Dear Carolyn: I have been in a relationship for six years. From the outset it was a long-distance situation, as she was often off on extended work-related projects, but we had a very strong connection when together. We have been making plans that would mean my following her to her long-term posting. She has also been my best friend for all these years.
In the last four months, she has become much more socially integrated, primarily through a current work situation. For the past six years she wasn’t very socially engaged and spent her spare time between projects with me.
Now she is going out sometimes multiple times a week with work-related comrades. They are mostly men. She does not invite me (I probably wouldn’t go to most of them), and I don’t know if these folks know I exist. She is much more social than I and is clearly thriving on these interactions, but I am feeling left behind and ignored.
She has insisted that I have to let her do this. She feels she missed a lot when she was intensely focused on her work, and is making up for this, but also says this is just the way she is, and I will have to get used to it.
I love her deeply, but I am having a tremendously hard time coping with these many evenings she spends away from me. I don’t know if I can take this forever. What if anything should/can I be doing? How much time away from a partner is too much?
Lonely and Worried
No. I won’t provide ammunition for a “should,” as in, your partner should spend more time with you or shouldn’t go out frequently with male colleagues. The only ones deciding how much and what kind of time away is too much are the couple themselves.
I feel for you. Apparently you fell for a woman who was living outside her natural habitat. What you took as normal for her was not only an aberration, but also a hardship for her. You thought you were enough, she thought she’d return to a heavily populated social life as soon as her work permitted it, and you never compared notes till now.
It appears neither of you is at fault; it’s just an accident of your circumstances.
But what you do now is all about choice. You can choose to recognize her as a social creature, or you can choose to resist that side of her, wishing her back into social-abnegation mode. You can choose to take or leave her as-is, or you can choose instead to hold on to these hopes for her that she’s ill-suited to fulfill.
And you can choose to talk openly about whether either of you can “take this forever.” By “this” I don’t mean your different social speeds, since people can overcome those when they freely, mutually choose to — I mean your expectations of each other.
Can you both reset them to reflect reality? Can you love, accept and support her in getting what she needs, without judging, sulking or holding her to your standard of “should”? Can she love and accept you knowing you wish she’d just stay home? Can she be honest with herself about what she needs?
That she doesn’t invite you can mean anything from anticipating your “no” to inching toward a breakup. Whatever it means, it demonstrates in miniature how she reconciles her louder ways with her quieter bond to you, so please tamp down your panic and ask.
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