Living in Limbo while Boyfriend Takes a Break

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Reader’s Question

I’m 22 years old and I was in a relationship for 3 years with a boy the same age. We had our ups and downs, but we got through it all. After two years he suddenly left me, and I was heartbroken because I didn’t know the reason. Two months later we got back together but, because I was afraid that he would hurt me again, the relationship wasn’t perfect like it was before.

Everything seemed to be going better when he suddenly told me that talking with his mother and some other people “opened his eyes.” He asked for a break from our relationship. That was five months ago. We talk every day, but he doesn’t want to go out with me because he doesn’t want a commitment. He now has more friends than ever before, which I think also weighs into his reluctance to go back to being in a relationship with me.

This whole situation is tearing me apart. I don’t feel like doing anything and I’m having problems studying for school. I know that the smart thing to do would be to leave him, but I can’t. He is the person I can see spending the rest of my life with, and the very thought of losing him is killing me. I feel stuck and don’t know what to do anymore.

Psychologist’s Reply

For many people, the power of the first love affair lies in the fact that there is often a level of trust and idealization that is much less likely after having experienced one’s first breakup. So it makes sense that things never quite felt the same after having broken up. Also, by being the one to initiate the break up, your boyfriend created or exaggerated a power imbalance when the two of you got back together. Being the one to have less say over the future of the relationship often breeds insecurity and worry. Then also, there’s what psychologists refer to as the scarcity principle: when something is difficult to obtain, or we can’t get it, we want it even more.

It sounds as though one major frustration is not being able to understand why your boyfriend chose (and continues to choose) being unattached at this point in his life. Unfortunately, figuring out why another person did something that does not make sense to us is a losing battle. It’s difficult enough (and arguably impossible, at least some of the time) to determine why we make our own decisions and choices. So, even if he were willing to give you reasons for his choice, there’s no guarantee those reasons are accurate. Of course knowing this doesn’t satisfy our desire to know why people treat us the ways they do. You seem to suspect that your boyfriend’s mother and others swayed him, but it seems unlikely he could have been swayed had he not had his own unresolved issues.

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Knowing so little about what is going on inside your boyfriend’s mind, the best we can do is speculate on why he is less interested in a relationship than he was previously. It seems likely, however, that his choices are not due to you or anything you did. Being only 22 years old, and having spent all of his young adult life thus far in a relationship, it may simply come down to a desire to live awhile unattached to an exclusive, committed relationship. And it sounds as though his decision has been reinforced by having fun with new friends.

It’s impossible to predict whether the two of you will resume your relationship, but as long as you remain in a state of limbo, you’re liable to be both unhappy and distracted from everything else going on in your life. That doesn’t mean that you have to make a decision about your relationship, and feeling pressure to decide, once and for all, probably just adds to the problem. Instead, focusing your energies on building the best life possible makes good sense, regardless of how the relationship turns out. Being a happy individual with a full life is liable to make you most attractive, both to your boyfriend and to alternative relationship partners. Also, a full and happy life is the best possible situation, regardless of whether you end up back together or officially parting ways.

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