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Heavy Meddle: We're In Love, But We're Too Busy To Actually See Each Other

As a woman prepares to enter grad school, she worries she and her hard-working girlfriend will drift apart. (Joe St.Pierre/flickr)
As a woman prepares to enter grad school, she worries she and her hard-working girlfriend will drift apart. (Joe St.Pierre/flickr)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

My girlfriend and I have been together for four months, and we love each other. She is affectionate and thoughtful and giving; I’m thrilled to have her in my life.

The problem is time. She’s a chef, which means her life is mostly lived in the kitchen: five or six days a week, 10- to 12-hour shifts, late nights and very early mornings, 60-hour weeks being her norm. I understood, from the beginning, that dating her would require me to be flexible, given her schedule, which I’ve been mostly able to do so far as a writer and waitress, asking for days off when she has them, writing while she works. She’s met me in the middle, too, shifting her schedule as well.

In the fall, I start taking classes for my grad degree in a city a couple hours away from where we both now live, and after new ownership at the restaurant she’d been working at made her unhappy, she decided she’d also move. I’m thrilled, but we’re both worried that whatever entry-level kitchen job she gets next will not pay her enough to allow time off to spend with me — let alone her other friends, or herself.

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My friends have counseled me to be understanding — I knew what I was getting into by dating her, after all. But I find myself frustrated and worried. My girlfriend has told me before that she doesn’t see herself staying “in the industry” forever; however, she doesn’t seem to be investigating any other careers, and does seem to genuinely love what she does.

How can I be supportive of her, while also honoring my need to have a partner who is available to love me, to talk and enjoy my company? With my new school schedule, I’m worried I will no longer be at liberty to be as flexible as I’ve been thus far. I don’t want to make her feel guilty for doing what she’s passionate about, I’m just scared to think that for the next few years we will only be able to see one another when we are tired and depleted.

Is there a creative solution to this? A compromise?

Sincerely,
Frustrated & Worried

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Dear F & W,

Let’s focus on the many positives here. First, you’ve met someone you love, and who loves you back. Both of you have already shown a willingness to compromise so that you can spend time together. And she’s willing to move to the city where you’re going to study. Hooray! All of this bodes well.

And let me add one more good sign: you’re aware of the fact that your lives are about to change in ways that won’t allow for as much flexibility and quality time together. If that doesn’t sound like a good sign, consider the opposite scenario — that you were about to take on this new challenge without any thought as to how it might strain your relationship. That would be a recipe for disaster.

As for what you can do to remain connected, I have three words: communicate, communicate, communicate. Communicate your desires, your needs, your fears and your frustrations.

Because look: moving to a new city and adopting a new schedule is going to be disruptive. You’re going to be adjusting to being a student again, focusing on your course of study, and trying to bond with your classmates. Your girlfriend is going to be worried about finding a good job, and making progress in her career. You’re both moving away from friends and familiar routines and workplaces. That’s a lot of unknowns, and a lot of pressures. The key is to recognize that a strong, loving relationship can provide — as Dylan puts it — shelter from the storm.

If you want to stay connected, you have to make a conscious effort to carve out time together, because otherwise the rest of your lives will swallow you up.

The tough thing about love is that there is no short cut to intimacy. For two people to be deeply involved, they have to know what’s going on in each other’s lives. And they have to agree that making time for each other is a priority, even as they set about forging their own creative and social identities.

This is especially important for you two, because you’re both at a time in your lives when you’re focused on personal growth. If you want to stay connected, you have to make a conscious effort to carve out time together, because otherwise the rest of your lives will swallow you up.

You should also remember that much of what sustains a relationship are the small kindnesses you bestow from moment to moment. Kissing your beloved on the brow. Rubbing her feet after a long shift. Listening to her moan about her new job, (and giving her pep talk, if necessary). That’s not a matter of time so much as intention, making the effort to love her even — and especially — when you’re feeling tired yourself. And hoping that she’ll offer you the same gestures of love, in her own way.

There is no magic formula for sustaining love, especially between two hard-working, ambitious people on the brink of major life changes. But it seems to me that the letter you’ve written here — full of candid affection and apprehensions — is a great start to the process. You should share these sentiments with your girlfriend. Let her know how much she means to you, how much you admire her passion, how much you worry about finding time to love each other amid this big move. Remember, she can only support you if she knows your true feelings. And vice versa.

Be patient and honest and brave. And then more patient.

Steve

Author's note: Years ago, when we were just dating, my wife and I would spend long, lingering weekends in bed. It was a lot of fun. We seemed to have all the time in the world. Now, we spend a lot of time trying to game plan a night away from the kids. But that’s how love works: it’s an inconvenient arrangement. You have to work at it. That’s what I think. What do you think? Have your say in the comment section below. And please send your own questions along. Really. Don’t be shy. Even if I don’t have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your queries via email.


Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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