Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Moved To Be With My Boyfriend But The Pandemic is Ruining Our Relationship”

I met the man of my dreams – “Erik” – on a solo trip to Alaska. I was from Seattle, he from the Netherlands. We fell in love nearly immediately and were inseparable for the two weeks we were both in Alaska. At first I told myself, “This is just a vacation fling, so get yourself in check. No long term plans or feelings.” Upon returning home, I hoped we could remain in contact and be friends but had no real ideas or hope of it progressing further.

Erik pushed for a long-distance relationship and I resisted, reciting all the known challenges. But what really never left me were two feelings: how strongly I felt for him upon meeting and connecting and the excruciating pain from leaving him. I have actually never felt either in the intensity I do with him.

Then Erik visited Seattle a few months later. It was amazing and a little challenging and again the excruciating pain of separating seemed to tell me something. So we started an exclusive long-distance relationship, and my condition was visiting every three months and not leaving without knowing the next visit date. I struggle with abandonment issues from my mother, so this seemed the best, reasonable compromise.

Well, the pandemic hit while I was visiting him, March 2020. I was faced with a choice to stay (giving up immediately everything back home) or possibly have no idea when I would see him again. It was extremely hard, but I chose to go home. The pandemic has lasted much longer than anyone thought, with many trips cancelled and a HUGE amount of things having changed for me. But Erik has been a loving, kind, constant support, and we grew closer despite the long distance.

Life has been a challenge with losing my job, housing, etc., and I’ve been unstable and struggling in ways I have never struggled. I am 32 and have a masters degree in education. After a year of long-distance dating through the pandemic and a multitude of life challenges, our relationship started to crumble. We were fighting almost every day, and I realized it was over as we both knew it. Meaning: If we had been together in person, in the same city, I believed we would have had something, but over the phone, nine hours apart and with no hope of traveling anytime soon, I could not continue the relationship. So I finally made a decision that we needed to close the distance, and after much deliberation I decided I should be the one to move. He was also willing; I had no job or housing to offer him here in the US.

So here is my trouble: I have been here in the Netherlands a little over a month, and I am miserable. I have no job yet, no friends, no hobbies. And the pandemic just sent the NL into another strict lockdown with nothing open but grocery stores and with an 8 pm curfew, etc. Erik recently bought a house and started to remodel it, but the lockdown put a hold on that process, so we are in a literal construction zone with dusty hazards and no kitchen, etc. Basically, we are camping in a concrete structure.

I have a multitude of complaints about this current life and keep reminding myself it’s temporary. It’s a pandemic – we are all affected and don’t have a lot of choice in certain matters. But my relationship with him is suffering. We are still fighting about stupid things, and stakes are constantly high. I can’t help but go into a thought mode of, “Well, looks like I was wrong, this isn’t as great as we thought, and I should go back to the US and salvage my career and thirties before my life and any youth I have left pass me by.” But I also don’t have an easy entry back into Seattle. I have to really want to leave to make it work.

Do I hold on to the strong feelings I once had for him and know it’s circumstances that I’m struggling with? Or take a hint from my unhappiness and end it? Thanks for reading and any advice you might have!
— Sleepless but not in Seattle

I met my now-husband on a solo trip to NYC. We spent the whole weekend together and really connected, and I also told myself it was just a “vacation fling” but I hoped we’d stay friends and stay in touch. Fifteen years later – a lot of which, including our LDR and my move to NYC and our wedding has been documented here – we have been married for 11-1/2 years, own a home together in Brooklyn, and have two school-aged children. We’ve been through a lot of challenging “circumstances” together, not the least of which has been living, and raising kids through, this pandemic. Since March, Drew and I and our two kids – now 9 and 5 years old, respectively – have been together at home nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. My kids have not stepped inside a school building in over ten months. My husband was lucky to transition to freelance work he could do from home on a flexible schedule, so he works late into the night and on weekends so he can help me with the kids during the remote school hours. I squeeze in my own work-for-money plus nonstop domestic work and daily exercise and check-ins with friends and family in whatever pockets of time I can carve for myself. It has not been easy. And, yet, it’s been decidedly less disastrous than it could have been had I married the wrong person. These circumstances are incredibly burdensome on relationships, but as the saying goes, “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger,” and I believe that for many serious relationships that has been the pandemic’s effect. Relationships are going to come out of this either broken/near breaking or stronger than ever.

I say all of this to underscore both how unique this current moment we are living in is and how impactful it is on relationships, but also to highlight that there are ALWAYS challenges, and the person with whom you have chosen to ride out the challenging circumstances that life throws at you makes such a huge difference in your mental outlook. If, after only one month together, you are miserable and your relationship is suffering and you are constantly “fighting about stupid things and stakes are constantly high,” that is certainly worth exploring. This is an undeniably stressful situation for all of us, but it’s also the first time you and Erik have spent a significant amount of real-life time together – time that isn’t suspended in a sort of vacation window, outside the pressures of daily demands and responsibilities. It’s a test of what life together long-term could be like, because while these current circumstances are unique, they will not be the last challenging ones you face together as a couple. To last, a relationship has to weather the storms as well as the sunny days.

Could you chalk things up to bad timing and tell yourself that Erik is the right person, but this is the wrong time? Well, sure, ok. But in the real world, there will always be challenges. If you can’t count on the person you love and have decided to commit to to be on your side during the bad times, what’s the point? If the first opportunity you have to actually be together without an immediate end-date looming has been nonstop misery and fighting, that’s a pretty big clue that maybe this relationship, while magical and wonderful in the context of vacations, can’t withstand real life. Because, again: real life will always challenge a relationship. Real life may not always include global pandemics and unemployment and lockdowns, thankfully, but it will always include some kind of struggle. You are seeing right now, at your first opportunity to face a challenge together, how well your relationship can handle it. It doesn’t sound like it’s working really well.

You say you don’t have an easy entrance back to Seattle, but is that reason enough to stay in a situation that sounds so miserable? If you decide it is, at least in combination with the feelings you had for Erik when you met, then give yourself a deadline for feeling better. Like, if you aren’t in an improved mental state in 30 days or 60 days, it’s time to MOA. And then, in that time, dedicate yourself to creating an internal world with Erik that is at least bearable, whether that’s figuring out a way to cook together in your construction zone kitchen, exploring your new neighborhood on long walks together (or solo), creating one small space in the home that can feel cozy, keeping in touch with your long-distance friends and family, or making plans for the future. If you still cannot manage to connect on an emotional level, stop fighting it and just move on. If there’s one silver lining we can get from this whole pandemic ordeal, it should be to stop wasting precious time on relationships, jobs, activities, or whatever that we have outgrown.

***************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(AT)dearwendy.com.

13 comments… add one
  • FYI January 25, 2021, 10:05 am

    I would only add this —
    In that 30 or 60 days, dedicate yourself to creating a world that doesn’t depend on Erik. Start an exercise program (free yoga, dance, workouts online, or just a daily run/ walk). Start a garden (i.e., plan your flowers for spring). Learn Dutch. Volunteer to teach English online. Volunteer anywhere online (yes, it’s possible). Decide to read all of Jane Austen. Something. Listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

    Don’t sit in a construction zone and expect the relationship to fill all your needs. It’s too much pressure on the relationship.

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  • brise January 25, 2021, 12:06 pm

    The context is terribly difficult. Yes, give yourself some more time to experience this new situation. Focus on what you can control: look for a job there, in your field. Netherlands are very english-language orientated, it should be possible for you to find a job, online for while. Meanwhile, yes, you can teach English. Promote yourself, focus your energy in your career, in your field. It is not because the shops are closed that the professional world has ended. Check job applications online.
    About your relationship, I think that it can happen to have a lot of tensions at the beginning of a new phase in a very challenging context. Try to be positive, to see the things with humor if possible. Don’t escalate in the fights, cut it short, deactivate the fighting mode and try to address the situation in a constructive way.

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  • Eileen Cook January 25, 2021, 1:20 pm

    I also moved abroad for a year (pre-pandemic) and by itself it’s a huge challenge. It’s one thing to visit and another thing to live in a place so don’t be too hard on yourself or the relationship for finding it challenging. I would second the idea of changing how you view things. Instead of looking at what isn’t going well, look at the gift of time. Take an online class to up your credentials, do 20 minutes of Dutch a day, join some online groups related to your interests or an interest you’ve wanted to take up (write a book? Knit? yoga? historical research?) Tell yourself that you’re going to use this time to get to know yourself better.

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  • Kate January 25, 2021, 2:19 pm

    Reading your letter, I was thinking, you know, this relationship most likely just isn’t going to work out… one of those things where it was intense and romantic when you were spending “fun time” together but not day to day life. And I do think that’s probably the case. Fighting daily isn’t normal. But I think Wendy has a good point about setting a deadline and seeing if you can reframe things. These are incredibly trying times. And if you don’t give this longer than 1 month, you’re probably going to be wondering if it would turn out different. So give it a little more time, keep your mind open, but I mean, think about how you could go back home too. Statistically it’s not very likely that a guy you had a wonderful time with on vacations is going to be your life partner.

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  • Bittergaymark January 25, 2021, 2:20 pm

    Honestly? I think you are being overly negative and need to rethink the way you view your life. I mean… come on. Camping in a cement structure with some hot Dutch guy somehow simply doesn’t sound THAT bad to me right now. You sound like a bit of a princess to be blunt. And that will get awfully old real quick.

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  • Anonymous January 25, 2021, 3:30 pm

    Reading your letter, I think you know that this isn’t going to last. One of your last lines is asking if you should hold on to the feelings you once had for him. So you don’t have those feelings anymore. You probably should go home. Things are hard for everyone right now, but I honestly don’t see much worth staying for -being in a foreign country 7000+ miles from home, in a construction zone with no working kitchen, under strict lockdown, with no community or friends other than the guy you are arguing with constantly. I mean, who knows if you’ll even have the ability to leave in a few months. Can you afford to stay? Where will you live once you are back stateside?

    Sure, give it another month if you want to, and actually make an effort to stop arguing over petty things. And then if it’s untenable, go home. If you can’t find a traditional job, have you considered tutoring? Many children in cyber learning are struggling and need help. You could probably set your own schedule and tutor as many kids as you wanted.

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  • anonymousse January 25, 2021, 3:30 pm

    Reading your letter, I think you know that this isn’t going to last. One of your last lines is asking if you should hold on to the feelings you once had for him. So you don’t have those feelings anymore. You probably should go home. Things are hard for everyone right now, but I honestly don’t see much worth staying for -being in a foreign country 7000+ miles from home, in a construction zone with no working kitchen, under strict lockdown, with no community or friends other than the guy you are arguing with constantly. I mean, who knows if you’ll even have the ability to leave in a few months. Can you afford to stay? Where will you live once you are back stateside?

    Sure, give it another month if you want to, and actually make an effort to stop arguing over petty things. And then if it’s untenable, go home. If you can’t find a traditional job, have you considered tutoring? Many children in cyber learning are struggling and need help. You could probably set your own schedule and tutor as many kids as you wanted.

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  • Peggy January 25, 2021, 3:49 pm

    I think Wendy had excellent thoughts/advice Not sure if giving it more time and working to make the best of your circumstances is going to work for you….because I think if you were a person that could look for the “sun” and “get on with things” you would be already trying to see how you could make the best of your situation. Hard to tell how much of the issue is the relationship/connection with him specifically or if you are not great at adapting to change and this is a lot of sudden change on many levels.
    So evaluate yourself in this regard as you decide to stay longer and assess things then or cut “your losses” now.
    I have a bit of a personal perspective on this. My 28 year old son was/is in a very similar situation. A year and a half ago, he met a woman from the Netherlands when they were both travelling in the U.K. like you, they had an instant strong connection. Because Netherlands was not so far away and he was on a more open ended travel schedule, he was able to visit her there for a couple more weeks before he came home. (She was only on a weekend trip when they first met.)
    Like you, they planned to visit and see each other “regularly” going forward. They met at Christmas and she planned to come here to Canada this past Spring, after she took another previously planned trip. This one involved volunteer work in South America. Covid hit and she was afraid to get stuck where she was and had to decide whether to go home or come to Canada to visit as she had originally wanted to. She came here, arriving just before borders were being closed everywhere. She had to quarrantine absolutely/totally, for2 weeks and then everything was shut down locally for a couple months and she could not fly home either.
    So, she and my son were together 24/7 with his roommate ( they had a house) there as well. During this time my son was seriously ill-not with Covid. She ended up staying for nearly 3 months during what was certainly a straining and stressful time.
    However, there are numerous photos of them enjoying nature walks, skating etc.,activities they could safely do outside distanced from others. They did puzzles, baked and cooked new recipes and generally had fun together. She also stepped up and was amazingly helpful dealing with my son’s illness. To sum it up, the forced Covid Coop-up, tested their relationship and they came out closer and stronger.
    I don’t know what you should do or if you should stay and try harder…I only know that the woman my son is with opted for being with him every-time( as he wished as well) she had a choice, even when it was hard. If you are unhappy already, then maybe the guy/situation is just not going to work for you.
    My son moved to live with her this past October and they are very happy even under lock down measures there now. He is working however and that is good, but they spent a lot of time planning all that before he went. You decided to move more spontaneously without a plan, so that makes it a bit harder to “catch up” but it is possible if you want to. Start figuring out what you really want and how and where you want to live. Good luck!

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  • FYI January 25, 2021, 3:51 pm

    Disagree that it’s just not going to work out. There is absolutely no way to know, because moving to a foreign country is its own DEAL. And a month into it is still very, very new. At a month, you’re still looking at a dozen things a day and thinking, “wtf do they do it like that?” and “I miss Chipotle.” It’s just overwhelming.
    You’re there. It’s a pandemic. As long as you’re semi-stuck, you might as well give the place a chance, but it will take longer than one month.

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  • Peggy January 25, 2021, 9:37 pm

    Am reading your letter again. You fought near daily before you decided to move/ go there and you are still fighting and are miserable…you may need to let him go and go home .

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  • Bittergaymark January 26, 2021, 1:03 pm

    Trust me, LW. Things are no better in the states. Try to enjoy the adventure of it all.

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  • Heyya1989 January 27, 2021, 12:56 pm

    Why would you want to come BACK to the US? It this pandemic has taught me anything it’s that the USA is absolutely trash and handling crisis. Lockdown sucks but at least you have it and aren’t being forced to work everyday with idiots who refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated. Stay where you are. Don’t come back to this hellhole.

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  • Mario January 28, 2021, 3:33 am

    Hey.
    Do you think that is the better options if it compensates you stay in Holland, You try search a job and try to hurry the masons to finish the house and I would talk to Erik about how silly speeches bother you because when you have so many speeches you always tend to get tired of the other person.
    If you think it is better to go to the US, leave as soon as possible to be able to work on what you really like to be a teacher in the US
    You should also ask for the opinion of your parents to convince you which is the most appropriate option for your happiness.

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