I’m 24, work a steady full-time job in a major city, am applying to the master’s program where I work, have paid off my student loans, and just bought a new car. It seems like I have my life in order and this has gotten me thinking about my future, specifically where my long-time girlfriend fits into it. We met in college and have been dating for over three years now. Our relationship has had its ups and down but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. The thing is, we live 70 miles apart now and issues of long-term compatibility have been coming up, making me wonder if we can make it work.
I love the girl to pieces and we have good times together, but I’m afraid logistically things just don’t fit. She suffers from an acute mental illness, which she takes medication for, that impairs her ability to do things, like hold a job or go to school. When we first started dating, she was upfront about this and I figured “I’m in college with no responsibilities, let’s have fun together and hopefully by the time we graduate she’ll have it together.” That hasn’t happened. If anything, she’s suffered further setbacks due to a recent suicide attempt and now has no time for work or school because of her outpatient therapy.
I feel so bad for her and have stood by her side since the beginning, but I don’t want to marry and have kids with someone who can’t be a co-provider and will require constant supervision/care. Not to mention that I’m not fond of her family (they’re nice people, but their values are very different from mine), nor is mine particularly fond of her. So, should I get out now, for both our sakes, even though it will hurt more than anything for both of us? Or should I keep faith that she’ll get better, establish a career, and we’ll have a wonderful family in the future? — Sad Boyfriend
Do me a favor and re-read your letter and see what you think. You’ve been dating your girlfriend over three years now and her mental health has not improved, right? In fact, one could argue it’s gotten worse. And while that doesn’t mean she can’t be a wonderful and supportive partner to someone, it seems she is not the right partner for you. If you’re at a point where you’re thinking in terms of life partner and you know you don’t want to marry someone who’s going to require constant medical supervision and care, then obviously, a woman who “suffers from an acute mental illness,” — an illness that impairs her ability to hold a job or finish school — isn’t your right match.
As sad as that may feel — and I’m sure if you care for her and love her, it must be heartbreaking realization to come to — it’s not as sad as if you were to stay with her out of pity, or with the hope that she’d eventually “get better.” That’s not fair to you, and that’s not fair to her. She can’t help how she is. I’m sure if she could, she would have waved her magic wand and made herself healthy by now. But she can’t. And as challenging as it must be for her to live inside herself, imagine how much harder it is knowing — or at least suspecting — that who she is isn’t enough for the person she loves and has committed herself to. For someone who already has shaky mental health, that must be quite a blow … on a daily basis, no less.
So, set her — and yourself — free. In feeling the burden of guilt you’re likely going to have by letting her go, take comfort in knowing you’ll be relieving her of some of the guilt she’s likely felt for the last few years. Even better than that, you’ll be giving her the opportunity to find someone who can and will love her for all that she is — not all that he wishes she’d be. Because while you may not be that guy, that doesn’t mean he isn’t out there somewhere. Give her the chance to find him. Give her the chance to be loved completely and unconditionally. And give yourself the chance to find someone who meets all your needs and doesn’t leave you feeling like your love isn’t quite enough to make things right. I bet she’s out there, but you’ve got to give yourself the freedom to look.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.