My boyfriend is choosing New York over me

Chicago has plenty to offer, and I have a great life here, but New York is the only place he ever felt at home

Published June 25, 2010 12:24AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My heart hurts so much, and I wonder if it's my own fault for being stubborn.

I'm nearly 32, living in Chicago, have worked hard to get all the things I've wanted, all on my own (the great job that I've excelled in, the condo that I scrimped and saved for, the dog, a fantastic support system of family and friends). I believe that I'm pretty, and I've had no trouble attracting guys in my life. In fact, I counted up recently and figured out that I've been on over 50 first dates. As a very picky person, however, I've quickly dismissed all but a few. I've had four actual boyfriends, with each relationship lasting from four months to four years, but I just. can't. hold on to them. It's always something, from a difference in maturity to the guy realizing that he just doesn't love me.

It's the most recent one that I'm writing about. The relationship was only four months, but since I really know what I want now, the four months seemed expedited. The guy? Lovely. We fit together wonderfully, let our deep flaws show and loved each other regardless, had an undeniable attraction and passion and compassion. We talked about the future, he continually made it clear that he was crazy about me, and I started to let my guard down for the first time in ages (a very difficult thing).

Then, suddenly, just a few days after sneaking into my office with flowers to welcome me back from a trip, he tells me it's over. The reason? He misses living in New York too much, and since my life is here, we have to end it.

I've never lost out to a city before. It's killing me. I wonder if I've become too stubborn, too independent. Though I love New York very much, I have set up my life here, and leaving it all would be an extremely painful sacrifice. Meanwhile, he doesn't really have ties anywhere. He's not especially close to his family (who, regardless, are close to Chicago), and he probably looks at New York as the last time he felt at home, as it's where he went to college. He doesn't have a job lined up there, no specific plan ... he just wants to go. And I'm not enough to keep him here. In the aftermath of the breakup, he said that I was too reserved with my feelings, that he didn't know the extent of my love for him. Yes, I could have been more open with my feelings. But I think he was looking for things to justify his decision.

I felt that I could have made him so happy. He's had a hard life. I thought he would welcome the stability, the comfort, the friends and family I have here, all of whom were welcoming him in. He seemed to love it. But now he's running. I think, "Maybe it's worth it to leave all my things behind, and just go with him." But clearly he wouldn't have made a similar sacrifice for me, so it's probably not something that should be on the table. I wonder if I could beg for him to stay, to look around and see how happy he could be here. (I mean, come on, we're not living on the remote steppes of Mongolia here.)

I've done all the things that I'm supposed to do after a breakup. Realized how great my life is (which, of course, affirms my decision to stay here), leaned on my fantastic friends, kept myself busy, gone out on more first dates (predictably wretched). My heart feels so empty without him. Cary, why is he running? Do I need to be more flexible in my life, less attached to what I've built for myself? And please tell me that there's someone else out there, someone who thinks my quirks are adorable, who makes my heart race, who doesn't want to run away. And please tell me how I'm supposed to trust that guy after having something so beautiful yanked away from me like this.

Lost Out to New York

Dear Lost Out,

You know, I've made my share of bad decisions, and when I look back on the bad decisions I've made, sometimes I wish the people around me had not given up on me so easily.

Pride and fear cause us to present a face of certainty to the world: "I'm going to New York because I know exactly what I want to do and I'm sure of it!" But you can bet on this: He's not sure of anything. He doesn't know what he's doing. He feels panicked and is not making a good decision.

Maybe he thought sneaking those flowers into your office would trumpet a triumphant moment of clarity and things would suddenly be easy and obvious and you would declare undying love for him and fold his underwear. Perhaps he thought bringing you flowers would cause music to erupt from the wings for an extravagant dance finale. Maybe bringing the flowers was a kind of question the answer to which would stall this foolhardy and destructive move.

Instead, he says you were too reserved with your feelings, that he doesn't know the extent of your love for him.

You may have to hammer it home. He may need to be told in terms that to you seem excessively bold.

You may need to hit him over the head with something warm and soft. 

You say he has had a hard life. A hard life makes it hard to trust. When we get knocked down a lot we expect little from others; we do not know the full extent of what others feel for us.

Sure, we men expect too much. We expect what we see in the movies. We need to be told.

So try this: Tell him, "I want you to stay here and be with me. Maybe you have to go to New York. Maybe it is something you have to do. I will wait for you. I will not wait forever, but I will wait long enough for you to figure it out. I will wait."

Try telling him that.

It doesn't have to be literally true. Things happen. You can date. But it's a way of trying to reach him.

Bottom line, I would not just let him walk away. Put a time limit on it, like one year, but don't just let him walk away.

Can you do that? Will it hurt your pride too much to fight for what you want? He's not perfect. He's not grown up. He's just starting to make all his big mistakes. Some mistakes are reparable. Others last forever. He probably doesn't know what he's losing. When you're young, you think great relationships will come again. They won't. They don't.

Here is something I would like to say about men -- men like me, at least. There are times we act badly. We may be good men at heart but we make bad decisions and we act badly and then we regret it, but often by the time we see what we have done and regret it it is too late and we don't know how to repair the damage. So there are times after we have made our grand pronouncements and driven to Alaska or sailed off to Bali or moved to New York when we wish that those around us had not let us go so easily. We were bluffing but did not even know it. We were posturing. We were out of our heads. We had no clue. And now that we have done it we don't know how to undo it. We were secretly hoping to be called on our bluff. We wanted to turn back but pride prevented us from turning back.

We are hurt or afraid but we can't just say, "Wow, I'm hurt and afraid and confused and have no idea what is the right thing. Let's talk this out. Let's be patient and work through it." No, instead we move to New York to work on a novel or we move to Montana to work on a horse ranch and either way it means you'll be sorry when I'm gone.

You will be sorry when he's gone.

So if you love this guy, admit that he needs help. He thinks he will go to New York and finally get his fill. But he will never get his fill. No one will. No one will ever get his fill of anything.

If you can find some detachment and compassion, and recognize that he is in the grip of the same stupid lustful anxious panicky groundless wanderlust that has made drifters out of the best of men ... I would just say, don't close the door out of pride. Go on dates but leave the door open.

Leave the door open in case he comes home late one night chastened and serene with new knowledge of life's limits.

In the waiting room of the Proton Treatment Center at Loma Linda Hospital there is a little lending library. While sitting on the couch waiting for my 3 p.m. appointment, I picked up "Vintage Ford," a collection of seven pieces by Richard Ford. Richard Ford knows things about men that men themselves also know but cannot say because these things are so ridiculous they are hard to believe. They are the commonplace things about men that you sometimes read about but you figure they are exaggerated so you are surprised when men do these things.

At the end of "The Womanizer," after stumbling into this French woman's life and causing grief to her and to her son and to his own wife and all around, Martin Austin thinks to himself, of the French woman, "She had felt a greater sense of responsibility than he had; a greater apprehension of life's importance, its weight and permanence." He sort of gets it right, this way we have of casually fucking things up. His wife had been telling him, "Martin, you take yourself for granted," but he needed it pounded into him. He needed to really go and fuck up somebody else's life so he could go, Oh, gee, now that's a life lesson for me!

Likewise, at the end of "Rock Springs," it dawns on Earl, the car thief, that things are not going to turn out well for him, and he surmises that his fate has something to do with his inability to  move beyond life's early hurts: "I thought that the difference between a successful life and an unsuccessful one, between me at that moment and all the people who owned the cars that were nosed into their proper places in the lot, maybe between me and that woman out in the trailers by the gold mine, was how well you were able to put things like this out of your mind and not be bothered by them, and maybe, too, by how many troubles like this one you had to face in a lifetime. Through luck or by design they had all faced fewer troubles, and by their own characters, they forgot them faster."

Your man has had a hard life and there may be things he cannot put out of his mind, so he is doing the only thing he knows how to do. You are watching this man do something that is probably foolish and will end in sadness. You may know in your heart that he's blowing it. But you are not sure whether you should try to stop him.

I think you should try to stop him.  

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By Cary Tennis

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