Does Absence Really Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

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Reader’s Question

First of all I’d like to say that I’m kind of embarrassed to bring up a subject which might not even be that important compared to what you most likely have to deal on a daily basis. I’m a 34-year-old woman living in New York City with a boyfriend six years younger. I’m not sure whether I’m really wrong here or whether I’m so paranoid I should just focus on more important things. We are very in love. He thinks about me all the time, he spends a day with me making me breakfast and telling me that he loves me constantly. My boyfriend has a very huge passion for acting. I once did too, but now I have more passion for us, and perhaps growing up changes my priorities.

He auditioned for a job as a theatre actor in a play which will take him away for almost four months. It’s a paid job, which doesn’t happen very often in theatre. He keeps saying that he’ll be very sad and upset being away from me, but at the same he wants to do it because that’s what he wants to pursue. He says this won’t change anything between us, and I’m still his priority, and I come first always. Well I don’t, apparently — since he decided to apply for something like this. This drives me insane. Am I totally wrong?

Psychologist’s Reply

That blush of young love is incredibly strong and seductive. No one wants the honeymoon to end. I wonder whether it would end sooner if you two were never apart, never occupied by other constructive concerns, never dedicated to career or other personal passions. In fact, I wonder whether you would even have come together in the first place if there was nothing between you except strong personal attraction. While four months apart is a long time, it could be useful for you to see how your feelings toward each other develop.

It will stress your relationship. Many relationships do not survive long separations, as we see from the statistics in the military regarding those who have been on long deployment. However, some distance between each other is necessary for any couple in order to establish a maturing, circumspect niche for themselves in society at large. It will test your ability to hold each other in your minds as you now hold each other in your arms. This separation could be a real opportunity for you to see if your relationship has the right stuff to survive all the slings and arrows that inevitably come to married couples.

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That being said, the old saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is incomplete. The full saying that I’ve heard from those who have long, regular separations from spouses (e.g., fishermen) is “absence makes the heart grow fonder…for someone else”. Therefore, make an effort during this impending separation to maintain your relationship in any way possible. Maintain your intimacy without physical contact. Try not to simply trust that the relationship can survive four months of silence. While it may survive, it would not likely benefit from the silence. As you say, your priorities change as you age and mature. This can be an opportunity for you to mature together and make your relationship even stronger.

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