Should I stay with my boyfriend of seven years?

Dear Dwonna:

I’m a 22-year-old college graduate, and I’m thinking about moving away from my hometown and going to graduate school in another part of the country. I’ve been dating the same guy for seven years, and I’m not sure what to do since he can’t move with me. What do you think I should do?

Sincerely,

Dina

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*Thanks to my pal Cati Montgomery for writing most of this.*

Dear Dina:

First, talk to your boyfriend about what he thinks the future holds for the two of you and whether or not you might want to commit to shifting this to a long-distance relationship. Although long-distance relationships can be very tricky and are oftentimes difficult, today’s technology—the Internet, Skype, and FaceTime, for example—can make them bearable for the times in between visits. Do have a plan for when you will see each other and how—and how often—you will keep in contact while you’re apart. If you do opt for trying the long-distance relationship thing, keep in mind that your interactions will change since you won’t get to see each other daily, but if you put in some extra effort, you just might make it work.

However, since you are moving to a different part of the country, you are bound to meet lots of fun and interesting new people. If you do meet someone in your graduate program who might pique your interest, what will happen to your seven-year relationship? You need to ponder this scenario so that you’re not dishonest with your boyfriend and a future “friend.” Still, don’t cut yourself off from meeting new people while you and your boyfriend are apart. Create and maintain a life that is separate from your boyfriend and then figure out how to merge your two lives when he comes to visit. At the end of the day, you will have to trust your boyfriend and yourself to not stray, and only you know whether you can remain faithful to him and whether he can remain faithful to you.

The second thing to think about is a long-term commitment and/or marriage. If you have already been dating this long and you have not had a serious conversation about your longer-term future together, you may need to pause to reconsider the value of this relationship. Are you holding on to him because he is safe and this relationship is what you have known since you were 15? What common goals and values do you share should you decide to stay together and get married? Does your boyfriend support your educational goals and talk about a future together? You’re only 22, and that’s really young to be getting married to someone you’ve known since you were in 9th or 10th grade. You’re probably too young to make that kind of long-term commitment.

Third, graduate school is a whole different level of commitment—to your work, to the students in your graduate school cohort, and to your professors. It will most likely require a much bigger time investment to study, to produce classwork and papers, and to perform original research. You will be learning about things at a pace you probably did not experience as an undergraduate, and sometimes the coursework and expectations of your professors can be overwhelming.

Graduate school may just be the time that YOU need to discover who you are, exactly, on your own. Your 20s are a time of growth and maturity, and you are just now beginning to evolve into the person you will be in your 30s and beyond. Perhaps you’ll want to take this next two years at grad school just to develop who you are as a person, without depending on the boy you’ve known since you were 15. You may discover some fairly interesting things about yourself.

Good luck!

Cati M

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