I May Not Be With My Long-Distance Partner for 8 More Years!

I’m 29 years old and my girlfriend of 5 years is 24. A year ago she moved away to further schooling in the medical field. She’s in the 2nd year of a 4-year program. The long distance has been tough but we’ve made it work thus far. She’s from the same town as me and her intention has always been to move back home once she’s finished. My work makes it completely unfeasible to move in the short term. She made the choice to pursue her dreams through school and I choose to pursue mine through a career and life at home and it’s worked out as planned so far. But there’s always been a knowledge that we would end up here together.

Recently she dropped some news on me that she’s considering a specialty in her field that would be an additional 3 years or possibly 4. There’s an outside chance the specialty could be served back home but odds are strongly against it. The kicker is that I know she is interested in this specialty for reasons outside of love for it. I won’t detail them all but family pressure, a big chip on her shoulder, and financial reasons are all at play.

I’m at odds with how I feel about this newfound bombshell. I want to spend my life with her. But my mind keeps telling me that spending 7-8 years of an 11-12 year relationship in a long distance setting simply isn’t feasible. Adding in the time for her to get situated in a job on her return, I just don’t see the avenue for us to work. I’ll be nearing 40 and she’ll be pushing 35. All our youth and time together would be gone and we’d immediately have to jump into starting a family that we’ve both already discussed. The hurdles seem too much to overcome and frankly they were not something we agreed to.

I feel like her choosing the additional long distance would be essentially choosing her career over love and family. She sees it as me not giving her unwavering support in her goals. My gut tells me that I need to have a frank discussion with her to let her know that once she finishes this round of schooling, building a family needs to come 1st and it needs to happen here. I’ve been blessed with a great job that can support us both while she chooses whatever path she pleases here at home while we live a life together. Am I wrong in approaching it this way?

Joe

Dear Joe,

I strive incredibly hard to provide objective, reality-based dating and relationship advice, but I have to admit to having my own biases.

One of them is that I’m anti-long-distance relationships and I wanted to own it before I explain further.

Now, to be fair, every relationship is unique, and many people have started long-distance relationships that ended up in marriage, including my own sister. So I don’t reflexively think that all long-distance relationships are bad, rather, that they introduce much higher degree of difficulty, when relationships are already tricky enough for most people.

In your situation, you met her when she was 19, and, by your own estimates, by the time you are together again full-time, you will be 36 or 37. So I don’t think it’s unfair of you to be skeptical about the strength of your relationship once she’s done with her internship and residency. In fact, it’s very wise.

I know that romantics will say that love should conquer all – if you love her, you’ll wait. I suppose if you believe that there’s just one “soulmate” out there for everybody, you can live your life like it. I don’t believe that, however, and it doesn’t sound like you do, either.

It doesn’t matter who is “right.” It only matters that neither of you is willing to make the necessary compromise to make things work over long-distance for the next 8 years.

You can love your girlfriend deeply (and, after 5 years, I’m sure you do), but if the choices she makes take her away from you, you have to consider your opportunity cost.

You’re giving up nearly a decade on the faith that life (and both of you) will be the exact same people when you get back together. That is, if anything, a big load of wishful thinking.

If your girlfriend doubts it, ask her to remember what she was like when she was 16. Now ask her if, in 8 years, she thinks she’s going to be the same person.

So yes, I think you have to have an adult conversation. Just be careful in how you frame it, lest it skew the direction of the conversation.

You already think she’s choosing work over you.
She already thinks you’re prioritizing your dreams over hers.

You’re both right. But that’s okay. These are the very decisions that determine if couples are compatible. It doesn’t matter who is “right.” It only matters that neither of you is willing to make the necessary compromise to make things work over long-distance for the next 8 years.

The good news is that you will both find new partners wherever you both shall land – and those relationships won’t require anyone to make a huge sacrifice he/she doesn’t want to make.