Recently, I started seriously dating someone for the first time since my long-term relationship ended two years ago. I had done the casual dating thing for a while with moderate success, getting my needs met, but the person I have been seeing the past month and I have decided to be monogamous in our dating, but not in an “official” relationship. They are moving to the other side of the country for grad school at the end of summer and have expressed that they don’t have the emotional bandwidth to maintain an LDR, which I appreciate them being up front about.
Where things get complicated is how quickly things have escalated between us. We’ve already been intimate with one another, cried in front of each other, just generally been incredibly vulnerable with each other, which I have not done in a very long time. Ever since we slept together, I have been inconsolably depressed, crying at the drop of a hat, not eating, not sleeping, simply because I know that this situation has an expiration date. We both have incredibly busy lives and don’t have much time to see each other but I am terrified of potentially falling in love with someone again just for them to be leaving in two months time. How can I navigate these feelings, preserve my mental health, and enjoy our time together all at once?
Oof. Sometimes, someone comes along who starts to remind us what we want, what we deserve, just how sweet love can be, without being the person who has space to give us those things to us long-term.
While you’re probably not feeling exactly positive about it right now, the fact that you’ve felt comfortable enough to be intimate and vulnerable with this person is great. Getting to a place where you’re open to intimacy after the end of a serious relationship takes time and work. While it feels counterintuitive, the fact that this relationship has an expiration date may even have made it easier for you to open up — sometimes, limits and boundaries can help give us space to test the waters again!
That fact doesn’t make things feel any easier when you’re confronted with the possibility of that end date, though.
You say you’re terrified of falling in love again, but I think you’re already a little bit in love — at least, the type of love we fall into in the beginning, when love is one part being really into someone, and two parts a story we tell ourselves, a set of possibilities for the future. Falling for someone new can unlock a lot of hopes and dreams that we put on the back burner when we’re not seeing anybody. Once there’s a whiff of possibility, and we start to remember all of the things we want, all of the things we deserve, that can be intense! And when a relationship ends during this stage, especially when it has to end because of external, structural circumstances, not because of any personal conflicts, that can make it even harder, since nothing has come between you yet to break the spell.
When we date, we run the risk of having our hearts broken. While this probably won’t be the big heartbreak that came when your long-term relationship ended, it sounds like your heart is already mourning the upcoming end to this relationship. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid feeling sad as you prepare to separate, but I do think that you can start to protect your mental health, now that you know how strongly you’re feeling already. In order to protect yourself, you need to allow those feelings to happen.
You asked how you can enjoy your time together, and I’m not sure that’s possible. Burying your sadness while you spend time with this person for the rest of the summer might feel like the bargain you need to make to spend time with them, but doing so will be harmful to your mental health long after this person is gone from your city and your life. You’re already having trouble meeting your basic needs as you contemplate the end of the summer — you’re not sleeping, not eating, “crying at the drop of a hat.” These feelings are real. Trying to push them to the back of your mind in order to have a fun, carefree summer with them will make you even more miserable than you feel right now.
A couple of weeks have passed since you wrote us. How does it feel when you spend time with them now, knowing they’re leaving in a month or two? Are you enjoying yourself at all, or are you cosplaying enjoyment as part of the unspoken bargain you’ve made? If you are feeling sad when you spend time with them, can you be sad together, or does expressing those emotions frustrate them? Speaking from my own experience, the only way that you can protect your mental health AND spend time with this person is for you to allow yourself (and for them to allow you) to be open, honest, and your full self around them. If that’s not possible, I think it’s time to end things earlier than expected.
Regardless of whether you continue to spend time with this person as the summer wanes, one thing is clear: You will need to find a way to prioritize and invest in the facets of your life that don’t involve them, so your life will be full and ready for you when they leave. You need to find a way to eat and sleep and meet your own basic needs. If you have the capacity, reaching out to your friends, working on hobbies, spending time on the non-romantic parts of your life that make you feel happy and content — all of this will help you to bolster and protect your quality of life. It can be really easy to neglect those things at times like these! But once this person leaves your life, your friends, your hobbies, you will still be here, needing care and attention, and the more you are able to tend to these things now, the more helpful they will be in future.
When this person leaves, you’ll mourn their absence. You’re mourning it even now. But some of what you’re mourning is the potential you felt when you were with them, the promise of the life you could’ve had, if things had been just right. The good news? That means that you’re closer to knowing what you want in your next real relationship, and closer to being ready and open when that person — the person who isn’t leaving, the person who has time in their schedule, the person who has space for you in their life — comes along.
They will come along, I promise.
I wish you all the best. 💙
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.