love.

    Still trying to find a hobby and just force myself to see it through until it sticks. :-/ ADHD is really screwing me up. I’m thinking dancing…?

    (Ha ha, sorry I dumped all my random life drama on this letter writer’s response. I guess I needed to put this all into words more than I realized. Thanks to whoever read this in tolerating my venting.)

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    • juliecatharine

      juliecatharine May 28, 2015, 4:08 pm

      Jenja, you sound like you’re taking positive steps (yay therapy & self examination!). Keep working on it and you’ll find your way. You mentioned ADHD a few times, have you looked online for support and coping strategies? It could be that a more physical job would help you focus? Just a thought 🙂

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      • JenjaRose

        Jenjarose May 29, 2015, 7:41 am

        Thanks for the encouraging words. 🙂 The most beneficial thing I’ve found as of yet as far as the ADHD goes is mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (which includes a lot of meditation.) I tried Adderall for like a week but I just felt too uncomfortable about dealing with a controlled substance, so I’ve been taking a low dose of Wellbutrin (technically an antidepressant, but affects the same chemicals as the stimulants ADHD patients normally take) which helps a little bit.
        I was so frustrated when I first accepted the diagnosis. I’ve been dealing with these problems my whole life and it has really screwed things up (I didn’t even make it through my freshman year of high school before I dropped out.) I saw many psychologists and was misdiagnosed a bunch of times, which messed things up even more. Now, at 26, I’m finally finding out what’s been wrong all these years. I cannot believe how much misinformation I believed about ADHD! I was really angry with all my past psychologists for a while, then I was really depressed about knowing I’d be dealing with this forever, and now I’m motivated by the information and have been making progress. 🙂

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      • avatar

        simonthegrey May 31, 2015, 4:36 pm

        As an adult with ADD, I understand the struggle. I’m about 10 years older than you. I took Adderall for about a year (at one job I had, where I dealt with managing money and cash flow, I couldn’t chance it) but went off because it killed my creativity and made me not me. I find that having outlets – writing, making jewelry, etc. – help me cope with my everyday life. My brain is always doing 2-3 things, so I try to give it background to chew on. Use the front of head space for things like work, the back of head space for adding to a grocery list, and new designs for beading somewhere in the aether above my headspace. It’s hard to describe to someone who doesn’t have a million things happening at once. Don’t let yourself be depressed. It’s a struggle, but it’s also a gift. It doesn’t feel like a gift all the time, I admit (I have to struggle not to interrupt constantly and I talk much too fast) but it has definite benefits and if you play to your strengths you will find you are an amazing person capable of so much more than you dream.

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  • Portia

    Portia May 28, 2015, 10:38 am

    I went through a very similar crisis and I’m pretty sure my sister did too. In my case, I think this was a big reason why me and Bassanio broke up for a few months – I was leaning on him a ton and I don’t think he was equipped to handle that, plus he had a lot going on himself and distance… Perfect storm, really. I also made a bunch of not great decisions in the wake of that trying to hold on to something stable. It wasn’t a great time, but therapy helped a lot. I should have been happy – I had a full ride to my ideal graduate program and did amazingly well that first year – but I wasn’t, and dealing with that was painful but I ended up a better person because of it.
    .
    Hobbies, getting involved in the community, making new friends, therapy, and having a couple of friends visit all really helped. Like others have said, I’m glad me and Bassanio didn’t move in together for a while after that. Get yourself in good working order first, then take on that and other relationship steps. Bassanio actually brought up getting married right after getting back together and I’m glad we didn’t take that step then. We were too young and still had a lot of growing to do. Maybe take a trip, we took a great one after that and it was a good thing to do (traveling is also something we do well together, so maybe insert something else of travel isn’t really your thing).

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  • avatar

    snoopy128 May 28, 2015, 10:47 am

    My bf went through this last year and I”m about to go through it come the end of summer.

    LIke the others said, find other things to build yourself up. Don’t lean on this relationship. It is not the ship that will save you. It can be a great support. But it should not be your only one,.

    Going from broken up (or a break) to back together takes time. Unless you got together specifically with a timeline of moving forward to marriage/living together etc, then it’s pretty normal to take TIME to make sure things are going well again. Obviously you broke up for a reason, and it takes time to fix that reason and find your new normal. Not moving in super quickly doesn’t mean that he doesn’t see a future with you. But if he expressed he wants to see a future with your pre-break, you need to take time to adjust and then see if you are heading on the right path together

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  • avatar

    Ari May 28, 2015, 11:47 am

    I did yoga teacher training and roller derby when I moved back home after college. Not only was the activity helpful for my anxiety but the social outlets were invaluable. Just try a bunch of new things and you’ll find something you love and people with a common interest to be around!

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark May 28, 2015, 5:23 pm

    Um, if you have NO job and NO source of income — you aren’t moving in together. You are moving IN with HIM. Hence the hesitation on his part.

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  • Mr. Cellophane

    Mr. Cellophane May 28, 2015, 8:07 pm

    I went through this same thing 25+ years ago. We got married, because that was the only option in those days. Probably would not make the same decisions now as I did then, but hindsight and all that. Somehow, we have kept it together through good times, bad times and REALLY BAD times; deciding over and over again(sometimes on and hour by hour basis) to stay together and remake our relationship, again, then once again, then still once more. We can now admit (yay couples and individual therapy!) that getting married when we did was a mistake. Staying married has not been a mistake. It hasn’t been kitty cats and rainbows, but it has been a growing process. We often say that we have grown up and become our selves, together.
    .
    I don’t recommend doing it this way. Slow your roll, back it down a couple thousand RPM, and CTFO. This isn’t a race. There is no medal for being first. Likewise, there is no expiration date stamped on your relationship. Go become who you are meant to be. It is much easier to do this by yourself without all the encumberances of a commitment, legal or otherwise. If you two can hang together through this process, THEN see where you are.
    .
    Just another old person saying “Do as I say, not as I did.”

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  • Lyra

    Lyra May 31, 2015, 10:03 am

    I think you need to stop waiting for him to magically be ready to be with you and live your life…apart from him. It sounds like the original break up probably was for the best.

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