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Earlier this year, two and half years into a long-distance relationship and after over a year of serious job searching, I finally found a job that allowed me to move 8,000 miles across the world to join my boyfriend. About five weeks later, he finally said what had been pretty obvious since I arrived — he was no longer interested in me or our relationship. He refused to explain or seek counseling, saying the “feeling was gone.” While breaking up, things were said and done, or not said or done by both of us and we are out of contact, permanently, I suspect.
I moved out and things are generally going OK. Life here is much more costly on a solo budget and I sometimes feel lonely being so far from anyone I really know or who shares my language/culture. So, I’ve reframed this as a one- or two-year adventure and this helps me feel more positive when I miss my friends and family back home. I can still get angry that he pulled the rug out from under me so my first impression at the new job was of a distracted person with personal issues. Or that the great new chapter opened with being pushed away and left alone. But, I’ve turned things around at work and I recognize I am better off without him.
Just before I moved here, he lent me some money to cover off debts so I could pay him back without interest. Then, three days after I got here, my wallet was stolen so he lent me more money to cover expenses while I waited for the new cards to arrive and my new salary to kick in. When we broke up, I sent him a note saying I would repay him what I owed. Each month, I go to the bank and pay off a chunk of that.
It’s always been important to me to honor debts and obligations. However, as unpaid contributions to maintain pension benefits back home pile up and I can’t save anything, I feel like I am working to pay off this person who turned out to be someone quite different than I imagined. I’ve started to question the whole situation and am torn between doing the “right” thing and pay back every cent he gave me, and another increasingly loud voice that says, “What about his commitments to you?”
I’m not sure if I’m justified in thinking I should consider my own needs now and pay back what I am comfortable with or if this is just residual bitterness making me rationalize stiffing someone who hurt me but once helped me out of the kindness of his heart.
A Regular Reader
Dear Regular Reader,
It must be tempting to tell him that you, too, have had a sudden change of heart, and for some reason you just aren’t feeling the desire to pay him the money back. These things happen, sweetie. The heart knows what it wants, and so does the wallet.
But I advise against that. Take the high road. It’s not about him. It’s about you and the universe.
The money is the money. You owe it. You happen to owe it to this guy but you could just as easily owe it to some bank.
You pay it back. Then you feel good about yourself. If the terms are not good, change the terms. Lengthen the term and decrease the amount if it is putting too much of a burden on you. But pay the money. Hold up your end of the bargain.
It would be different if you had a contract, like, with a nonperformance clause, so if one party doesn’t come through, the other party doesn’t have to pay. You didn’t have that. All you had was love.
So, OK, love is like an informal contract. When in love, we feel a profound and sacred obligation. But when love goes we realize, wow, there really was no contract holding us together. All it was was love.
Absent love, it’s easier to act like a scumbag.
Here’s what seems important now: What are you going to do with your feelings? I suggest you keep a journal. Take note of how you are feeling day-to-day. Create some order in your life so you can have time to follow the thread.
Set some time aside. Clear your mind and take note of what images come to mind. Write those images down. Take note of what emotions are associated with those images. Write those down, too.
I’m curious: Does this abandonment take you back to an earlier time in life? Do you feel helpless and betrayed? What images come to mind? Write freely about this, every day if you can. Write about how trust worked in your family, what it was like to travel, how you have dealt with surprise and disappointment in the past.
It’s great that you came up with the idea of reframing this as an adventure. Where did you learn that? I see your mom for some reason. I see a mom confronting calamity and saying to the kids, well, Kids, OK, this is not a setback, this is going to be an adventure! Did that ever happen, or is that just me making things up? Were there betrayals or chaotic episodes in your family that you had to reframe in order to make sense of your life? And where was your dad when you were growing up? Was he trustworthy and dependable? Was he present or absent?
After spending time exploring childhood memories, go over the period of your long-term relationship: How were you feeling about the relationship before you got there? Were there hints prior to your arrival? How did he greet you? Did he tell you immediately or was there some good sex first? If there was sex, do you regret the sex? Did you feel that he delayed telling you so he could have sex with you first? Do you believe he knew all along that he was going to break up with you? If so, why did he not write to you ahead of time? How could he have broken off the relationship in a way that would feel honorable? What do you think?
These could be hard and painful questions to ask and answer, but in doing so, you will gain strength and clarity. You will have a narrative. You will own the story.
This is quite a vivid story, actually: You are searching for a job for a year and a half. We follow you through your search. Then you finally find a job and you’re so excited, you’re going to be with your lover, you make all the arrangements, you fly there, you stay with him and then he springs this on you. I think if you spend some time rummaging in your own past and re-creating the details, moment to moment, of those upsetting hours after he told you, that it will help you gain perspective and it will also probably make for some writing that you can keep to yourself or perhaps publish.
Actually, in the movie version, I see you doing something extraordinary and redeeming in your new, strange city. But that’s the movies. Maybe you just spend your year or two, do well in your job, meet your obligations, live an honorable life, care for yourself, explore your feelings, and then pack your bags, close the apartment and go home to your friends and family with a story to tell.