My Long Distance Boyfriend Does Not Want To Think About Our Future, But He Insists He Is Committed To Me. How Can I Be Sure?


I’ve been dating a guy for two years now. We currently live on opposite coasts (I’m in graduate school, he’s a professor), but we manage to see each other relatively frequently. We’ve had
our share of problems, mainly due to past bad relationship experiences, but also because we have very different ways of relating. I’m very passionate, though I try not to let my emotions have too powerful an effect on my actions, something I learned, in part, from him. He is dispassionate and sometimes almost cold. He’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which has obviously had a significant effect on how he interacts with people. He’s very controlled, all the time, and when he does get deeply depressed, he hides it from pretty much everyone (though not me).

The problem is we do not see eye to eye on what being a good partner means. He’s not big on saying “I love you” or buying gifts outside of holidays. He thinks such things are unnecessary, and that a desire for them suggests neediness and insecurity. Providing reassurance is something he dislikes intensely. He says he shows me he loves me by being faithful and dependable and that’s what’s important. I agree about the importance of those things, but I think the other stuff is important, too. I do send him little gifts and cards. I do express my love for him (though not as much as I used to as it’s kind of awkward). Now, that stuff is annoying and perhaps indicative of a lack of commitment on his part.

He says he shows me he loves me by being faithful and dependable and that’s what’s important.

When I’ve pressed him on the commitment issue, he says he is committed to me, fully and completely. But he doesn’t think about us having a future together because he never thinks about the future. I know he’s not lying, he truly doesn’t think about the future outside of unavoidable logistical matters. His job is very stressful and he’s a very intense individual, with the added handicap of trying to keep his highs and lows under control. Thinking about the future really is terrifying for him at this stage in his career (pre-tenure).

Anyway, I am troubled by this whole situation. I know he loves me, though I’m frustrated that he has so much trouble telling me. More importantly, given the long distance nature of our relationship, I find it hard not to sometimes long for a future time when we’ll actually be living in the same place. It bothers me that he doesn’t want to think about that. I agree that thinking too much about the future of a relationship can lead to serious problems, but can you really be committed to a relationship if you’re not at least a little future-oriented? He believes that if you act like a rational, careful adult in a relationship, the future will take care of itself.

So I’m conflicted. I love him and I want to be with him. He’s brilliant and funny and completely dependable in most ways. When we’re physically together he’s very affectionate and sweet. And we have a wonderful sex life. But he doesn’t want to think of the future, not even to plan to be together someday. He’s also anti-marriage and children but I don’t care too much about that, except in that it also suggests that he fears commitment.

Writing this has made it obvious to me that this is an issue I have to figure out for myself. I want reassurance that he does love me and does want the relationship to last. But should I need that? Nobody knows what will happen in the future, and most relationships do end. So my question to you is, what does commitment really mean? Is it just a lie we tell ourselves? Is it actually better to just take things a day at a time and try to be the best people we can be, both in a relationship and outside of it?


Well stated, and slightly different than previous questions I’ve answered about commitment:

How Long Should I Wait For Him To Commit To Me?

What To Do When The Guy You’re Seeing Will Not Commit

Am I Foolish For Wanting a Commitment For a Relationship?

My Ex Keeps Promising To Commit But He Never Follows Through

(As you can see, these questions are universal and have usually been tackled before — see the “search” button below Ask Evan on the left side).

Where to begin? Let’s start from the end and work backwards.

No, commitment isn’t just a lie we tell ourselves. There are people who truly understand the meaning of it and do their best to embody and honor it every day. There are more people who never thought too deeply about what it meant. Take Tiger Woods, for example.

I can assure you that if you laid out a chart of what Tiger would lose (money, respect, endorsements, marriage) vs. what he gained (sex in a car with a skanky Vegas cocktail waitress), he’d make a different decision.

It seems clear that however much he loved — or lusted for — his wife, he was a guy who, as a 30-year-old, attractive, travelling billionaire celebrity superstar, wasn’t ready for everything that commitment entailed. His iron will on the golf course didn’t extend to his marriage. And, make no mistake, when you’re in Tiger Woods’ position, you need an iron will to stay committed. I’m not letting him off the hook, but he has FAR more temptation and opportunity than the rest of us.

I’m not going to spend any more on Tiger, except to say that I’ve debated friends about this and don’t think he’s a sex addict or an evil person. I just think he’s a powerful narcissist who was able to detach himself from his actions for as long as he could. I can assure you that if you laid out a chart of what Tiger would lose (money, respect, endorsements, marriage) vs. what he gained (sex in a car with a skanky Vegas cocktail waitress), he’d make a different decision.

To bring this back to you, Emily, I share my thought on Tiger to illustrate how people are irrational decision makers and don’t always do what’s best or most logical. Which leaves us grasping at straws when trying to assess HOW and WHY he could ruin everything that’s great between you.

In your boyfriend’s eyes, if you push for marriage or kids, you’ll be ruining the amazing thing you have together. In your eyes, if your boyfriend doesn’t cement your two-year relationship by stepping up to the plate, he’ll be ruining the amazing thing you have together. He believes he’s right. You believe you’re right. And, at the end of the day, one of you is going to have to make a compromise you don’t want to make.

I’m not going to tell you who it’s going to be. I am, however, going to lay our your options for you in a logical, almost clinical, way, using cost-benefit analysis. Your boyfriend would probably appreciate this.

First off, I agree with you wholeheartedly that you SHOULD get some “I love you”, and some talk about the future or moving in together or marriage if that’s what YOU want. If you’re not getting this, and will never get it, and will never feel good unless you get it, then guess what? You’re dating the wrong guy.

Certain guys inspire confidence and attraction, but have all the sensitivity of a brick fireplace. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s cool… find another guy who’s a better communicator.

This is the essence of the concept from “Why You’re Still Single” called “Men Don’t Go Both Ways”. Certain guys inspire confidence and attraction, but have all the sensitivity of a brick fireplace. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s cool… find another guy who’s a better communicator. Just don’t expect your Marlboro Man to suddenly become the man you want him to be. That’s not how he’s built.

Your guy has a few added wrinkles — he’s bipolar, stoic and long distance. Not to mention uncompromising. It’s very clear that you have to accept him on his terms if you’re going to be with him. Which is not “wrong”…if you can get yourself to agree with his terms — no marriage, no kids, no sweet nothings to let you know he cares.

Frankly, I think you can drive yourself crazy spending a life with a man like that. Waking up every morning, not knowing where you stand because he’s unwilling to give you the security of a commitment.

So here’s my two cents on how to proceed. You should discuss with him the possibility of moving in with him and see if he’s open to it. Your relationship will never go to the next level if you stay long-distance. If he resists because he’s too stressed or busy or indifferent, that tells you everything you need to know about where he prioritizes you. If he is receptive to it, see if living together brings you closer together or drives you farther apart. It’s a big risk, but one that you seem to need to take.

…since you don’t have a ring, share a home, or discuss a future, you need to find the man who is going to give that to you.

But my guess is that your situation is like most situations of women with non-committal men: he wants you on his terms only, and your needs don’t matter nearly as much. It’s dime-store selfishness, not inherent to men, but it sure is common. And the only way to fix a situation with a selfish man is to walk away.

Tell him that you love him and wish him well, but you do not get your emotional needs met as a once every two weeks girlfriend. And since you don’t have a ring, share a home, or discuss a future, you need to find the man who is going to give that to you.

You’ll be surprised at how easily he lets you go — which should validate the very reason you’re leaving.

Good luck.

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  1. 1

    He *may* love you, but so what? He doesn’t act in a way that would make someone happy to share a life with him. You can probably do better.

    1. 1.1

      Can probable? Sure she can – LOVE IS NOT SELFISH and this man acts as though he dose not care about what she think or hoe she feels. Men can be very selfish sometimes – they need to grow up. It also depends on how he was raised an dhow he reflects upon relationships and what commitment truly is!!

  2. 2

    I think Evan nailed it here. It’s not a matter of whether or not this guy is wrong, but about what you want in a relationship and whether or not he’ll be able to give it to you. Based on what i’ve read it looks like he may be the wrong guy, but i’m for doing whatever you need to do to figure it out, so that if you end up having to walk away from this guy you’ll do so with no regrets and no ‘what if’s’.

  3. 3

    I find it to be true about not being able to change people. If you need to be with someone who can express their affection and give you a verbal commitment, then you need to go out and find that person. Trying to fit a round peg into a square hole will only frustrate both of you. You should not have to compromise on those things that feed your heart and soul… some things are not negotiable.

  4. 4

    Men (okay, people) do what they want to do, and they don’t do what they don’t want to do. Emily’s boyfriend doesn’t want to do the things that please her (verbal reassurances of his love, small demonstrations of delight in their being together); he doesn’t want to discuss the future; he wants things to be the way he wants them and doesn’t want them to change. He has made it pretty clear he won’t marry her or settle down and have a family with her.

    His particular reasons don’t matter (bipolar disorder, high-pressure job); men will give all sorts of reasons why they don’t want to take a relationship to the next level (“I’m not ready,” “I need to focus on my career now,” “I don’t make enough money to support a wife,” “I [fill in the blank with his favorite excuse].”) The bottom line is, when a man is “all in,” commitment-wise, you’ll know it. This man is not all-in. As Evan points out, the only way Emily can be “sure” of this is to leave. He will either get off the dime and do things Emily’s way (possibly with a lot of resentment at having to do things he doesn’t want to do), or he won’t.

    What Emily should ask herself is, is she willing to settle for a non-romantic, unsentimental, unemotional relationship in which she is not free to find someone who may be better suited to her?

  5. 5

    I think if he loved you, he would be making more of an effort. If you’re fine with putting forth all of the effort now, that’s fine. But keep in mind, even in a best-case scenario, this sets awful precedent. If you’re the one putting forth all the effort now, you’re probably also going to wind up putting forth all the effort down the road with housework, child care/rearing, errands, yardwork, etc. etc. etc. Hope that high-pressure job pays well enough for you to hire an au pair and a landscaper, because if his lack of involvement now is any indication, you’re going to have your hands FULL.

    Personally, though, I think HJNTIY. But there’s a pretty decent chance that someday you’ll look at a picture of your wonderful husband and maybe children and silently thank him for that.

  6. 6

    Try leaving & see if he stops you… Thats the best way… & you will have your answer
    I suspect that you enjoy the situation as much as you hate it or you would have walked out already.
    If you know you wont ger what you want from him, leave. Pure & simple. If he wants you he will do what it takes & if he doesnt then well at least you know it was just 2 years and its all a learning experience in life.

  7. 7

    No, I think he is into you, as much as he personally can be, but that what he has to give is not enough, and never will be. Its all he’s able to give, but you need so much more, and rightfully so. So go, and go soon. You’ll be grateful down the road that you didn’t waste any more of your time. It is so clear for those of us reading your letter.

  8. 8

    Emily can go get a guy more suited to her and then she can learn how to navigate his problems because— he will have problems too.
    If this guy is loyal, and they have fun, affection, good sex, etc. what about looking at what is there rather than what is not. Sounds like he is committed if his loyal and dependable.
    Maybe he is perfect just the way he is. Maybe their “language of love” (refers to the book, The 5 Languages of Love) is not being understood.
    Of all the suspect things do, one of them is get tired of women trying to change them when they think they are already doing the right things. That somehow, if they just changed, the new and improved version would be acceptable. I think they get tired of it…..

  9. 9

    Its simple, Men are either planning with you OR they are playing with you.
    It sounds like he is playing. Leave him, tell him you love him but that he is not treating you the way you want. Set standards of expectations for him.

  10. 10

    I almost feel as though this type of suffering is a rite of passage for some women. That said, let me give you just one illusion shattering way of thinking about this guy:

    “He’s BiPolar” – Oh really. Is this a horrible mental illness or is it just this situation specific problem that crops up every time he wants to be moody or pitch a fit. Are his colleagues picking up the slack for him when his bi-polarness is out of contol? Bank putting extra money in his account ’cause of his latest manic shopping episode. Doctor insisting he get a handicapped hang tag for when those depressive episodes sap his energy? Oh, it’s only you who has to make it easier for him.

    I could go on, but hope that gives you some food for thought.

  11. 11

    Emily, I have never commented before but I am doing so now because I was in a relationship several years ago that was strikingly similar to yours–initially long distance, with a wonderful and brilliant man who was extremely noncommittal and also bipolar. When I look back on that relationship now I am stunned at how much I was willing to put my own needs and wants on hold, and at how much I was willing to adapt myself to his life (including his depression, which became a major factor in _both_ of our lives once we moved in together), but how unwilling and resistant he was to ever do the same for me. Because of his mental health, or his noncommital nature, or whatever, each new stage in our relationship became cause for anxiety and depression, rather than happiness and hope. Is that really what you want for yourself? I wish I would have forced myself to answer that question. I simply could not give up on the relationship, could not let go of the love and passion that I felt for him, could not recognize that my needs were not being met. And so he was the one who ended it, when he went through a major depressive cycle just a month before the wedding we had finally planned after over 5 years together. It was a horrific breakup, but almost as soon as the dust had cleared I realized that I had somehow managed to dodge a bullet. After several years of dating (during which I became a regular reader of this website) I wound up in a totally different relationship with a totally different man. Now thinking about the future is exciting, and brings us closer together. When I ask him for reassurance he gives it to me without resistance. I wake up each day knowing exactly how he feels about me, exactly where I stand with him, exactly what we’re dreaming of and hoping for together. So please know that I understand how difficult it can be to let go of someone you love so dearly– but that even if things don’t turn out the way you are hoping with him, I’m sure that something even better is possible for you.

    1. 11.1


      I am sure you know better than to buy into a stereotype of a person with a serious illness and typecast every person with bipolar as non-committal. Your ex was non-committal because you are not the one for him. Period. You did dodge a bullet because you deserve someone who is committed to you as your current bf is.  


    2. 11.2

      Thank you so much ana

      Your words encourage me

  12. 12

    I have never commented before, but Emily’s question mirrors my experience. While I agree with much of what EMK says, I also know that Emily needs to give a lot of weight to the fact that her boyfriend is bipolar. I know from personal experience with a bipolar man I loved and with whom I was in a relationship that such a relationship will never give you what you want. Bipolars spend a tremendous amount of energy just trying to keep their world together. They haven’t much left to give to an ongoing relationship. When you never know who you are going to be and whether you will be up or down when you wake up in the morning, planning for the future really is iffy. I’m sure that their frequent separations give him the breather he needs to even continue the relationship.
    I’m not saying that Emily should put up with her boyfriend’s behavior because he is bipolar. What I am saying is that she will be the one to make all the compromises. Given the bipolar overlay on his basic character, she never will get what she wants from the relationship. In his own eyes, he very well may feel committed to her. But just like my ex, he simply is not able to enter into a full relationship with anyone.
    Emily, I urge you to say good-by and find a man who really wants a relationship and is ready for one.

    1. 12.1


      I am sure you know better than to buy into a stereotype of a person with a serious illness and typecast every person with bipolar as unable to enter into a full relationship with anyone. Millions of people in the world live with bipolar and have satisfying and fulfilling relationships.  

      You know, anyone can fall ill at any time. Who knows, you might have depression at some point. When they say in sickness and in health, they mean it. Especially since people don’t choose to be ill.  

  13. 13

    I agree with what EMK and others here have said. It seems moot to me to wonder whether or not his feelings for her are genuine – and I think that we should assume that they are, or at least Emily should. However, the important question isn’t whether his feelings are genuine – the important question is whether he can express those feelings in a way that makes her feel secure, loved, and appreciated.

    Her letter seems to indicate that he cannot. So then the question becomes (as others have noted), is she willing to be in a relationship with someone who not only doesn’t meet her needs currently, who not only refuses to compromise in order to meet her needs, BUT WHO ALSO tells her flat out that her (to me, totally normal and understandable) needs are indicative of neediness and insecurity? That would be totally unacceptable to me, at least.

    I don’t think that this means she should get mad at him, or assume that he really could change and is just playing games – it’s simpler (and more logical) to assume that this is it – the best he can do, the most he can compromise, the most affectionate he can be. If that’s the case and it’s not good enough, then she just needs to say very calmly, “I care about you a great deal and wanted a future together, but although you care a great deal about me, it doesn’t seem like you are willing or able to meet my other needs. The longer I stay with you, the more I will care about you, but that would be very unhealthy for me because you would still not be meeting my needs. So I’m going to have to break this off sooner rather than later.”

    I also hypothesize that he’s not going to chase you, make ridiculous promises to change, or beg for you to take him back. In fact, that might be one of the reasons that you’re so reluctant to break up with him yourself. In other words, if you thought he would do those things you probably WOULD break up with him because the grand gestures that followed would be salve on the wound his indifference has caused, whereas breaking up with him and then him NOT making a grand gesture just opens another wound. But if you are thinking along these lines (even if you don’t want to admit it), then it’s probably because you already know it’s time to walk away.

  14. 14

    It’s shocking to me that people will accept at face value someone’s assertions that they are BP, MPD (whatever) and/or will use it to defend indefensible behavior.

    Why would you spend one second with someone who told you they had a interpersonally crippling mental disorder.

    Then again, some women pursue men who are incarcerated, so what do I know.


  15. 15

    From the sounds of it Emily is doing all of the work in the relationship. She’s doing everything to meet his needs, while many of hers are going unmet. I’m even willing to bet that she does the majority of the traveling in their long distance relationship. Frankly, I actually don’t see a big difference between this letter and some of the previous ones that Evan has answered. For doing pretty much nothing this guy gets a sounding board, fabulous sex, and no work in terms of supporting and maintaining the relationship. Why would he possibly want this to end? And why should he finally start compromising two years in when he’s never had to before?

    Like the other posters, Emily’s needs are not being met and I would recommend she leave. But if she stays she should realize that things will probably never change.

  16. 16

    If your needs aren’t being met, and are unlikely to be met in the future, then you should leave.

    However, just because you feel your needs are justified doesn’t mean you aren’t needy.

  17. 17

    Go together to a couple’s counselor. They can help evaluate your relationship from both partner’s perspective. They can facilitate communication and help decide if the relationship can work.
    A good counselor won’t try hold together an impossible relationship.
    Good Luck!

  18. 18

    I wonder what her SO teaches- I hope it’s not Psychology and the Art of Human Relationships.

  19. 19

    Not everyone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder has wild, out of control highs and lows. Like any illness or disorder, there is a continuum. People with a mild case that is controlled with medication don’t think or behave much differently from “normal” people who aren’t thus afflicted. There are also varying types of bipolar disorder: people who tend towards depression, people who tend towards manic episodes, people who experience mixed states of depression combined with jazzed up feelings of irritability, etc. So if Emily’s boyfriend’s disorder is under control and has stayed under control for some time, it’s not as big a red flag as some of the comments have made it out to be. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about depression and bipolar disorder. Untreated, you bet — that is not a relationship that’s ever going to be easy. Treated? It’s like any other chronic illness a person takes medication for. There are going to be flareups and times when there are problems, but the pharmaceutical arsenal available to treat these conditions is pretty formidable.

  20. 20

    Say goodbye and do it today! I dated a man who was loving and caring and committed and bipolar and one day his meds did not work and the effect was devastating! It hurt me deeply to say goodbye, but I realized that I was not emotionally equipped to deal with the responsibilities that come with living with someone with a mental disability. That was my self realization and choice and he was a wonderful loving, generous attentive man.

    You do not have that. You are fortunate that you are long distance, its easier to get over someone who is not in your face constantly. I would suggest that you not even ask him about commitment. He doesn’t want it, he doesn’t have it in him to really show any love. I don’t think based on the letter that he loves you. You are a convenience. You deserve better. You deserve to have a man who TELLS you he loves you-Daily. You derserve to have a man to calls and wants to be with you and wants to plan a future with you. Your needs IMO are pretty normal in my book.
    So being blunt, dump him, get with EMK, get a good dating site and move on. Give yourself time to heal over this as well.

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