Reader question #93: I want to move away. My boyfriend is holding me back. What do I do?

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have this boyfriend, who I live with, in City A. I’m planning to move to another city (City B) in about six months, to study, and he plans on coming with me. This has turned into a problem. We don’t have a place to live, and it looks like it might be rather hard to find one. I have family in City B, and are welcome to live with them until we find our own place. The boyfriend is really, really not cool with the possibility of me moving without him, even if it’s only a temporary solution. He’s pretty much said that he would consider me to be breaking up with him if I did. I feel like that is a way of threatening to break up with me while at the same time making me into the bad guy.

Thing is, I really don’t like living in City A. The friends I used to have here have moved or plan on moving soon. It’s lonely. I miss my friends and my family. I feel like I’ve already stayed here for too long and I’m not willing to post-pone moving away any longer than I have to. I feel like he’s holding me back in a situation that I desperately want to get out of.

I’m questioning our relationship and it’s really hard. We don’t have a monagamous relationship, which I was fine with when we got together several years ago, but feel less fine with now. For now, neithor of us really engage in relationships with other people, but I feel worried about that becoming an issue in the future. We have talked about this. He doesn’t want a monagamous relationship and since it hasn’t made a difference in practice, I’ve gone along with it. He’s also done some things in the past that hurt me and that he considers himself to have the right to do anyway, so I don’t trust him to not repeat those things. I feel like I would be setting myself up for pain that I don’t want if I stay with him. On the other hand, I love him. Most of the time he makes me really happy and I don’t want to let go of that. However, we are young, and the kind of relationship I was looking for and agreeing to have when we got together is not the kind of relationship I want now. I still want it with him, though.

If he makes me chose between him and moving to City B and starting my education, I’m pretty certain I’ll chose moving. I don’t think I could forgive him if he stopped me from doing that. But it feels unfair that I should have to chose. And it feels unfair to be feeling like that and not tell him. I don’t know if we should even be together, since we obviously want different things out of this relationship right now. I feel like the rational thing to do would be breaking up, but I’m scared of doing that because I don’t want to let go of us being together. This is my first relationship and I have no idea of how I’m supposed to feel before breaking up with someone. When we aren’t together, breaking up makes sense. But when we are, it feels insane because it feels so good to be with him.

Sad and Confused

Dear Sad and Confused:

You can’t quite see this now, but I can.  In your future, you’ll live with your family and friends in City B, pursuing your education, and this guy won’t be anywhere near your awesome shining new life.  You’ll feel sad and miss him for a while, and then you’ll plunge into the exquisite awkwardness of dating new people, and a few years from now he will be a story that you tell people about.  Someone out there is a better fit for you.

Or, you’ll live with your family and friends in City B, and after some time away from this guy  you guys will miss each other so much that you’ll figure out a way to be together, and you’ll both have done some growing in the meantime that will make your relationship that much better.

Move.  Move now.  Move tomorrow.  Move today!  August 13th:  A good day for a move.

And when he says “So I guess you’re breaking up with me” say “I am sad about that, but I guess I am” and if he tries to make plans to come with you, say “Let’s not plan anything right now.  I need to take care of myself and figure out what’s right for me, and I can’t do that if I also have to worry about you.”

You don’t have to wait until he does something major and dramatic.  You don’t have to wait until you hit rock-bottom unhappiness. You don’t have to make an airtight case that convinces him it’s a good idea or get his buy-in.  Wanting to leave is enough reason to leave.

I believe you when you say that a relationship that is not working (or going to work out long-term) feels too good to leave right now. I believe that you will miss him, and that it will be hard to let go,  and that you might have many second thoughts and regrets. I’ve recently walked a very long mile in these same shoes, and I’m still waiting for it to magically get better, and I know it will because it did every single other time I found myself here.  Time heals.  Distance heals. You have a golden opportunity to jump into the future and put some literal distance between you and this guy.  Let’s trust the future, you and me.


26 thoughts on “Reader question #93: I want to move away. My boyfriend is holding me back. What do I do?

  1. if he can’t wait? think of how he’ll handle things when the serious shit rains down. ’cause life ain’t always full of rainbows and unicorns.

  2. LW here. Thanks for the answer. The thing is… I don’t really want to leave him, I just want to get out of this situation and this city.

    1. I understand, and I’m sorry if I’m pressuring you to break up or projecting…a lot…which I can see now that I was. You don’t have to break up. But you do have to get somewhere that is better and has more opportunities for yourself. So what if you said “I don’t want to break up with you, but I do want to move sooner than we planned, and when you pressure me to stay or tell me that would be as if I’d broken up with you, it makes me really sad and angry?” If he breaks up or threatens to or tells you that it would be like you’d broken up, you have no choice but to take him at his word. But that doesn’t make it your fault or something bad that you’re doing.

      Maybe read this less as a plea for you to break up than as a plea for you to go after what you want fiercely and without apology and let him make his own decisions. You don’t have to manage his life for him, and you have this amazing opportunity to improve yours.


        Is it possible that he’s just extremely threatened by this idea that she’s starting a shiny new life and he’s going with her? It might not be that he hates City B or the idea of City B, but that he sees it as a jumping-off point for her and a great big blank space for him. That ultimatum sounds like emotional blackmail, but it might just be his clumsy way of expressing his fear: that when she goes, she will break up with him. Out with the old.

        I think the answer remains more or less the same: she should go where she thinks she’ll be happy. It isn’t often that people feel that clear sense of direction, and it isn’t often that they can attend to it. He can make his own decisions based on his own impulses; he’s an adult.

        But she might want to sit him down and talk with him about his own hopes or fears about City B: does he want to start/finish school, get a job, pursue anything? Does he already feel lonely? Is there anything specific–very specific–about City A that he’s worried about losing? If she can get him to think about the relocation as a relocation, he might stop freaking out. And if he keeps freaking out…well, he’s an adult.

    2. Recapped for truth:

      “I feel like that is a way of threatening to break up with me while at the same time making me into the bad guy.”

      Yikes, that’s because it absolutely is. This is a pure control move, and don’t think he doesn’t know it. He’s afraid you’ll realize he totally sucks and break up with him if you move (which is fair, since he sucks, see below) and he’s trying to control you by threatening you with breaking up. Because he knows he can only keep you if he can keep you with him. Because he sucks. Or at least, he sucks for you. You could not be worse for each other See below.

      1) You want monogamy, he won’t go there, despite the fact that you’re pretty much monogamous anyway. I feel like he’s just dicking with you here, but if you’re convinced his motives are pure on this one, then at least this is Not Working For You.

      2) “He’s also done some things in the past that hurt me and that he considers himself to have the right to do anyway.” Someone who loves you cares about your feelings and doesn’t do things on purpose to hurt them. Even if they don’t see the issue. At least they would show up to the table for a compromise.

      3) “I don’t know if we should even be together, since we obviously want different things out of this relationship right now.” You said it yourself. You really shouldn’t. And if in the future you find your way back to each other and you’re both on the same page (he wants monogamy, he’s willing to stop hurting you deliberately through his actions, he’s over his control issues and petty threats, he grows the eff up) then fabulous. No one will be happier for you than me. In the meantime, move on. You are not right for each other right now, or perhaps ever. You can’t force this relationship into what you need, and eventually you will overload on all your pent-up unhappiness.

      Good luck. Breaking up is hard to do, but LW, it’s the only way this one can go where you get to be happy. Embrace it.

  3. LW, it sounds like you want a different relationship than the one you have, but with the same guy. But that might not be possible. You might either get the relationship you have, or you have to risk breaking up so you can find the exact relationship you want, but with someone else. Either way, I think you need to have a talk with boyfriend about how you would like your relationship to change, and if he’s not putting your desires on an equal footing with his own, then it’s time to go.

    The whole thing about “well I was right to do those things that hurt you” is a big red flag for me, btw. The people I know who would say things like that are not people I would want my friends in relationships with.

    1. Sadly, I think that’s exactly what I want. I also think that you are right about having to talk to him, so I guess I’ll try to do that. It’s hard and scary, though.

      1. I’m sure we all feel that! Totally hard and scary. But better on the other side of having done it. Good luck!

    2. I too have walked a number of miles in these well-worn shoes, and believe me, if the relationship you have had all along is not the relationship you want from now on, it will not magically become so, regardless of whether you’re in City A or B or otherwise.
      You love him, there are things about him that seem irreplacable; own that. Love it, value the good stuff, but take that step forward into the life you want, rather than clinging to a life that is SORTAKINDA what you want IF ONLY X were different. All the years I waited for my life to begin once X was different…many many years. Geekgirl99 is right: you AND he should put your desires on equal footing with his.

      I have also in life found that when I wasn’t around the sortakinda love object and felt like breaking up with them (but didn’t when they were around) that ended up being kind of a hormone fog or I was being steered by their needs and not mine. Follow your gut.

  4. Cap’n, that was really killer advice. People stay in negative relationships much much longer than they ought to, often because there are such wonderful things about the people they are with. It’s hard to leave.

    And yet, there are soo much people who have awesome characteristics who won’t also be hurting you or holding you back or forcing you to commit to City A when you really want to be in City B.

    When I was 13, everyone was all about “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it will be yours forever. If it flies away, it was never yours to begin with.” And I was all ROLLED EYES. But you know? The cheese is right. Set free; see what happens.

  5. Also: if you decide to stay in a relationship with this man very much longer, LW, you need explain that you can’t do nonmonogamy anymore, because it makes you unhappy. And if he has a problem with that, he’s not the man for you.

    That is, you don’t have to stay with someone who is simply not a good fit for you–emotionally, logistically, geographically, philosophically, whatever.

    A certain amount of conflict and compromise is normal to any human pair, but major disjuncts (can I fuck other people? should we live here forever?) often augur ill. And you shouldn’t stay with someone who can’t wrangle with these issues. You shouldn’t ignore your own feelings of anger or dissatisfaction in order to sustain a relationship that is making you angry and dissatisfied.

    It sounds like your wishes here are quite clear. As a general baseline, he should be willing to help you realize them somehow.

  6. So… we talked, and it seems like we broke up. And it’s really weird. And… well, I don’t know. Part of me feels somewhat relieved and part of me feels like trying to make it okay again. Not sure what part to listen to.

    1. Listen to the relieved part, my darling. Breaking up always involves pain, and no one is ever as gorgeous as they are when they’re walking away. But the relief tells you that you made the right choice in this. Go forth, be sad for a while, then continue to be AWESOME.

    2. I’m sorry to hear it. Like Captain Awkward, I think that the best thing for you to do right now–how many hours post-breakup?–is to sit with your feelings. Good luck.

    3. So sorry to hear this – our sympathies! But I can’t help but agree with Commander Logic – listen to the relieved part. Doesn’t mean it won’t also be sad though.

    4. Babe, you’re allowed to miss him and know that you can’t be with him just now, all at the same time. If you’re young, if this was your first relationship, there is absolutely no reason to settle for someone who wants a different type of relationship than you do. But I know it still hurts. ❤

  7. LW, I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I was in City C, with a boyfriend who I loved, but we had some relationship issues. Then I got a job offer to live in City D, and it was an opportunity I wanted to take so badly. But my boyfriend had his own thing going on in City C, and just didn’t want to move with me, although I tried so hard to convince him, and the thought of going without him made me feel sick with the fear of losing him. But in the end I knew that I had to take this opportunity, so I went. This was the best decision I ever made. Really. It wasn’t clear what would happen with my boyfriend, but we made it through in the end, and a year later he joined me in City D. I am now so glad he didn’t join me straight away, partly because the year of being apart made our relationship better, but mostly because when he came, he came because he wanted to, not because of pressure from me. And the new job and new environment changed my life.

    It sounds to me like you have a similar feeling – you know that City B is the right place for you to be. Take the Captain’s advice and follow that feeling. It won’t necessarily mean your relationship is over. With some space and distance, things could even improve. But if it does mean your relationship ends, it will be so hard, but you will have your family and friends and new opportunities, and you will know you followed your own star.

    If you do decide to go long distance, please sit down and talk to your boyfriend about what you need emotionally to make that work, and your hope for a monogamous relationship with him. This really has to happen before you go.

    All of this is really scary and really hard but I really think you will be OK.

    1. Sorry, LW, I must have posted the above simultaneously with your latest news, so it’s kind of irrelevant. Hope you get through the next few days OK.

  8. Hey, Captain Awkward, you’ve alluded to living abroad:

    Do you have any advice on how to do this in a foreign country? With a different language and some awkwardness-inducing cultural differences, especially as regards socializing? I have been trying and failing to turn in my Hermit card lately, and would appreciate some advice. If it’s not a derail.

    1. Oh, I’m so sorry! This was meant for the other thread, the one with the Willow picture, #81.

  9. So… we talked some more, while both of us being less upset, and for now, we are still in a relationship. He said he was willing to make changes, including actually being in a monogamous relationship with me and not ending our relationship if I move without him, as long as the intention is to end up living together. He seemed to think that was reasonable requests. And then I left to stay with my parents for a while, because I still feel like I need time to think about this. It’s confusing. I feel happy but also weird and worried. I might still break up with him, although I feel like I should give our relationship a chance if he’s willing to change it. So I guess I’m trying to figure out what I really want. Thanks a lot for all the comments, they’ve been really supporting. I feel like if I do decide to end it, I’ll be able to handle that.

    1. Another technique that may be helpful, as you continue to hash your way through this is to make a list of the things that you MUST have from your relationship to feel like you’re being true to yourself, to avoid that gnawing sense of misery we all get when we try to force ourselves to accept what is not really acceptable to us (such as trying to make yourself be “cool” with a non-monogamous relationship when it makes your heart ache (or vice-versa!), or giving up an opportunity you’re really excited about, when you don’t see why you should have to). Those things change for people over time, but at any given moment we all have things we know we can not thrive without. Don’t feel guilty about having them.

      Make another list of the things you just want. ‘Cause life (at least a happy one) is not only about needs. Wants matter too. Take your time — don’t try to do this in fifteen minutes. Give wants serious consideration — as early in life as it sounds like you are, it is way, way too soon be denying your own legitimate wants.

      Encourage him to make his own lists.

      Swap lists, then use them as a springboard for discussion. Can each of you give the other what he/she needs? How about a bunch of those wants? Do you both understand that in the long haul of a relationship, neither partner is going to be happy unless the other one is at least reasonably happy? So it is as important whether the other person’s wants and needs can be met as your own?

      Apparently, your guy is willing to discuss things productively, and to meet those 2 big needs, which gives me more hope for your relationship than there seemed at first (or midway). So maybe you’re going to make it after all!

      What’s important is for both of you to see whether there is enough compatibility and common ground to be going on with. On the one hand, you may find that you are more in sync than you realized, and that by tweaking your respective “wants” a little you can find your happiness together. On the other hand, you may realize “Oh, bummer. Much as we care about each other, this ain’t never going to work. One or the other of us is always going to have to be giving up something that is too important to him/her.”

      If you stay together, you’ll be doing it with a much better understanding of what your “deal” is. If you split, at least you’ll know why, and that it doesn’t mean either of you is denying the other person’s inherent worth… just that you know your happiness can’t be found in the same place.

    2. I’m glad that you’ve talked about things, and that he’s willing to make some changes.

      Because you’re so young, let me just say this: Just because a relationship ends doesn’t mean it was a failure. *If* you decide to end things, or if he does, or if it just happens, it doesn’t mean that you did something wrong–it just means it was time for the relationship to be over. Relationships are a lot like…well, rides at a water park. Sometimes, they’re fast and intense and totally awesome, like the giant twisty slide. Sometimes, they’re just shallow and fun, like the splash pool. Sometimes, they’re long and lazy and relaxing, like the “tube down the river” type rides. Are rides a failure because they come to an end? Are the people on those rides a failure because it comes to an end?

      There’s this, too. No matter what type of ride this one has been for you, there will come a time when it has to end, either now or later. And if you decide you want to stay on the ride for a little bit longer, I wish nothing but the best for you. Good luck in your move!

Comments are closed.