I'm 18 and afraid it's time to break up with my first boyfriend

I fell hard for his stillness -- but now I want movement.

Published May 15, 2007 11:17AM (EDT)


I am 18 and fast approaching the end to my freshman year of college. At the beginning of the year, I met a great guy and he became my first boyfriend.

The thing that attracted me to him was his stillness -- he could sit somewhere without moving, without talking, without doing anything, really. I found the stillness to be reassuring; sometimes on this campus I feel like I'm the only one not talking on my cellphone constantly or checking my Facebook every hour.

I felt as if I'd found someone who shared my desire to just sit and watch the world, without distraction.

Unfortunately, I am beginning to grow restless when we spend time together. Sometimes sitting silently is great; I like not feeling pressured to say anything just to fill space. But I feel like I'm talking to a plain white wall sometimes, you know?

He listens patiently, he is generally considerate, and he knows when to back off when I am stressed or sad. But (of course there's always a but) I just don't feel anything anymore. When he calls me, I don't light up. When he kisses me, I am usually thinking of something else. The attraction's gone and I fear it's never coming back.

I think it might be because of my personality. I'm very much a workaholic -- I rise at 7 a.m. and I work nonstop until 8 or 9 p.m. at my job, or on homework for school or in reporting for the school newspaper. When I'm not moving, when I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything, I don't feel as good.

He doesn't get antsy like I do -- he doesn't care about anything. He's nice, but he's indifferent. He has no friends, he has no job, he has no activities; he basically goes to class and goes back to his dorm room.

It drives me crazy.

At first I thought it was a phase. This is my first relationship, so I'm not so good at detecting these things. But it has been a month now, and there has been no improvement.

I'm afraid that I'll break this off and it'll be a huge mistake. The introverted high school kid in me reminds me that I might not get another chance with a guy for a while -- especially a guy as genuinely nice as he is. My personality isn't the kind you fall for, really.

I guess my question is, Do I need to temper my antsy personality and stay with a great guy for a while, hoping things get better?

Or do I end my first relationship now?

Your thoughts are appreciated,

Fell for His Stillness

Dear Fell,

It does seem like a shame to end your first relationship now. However, while in one realm something is ending, in another realm a lifelong process has just begun.

Think of it this way. Your soul has awakened. Your soul loves stillness. Many souls love stillness; there is something about stillness that the soul loves. Perhaps stillness is its medium, as water is the fish's medium. So your soul was drawn to the stillness of this young man. It saw the stillness and thought, Perhaps I could live here in this stillness, no? I like this stillness. I think I will stay here.

Your soul is a force, or being, that is part of you but not completely under your control. Like you, it has appetites and preferences, but unlike you it is not really very interested in getting stuff done. It happens to like stillness, but that does not mean that you yourself wish to be still -- any more than being drawn to the color red means that you yourself wish to be red. It is a quality you thirst for, that you wish to take in, but not something you wish to become.

So you were drawn to this quality in him, it awakened something in you, and then you drank your fill of it and now have reached a kind of stasis, or satiety, and want to move on. But you feel guilt and you feel fear -- guilt that you are being cruel to him and fear that you will not regain what you are letting go of. That is why it is useful to concentrate on the larger process that is at work: Your soul has been awakened to something. You will find it time and again, throughout your life, as long as you recognize what it is.

But you must move on now or you may become trapped.

This happens sometimes in relationships when the soul, shadowy and mysterious and beyond our control, is drawn to qualities that we ourselves lack and do not understand -- or when we do not fully understand how powerful our need for these things is. When this happens, we can be captured, as it were; we become prisoners, intoxicated, unable to leave. We do not know what we are getting, so we do not know how to find it somewhere else.

So we stay, even though we are no longer happy. The soul has led us there but is no longer aiding us; it has become entangled; we are lost and unhappy. We have entrusted the soul with too much; we have not exercised worldly judgment.

So that is why you have to leave -- not because there is anything wrong with him, or because the relationship is bad, but because this encounter has come to its natural culmination. You have to be the adult and say, yes, this has come to its rightful termination, and I will be seeing you.

This is one of the deepest and most common of conflicts in relationships: We meet someone beautiful, or brilliant, or sexy, or fun, or soulful, or kind, and we want to drink up all of that quality until we are sated. But then we drink it in and we are sated and then it is time to get on with life again. But we feel guilt and fear so we stay.

Is this a problem?

Well, it is a problem if you are to get married and try to maintain a balance day to day between your energetic going-forth-in-the-world and his placid stillness. Your activity will cancel out his stillness; his stillness will cancel out your activity; rather than an alternation between focused activity and beautiful stillness there will exist between you a steady annoying crackle of unresolved, uneasy emptiness, a starved, impossible impasse.

If you let him go, will you ever find that quality again?

I think so. It is a quality that exists in many people, if you know how to look for it. It can exist in people who are also very active. It is also something you can cultivate in yourself, through meditation and other practices that bring you into harmony with your surroundings. And when you practice it for yourself, you can always think of him; in a sense, he has bequeathed you a gift that you can keep your whole life.

You say that you are not the type of person who attracts a lot of people. That may be true. But keep in mind: Everybody out there has a soul that is drawn to certain qualities in the souls of others; not all these qualities are apparent to the eye, but the soul takes notice. There is a whole secret emotional and spiritual economy going on under the surface of everyday life; I dare say there are people right now longing for the unique qualities that their soul sees in your own soul. Now this is the very interesting part: These qualities are invisible to you. You don't even know what they are. You may evaluate yourself consciously, assigning yourself a certain number of points for looks, attitude, talent, sense of humor, etc. But others see you in a way that you cannot see yourself; they see things in you that they want very much, not knowing exactly what it is, but feeling drawn to you nonetheless.

So be on the lookout for this. Be on the lookout for men who seem mysteriously drawn to you. They may not know why they are drawn to you, so they may not act in a clear, forthright way; they may not come up to you and say, Hello, I like you, I think you are cute, let's go on a date. It may be a good bit more muted and mysterious. Nonetheless, trust me: It's going on all the time, all around you. Your soul and the souls of others are in constant communication.

Thus we go through life finding mysterious and sometimes fleeting satisfaction in encounters with others, much of it occurring beneath the surface. As we go buzzing about our big and important lives, a part of us is always seeking stillness, or strangeness, or the color red.

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