Dear Neil: My boyfriend and I have been dating for several months. I am in my 20’s, and am in university. He’s moving at the end of next month an hour away (I do not have a car), and when he gets another contract, he could be going anywhere. This man is someone I think I love, and I want a long-term relationship with him, but I’m too scared to talk to him about how I feel. He’s hard to talk to because he keeps these walls up all the time, and it seems like he’s trying to keep it that way. I know he’s into me, but he’s holding back, and I don’t want to freak him out.
Should I simply walk away from this? I’ve never been so scared to lose someone.
Unsure What to Do in Canada
Dear Canada: You’re never going to know where you stand with your boyfriend until you can find your voice—and then talk with him.
With that voice it would be appropriate for you to tell him where you would like to see the relationship headed. If you would like to better know where he stands regarding a relationship with you, you could simply ask him. If you would like to express sadness or hurt at him moving farther away from you, you could tell him that. If you would like a greater commitment from him, you could say that—and then let him know what a deeper commitment would entail. Of course, he doesn’t have to agree to all of this, but you do get to ask for what you want, and you do get to make requests of him that would help you feel more safe and secure with him.
Relationships require risk, and it may be that he is simply afraid of growing closer to you, or that he doesn’t know how to. In that case, perhaps all he needs to hear is some words of encouragement—”I am happy being with you.” “You’re doing really well with me, do you know that?” “I don’t want you to move further away because I want our relationship to go further. How do you feel about that?” It could be that he is holding back because he doesn’t feel worthy of a woman’s love, or because he’s afraid of being rejected. Perhaps all he needs to hear is that you feel close to him and that you would like the relationship to deepen.
Of course, it could also be that he just isn’t that into you, as the expression goes. That’s the down side of taking such a risk—you risk learning that he doesn’t want the relationship any closer, or that he’s not willing to be responsive to you or your desires, or that he sees his career as his priority right now.
But learning that, even though it would be painful, it would also be liberating. You would then know where you stand, and you could then direct your attention and your energy accordingly. The bottom line is that you’re going to have to find your voice and tell him what you want, or you risk losing him—or at least seeing him less frequently.
The odd thing is that you already know your voice. You want a greater commitment and you want the possibility of a long-term love relationship with him. So it’s not that you don’t know how you feel or what you want. It’s that you’re afraid of taking the risk and being rejected, afraid you couldn’t tolerate hearing that he doesn’t have the same feelings about you that you have about him. So I’ll say it again. Relationships require risk. No doubt you grew up with adages about this subject, such as “nothing risked, nothing gained.”
It would be an act of courage and bravery for you to overcome your fear of rejection—and learn to express what you want in an intimate relationship. By doing so, you would learn how to talk with a man openly and honestly about how you feel, about what you’re seeking, about what arrangement would work for you (and what wouldn’t), about what he seeks in a relationship, and whether he’s ready and interested in a greater commitment. While you’re at it, you could even ask him why he seems to be holding back around you, and what would it take for him to take down some of his walls.
If you were to do this, you would learn two things very quickly. The first is whether he wants a closer relationship with you, and how ready he is for such a relationship. The second thing you would learn is about how to have an effective relationship with a man, and how to take that relationship beyond the superficial and assist it in deepening.
If you can’t talk openly and honestly with a man, how are you going to have a good relationship with him?