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.