What Should I Do if My Long-Distance Relationship Can’t Get Closer?

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My boyfriend and I have been dating for 18 months. Because I followed your advice in Why He Disappeared, the relationship has evolved naturally over time. I am 52 and he is a young 66. For the past few months we have been seeing each other five or six nights a week. While we both have baggage, we have been mostly successful at working through it. It is the best relationship I have had for a very long time. He is a very good boyfriend. So far so good, right? Except…

When we started dating, he was “between jobs” as they say. Because he is a mid-level executive, he had enough money in the bank that it didn’t really affect him in the short term, but it was a threat to his long-term financial stability. Since he is very close to retirement, this was a huge source of stress. When the job market started picking up and he began getting lots of calls from recruiters, we agreed he would only look at jobs in the area.

About four weeks ago, he got offered and accepted a job. The position was a perfect fit and the salary is very lucrative. It will allow him to replenish the funds he lost when his 401(k) tanked a few years ago and will leave him set for retirement. Except …. it is 90 miles away! The current plan is he will stay in a hotel Monday through Thursday and be home Friday through Sunday nights. At first, they told him the project would be 1-2 years, but now it looks like it could be up to 5 years. When we first talked about it, I told him we could do anything for a year. Five years is just not possible. He has consistently said our relationship doesn’t need to change – and it’s close enough for me to drive out one night a week. We were more or less living together and now we are back to dating on weekends.

So here is my question: how long do I do this and if I draw a line in the sand, what’s the line? While neither one of us is in a hurry to get married again, I do think moving in together would have been the next logical step. But now everything is up in the air. One good thing is I am a lawyer with my own practice and I could theoretically try to move part of it to the nearby county seat. But when I suggested that, he said it’s early yet and we should wait for a while to see if he likes the job enough to stay there. We agree that we both expect our relationship to continue to be exclusive and I think he can actually see us doing this commuting thing until his project is up. Like most men, he is really good at compartmentalizing. As long as he knows he has me to come home to on Friday night, he is fine. But that’s not the kind of life I want long term. What’s a girl to do? —Annette

Annette,

I’m posting your question, not because I have a good answer for you, but because some questions are completely resistant to good answers.

How boring would it to be read a weekly column that tells every woman that she’s right and that her man is wrong?

And if standing on my soapbox and giving advice for the past 8 years has taught me anything, it’s that most people don’t actually want advice at all. They want validation of what they’re already thinking or doing. Unfortunately, that’s probably why there’s so much conflict on this blog, since there’s absolutely nothing interesting or useful in providing validation. How boring would it to be read a weekly column that tells every woman that she’s right and that her man is wrong?

Your situation is not really about right and wrong, though.

Your situation is about assessing your own needs, and, frankly, that’s not something that anyone else in the world can do for you.

In public policy terms, it’s cost-benefit analysis. What do you gain from him taking this job vs. what do you lose from him taking this job?

But unlike straightforward cost-benefit analysis about your own feelings, you have to factor in one other important variable: HIS needs and feelings. After all, he’s part of this couple. He matters, too.

If I put myself in his shoes, he had almost no choice but to accept that job. You think he WANTS to commute 90 miles to work? You think he WANTS to stay in a hotel four nights a week? Of course not.

He’s doing this because he’s insecure about his financial situation, and there aren’t tons of lucrative jobs for 66-year-olds in this economy.

He knows for a fact that he’s going to be a part of his future. He doesn’t know that you’re going to be. So he has to take care of #1 first, which means taking a job to provide for his long-term security. Can’t really argue with that thought process.

Only time will tell if his job lasts or if your relationship lasts. But it seems to me that he’s doing his best.

Needless to say, he doesn’t want to lose you, which is why he wants to remain exclusive and give you as much time as possible given the circumstances. Only time will tell if his job lasts or if your relationship lasts. But it seems to me that he’s doing his best.

So if he’s being perfectly rational and using impeccable logic, that means there’s nothing he can do differently. All it means is that your fate is entirely up to you!

Not him. Not me. You.

You have two choices: stay with him through these adverse circumstances, because you’d rather have him two days a week than not at all. Or break up with him because while he’s amazing, you’d rather find a guy who is more available to you.

Neither is wrong.

But if I were to weigh in at all, I’d point out that it’s the best relationship you’ve had in a long time, and that you would be able to talk to him every night and see him three nights a week. That’s pretty much what I did with my girlfriend for a few years before she became my wife.

You’re not wrong to be dissatisfied since you feel you had something taken away from you. But understand, he didn’t have a choice.

You do. Use it wisely.

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Comments:

  1. 21
    Gem

    The point is, he already accepted the job so that’s the reality.
      
    She states it “could” be up to 5 years but possibly not.
      
    At this point the best option for her is to continue the relationship and as others have said, reevaluate in 6 months/ 1 yr., and see how they are feeling. To chuck it now, for this reason, when there are so many unknowns, is just silly to me.
      
    It’s not a perfect situation, but she may find, that it’s workable and they can still be very happy!

  2. 22
    Ray

    There is no such thing as a ‘young 66’.   He’s 14 years older than  you.    You are  letting this man suck whatever is left of  your youth so that he can have a relationship and his career goals met.  

    I also disagree that he had no choice.   He chose his career first.   Period.  He had plenty of other choices he could have made… less ‘lucrative’ ones of course.   It is only because of the fact he is a man that Evan or anyone else thinks this is ok.

    Now he has you as his weekend f-buddy.   Sounds like an  awesome deal to me.   FOR HIM.
            
    My advice would be to continue seeing him, but tell him you are not going to be exclusive without a commitment that demonstrates his ability to take your goals  and needs into account as well.   With all his ‘hard work’, I doubt he’ll have time to pursue lots of other women… and you will be liberated to find someone closer to home.    

            

  3. 23
    Dana

    @Saint Stephen gives typical male advice “at your age” fear based stuff.    

    She shouldn’t have been dating a 66 yr old in the first place.   He treated her well when it was convenient for him…mostly because she is alot younger. Now he’s back on his feet and wants to keep his ‘options’ open.     She should be doing the same thing.   Dating other men.

    Things won’t  change until women make men make hard choices.   Keep  Mr. Career comes first” around  until you find another man.        You can bet he’s doing the same thing… which is exactly why he doesn’t want  you to move there.   He wants to explore his dating options there and doesn’t want to tell  you that.  

  4. 24
    JB

    Women that are 52 shouldn’t be dating 66 yr. old men for a myriad of reasons let alone try and be in long distance relationship with one. I’m curious as to why she doesn’t date men in her own proper age range….say 48-60. Because she’s the younger one in this scenario and because she’s a woman. Who do you think would have more options if they both put up profiles on Match today? She’s acting like HE’S the last man on the planet and it’s either HIM or spending the rest of her life alone.

  5. 25
    Goldie

    What’s with the suggestions that she shouldn’t date him because he’s too old for her? or that she must be desperate to date someone that’s 14 years older? She likes this guy. She says it’s the best relationship she’s had in a long time. She wants to be with him, not with some random options from Match. And guess what? She doesn’t have to justify her choice to any of us. What are you guys, her mother? You haven’t even seen any of them, and you know whom she should and shouldn’t date? Odd.  
      
    @ Nathan, I would agree about the cost-cutting part, if not for his age… as people get into their late 60s and 70s (and older), they run into a whole new category of expenses. Medical bills, prescription drugs, long-term care. That can be a lot of money, and there’s really no good way to cut costs on those.

  6. 26
    nathan

    A few comments about age. First off, if they have a good relationship and get along well , the age difference is not really relevant in general. Second, Ray’s point about the “career man” is really important here. If this guy were 40, and making the same decision, odds are there would be some resistance coming from the women here. Considering that they’ve been together 18 months, I would bet some of the discussion would revolve around whether the guy was serious about commitment, and simply using his career to hide from making more definitive steps towards marriage or some other form of serious commitment. Thirdly, I would guess that the OP is wondering about how long she might have with her boyfriend, given that once you reach you’re 70s, it’s more likely that your health could go. It’s easy enough to see this guy working hard for another four or five years, and then maybe fading off quickly once he retires. This isn’t an uncommon scenario. So, whereas 4 or 5 years of partial separation when you’re in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, isn’t that big of a deal, in this situation, those years might be the only time they get. So, I think it’s a bigger gamble for the OP, and it’s important that we take that into consideration.
      
      

  7. 27
    Daphne

    @JB, I was curious about that age difference as well. I am dating a man 9 years older than me (I am 51), and it took him a great deal of persistence to get the first date with me because of that age difference. Once I met him, I was so entranced that I didn’t care about the age difference.
    I don’t think I would even go on a first date w a guy 14 years older though. I would be interested to hear from other women on this btw.

  8. 28
    Nicole

    @Nathan, at 66, this is likely his last opportunity for a good paying job.   

    The fact of the matter is, this isn’t about him wanting to drive Porsches until he is 80.   A healthy 66 year old man should be planning for another 20 years, and he should assume that his medical expenses will go up.   Now if he’s a at a level where this does give him a cushy retirement, why on earth does that make him a bad guy? So what?   I know I work hard and went to school so I can afford certain things so why does that make anyone bad or greedy or selfish?   Like Evan said, the only part of this equation that is guaranteed to him is him.

    And if his health was to suddenly deteriorate, do we think this lady would pay the bills?   It’s really easy to be me, me, me when the wrong choice won’t leave you destitute.   Somehow I think she would not want to financially support a destitute old man who needs his diapers changed. He needs to take his chance to take care of himself.   

    While I personally wouldn’t have a problem with 90 miles, if the guy was 40, his options, his future, and his ability to find other work or to plan for retirement would be much more plentiful.   But in this particular economy, I’d still think he was a fool for passing up a golden opportunity.

    At 66, a guy who has a chance to rebuild his retirement nest egg would be a FOOL not to take it, and he’s being really thoughtful about not having her uproot her professional life until he knows that his is more solid, b/c it sounds like kind of a long term contract which of course could be terminated at any time, no matter what the terms currently are.     
    I’m with Goldie, I was an engineer in an industry that has been DECIMATED over the past few years and the biggest casualties during layoffs were people over 45.   My chronological peers never got touched but the older people got dumped and NO ONE will hire them.   And now I’m in tech, and that too is a young man’s game where the “old” people are young Baby Boomers.   

    If you’ve ever been unemployed, you’d know that being out of work for several years will ruin the best of planners savers, and not b/c they were busy building vacation houses and buying Range Rovers.   If you don’t work for 24 months, having a modest lifestyle just prolongs the amount of time that you can plod along(as long as you don’ have any emergencies), but it doesn’t mean you are set for life. Medical expenses alone force a lot of people into long term poverty. This guy got lucky twice with his relationship and his job, but I hope the OP doesn’t try to make him choose or emotionally blackmail him into a choice that makes his own future dicey.     

  9. 29
    Teresa

    I am 55 and I don’t see myself with someone  more than a couple year   older than me.   It’s not so much the age difference it is more about what life stage one is in.   Men over 60 are generally retired or   headed that way.
    Retirement for me is at least 12 -15 years away maybe  never depending on finances.   And generally speaking men over 60 tend to be more conservative as far as attitudes toward women and gender roles.

    As for the OP   who knows if this relationship will last?   Take it a day at a time  maybe reevaluate in a few months.      

  10. 30
    Selena

    I live and work in an area with a large retiree population. I think a “young” 66 yr. old who is still interested doing in something other than playing golf, sitting on the couch watching CNN all day, and insisting accompanying his wife to the grocery store to price comparison canned goods would be quite a catch.
      
    My guess? Part of the reason you, at 52, find this man attractive is because he doesn’t fit the above retired man mold. You can work with this. If I were you, I would want to try.

  11. 31
    Angie

    Annette,

    The best thing you should do right now is to quit overanalyzing.   Playing the “What if?” game rarely does any good and it mostly just leads to frustration, which is what it seems you are experiencing.

    Both you and your boyfriend should install skyoe on your computers.   I find it much more enjoyable to skype than to speak on the phone.  

    You should consider staying one night a week at his hotel, if you have the flexibility. Sometimes it’s fun to try out different restaurants or if the new town has any theaters, etc, and treat it like a mini getaway.

    I would wait to see if something is bad before labeling it as bad.   You should really evaluate your position based on the reality and not your prediction.   Your challenges are whether or not you will be lonely and whether or not you can keep up decent communication, but knowing the challenges is a good way of working through something.

    Either way, I would at least hold off a few months before making any big decisions.  

  12. 32
    Selena

    @Daphne #27
      
    When I was 38 I became involved with a man 15 yrs my senior. Though I thought it a significant age difference (he was 6-7 yrs. younger than my parents) it didn’t feel like a difference at all during the years we were together. I attribute this to both of us being in the same lifestage. We were middle aged, working, had children at home – I had mine at 22, he had his in his 40’s so we were both still in the child-rearing stage. We also had compatible personalities, and outlooks.
      
    Now that I am older, someone 14 – 15 yrs my senior is likely to be retired, or retiring soon. I believe how compatible I would be with such a person would depend on the kind of lifestyle they chose. In their retirement how involved are they staying in the world beyond home? Most important would be forming a strong connection – we will need that to face the health challenges that inevitably come along with the ‘golden years’.

  13. 33
    Ray

    Actually, I’m going to attempt to answer the question that Evan didn’t.   She wants to know where to draw the line.

    They’ve been together for a year and a half.   Most people have an idea by then if they want to be in a committed relationship or not.    The OP knew she was getting involved with a man who was inbetween jobs…  so one could argue she knew there was some possibility he would not get another job nearby.

    BUT… here is the big BUT.   I don’t see where he has factored her into his life beyond being fun-time girlfriend who helped him get through a rough patch.

    He is telling her he doesn’t want her to make any changes in her life…  maybe that is ‘admirable’… maybe it isn’t.  

      I don’t think that any man who is 14 years older is a ‘catch’ under  any circumstances.    She’d be better off making herself a ‘catch’ and letting this one go fend for himself at his new  job.   IMHO, let him get a taste of life without her constant emotional support and see  if he thinks his job is so great.     Doesn’t mean she has to break up with him…  She shouldn’t be putting her life on hold for a guy who isn’t committing.

    A year and a half is plenty of time.   He made his choice… and it wasn’t her.    At least not right now.          

  14. 34
    nathan

    Nicole, I have been unemployed for significant stretches twice in my life, and frankly have lived close to the poverty line all of my life, despite my middle class education. Furthermore, I haven’t had adequate health insurance coverage for nearly a decade now, so even though I’m much younger than the guy in question, I’m well aware of the potential financial challenges that could be faced.
      
    “Now if he’s a at a level where this does give him a cushy retirement, why on earth does that make him a bad guy? So what?” I never said he was a “bad guy”; I said he has choices. However, that whole paragraph following the statement I quoted seems to support this me-first mentality that is, frankly, corroding not only our relationships, but much of the world these days. The majority of people work hard. Some people have a lot of material wealth and others do not. But at the end of the day, what makes for a more satisfying, happy life?
      
    Again, as I wrote above, a lot this depends upon his total financial picture, which we really don’t know. Nearly everyone I know lost money in their 401Ks over the past 3 years, but that doesn’t mean every last one of those people can’t retire comfortably on what’s left. I just question this idea that he “doesn’t have any choice,”and believe that the OP has legitimate concerns that should be addressed, even if it’s also true that she should probably give the “new version” of the relationship a chance before giving up.
      
      

  15. 35
    Melody

    I get that in early dating, one has to be protective of his/her self interest (not over-investing in a relationship that is not going anywhere, etc.), but at what point does that switch so that people view their significant other as someone truly important?

    It seems to be at some point, the person would become important enough to you to just make it work.   When does the cost/benefit analysis  cease?    Can love exist where someone is constantly evaluating whether or not they’re  getting enough out?   I wouldn’t stay with  someone for 18 mos. if they didn’t cross the boundary into the group of friends and family that I  deeply care about – and for those folks, I’ll compromise.  

    A significant other is not someone who is simply expendable and tradable for another one.   I get how online dating can make it seem just that easy, but good relationships take work, compromise, and sometimes  doing things that aren’t your first choice.  

    My sister’s fiance travels eight days  for work and then is home for eight days – she’d rather have him home every night,  but she loves HIM.   My mom’s husband isn’t home until 10  three weeknights a  week because he visits his kids in a town an hour away . . . not what she’d pick, but she loves HIM.   And, whoever I end up dating is going to have to be okay with  working around my custody schedule  with my daughter.   Hopefully, he’ll think that I’M worth that.

  16. 36
    Nicole

    I really have trouble understanding why someone trying to be fiscally responsible and independent is a selfish person who doesn’t love you.   B/c if this guy stayed unemployed and this letter was written from the lady “with the deadbeat boyfriend” in two more years,   we’d hear the same people chiming in about how he wasn’t pulling his weight, and how she should leave him, or we fast forward and this guy never gets another job and his health fails, I don’t think we’d see people suggesting that the OP should support him and pay his medical bills either.   There are not a lot of jobs right now.   They are almost no jobs for people above a certain age.   If they get a chance, they need to take it, no ifs, ands, or buts.   If you live in such a privileged bubble that you don’t see that, good for you, but that is not the reality for a lot of people.   

    It is amazing the tests that some people want to give to other people to prove that their love is true.   

    I don’t ever want to meet a man who thinks that if I really, really love him, I’ll risk my financial security and employability.   B/c when that relationship is over, the only person left to take care of me is me.     

  17. 37
    Goldie

    I thought Evan had made a good enough point here:
      
    “You think he WANTS to commute 90 miles to work? You think he WANTS to stay in a hotel four nights a week? Of course not.”


    I have never in my life seen a 66-year-old who would want to live in a hotel full-time. If this man has agreed to these conditions, to me it says that yeah, he needs a job that badly. He’s not being selfish, he’s not just doing it so he can get some strange in another town 90 miles away, he really.does.need.this.job.  
      
    @ Melody, I really like your comment, good point!

  18. 38
    nathan

    Nicole, if you’re calling me privileged, that’s an absolute laugh-fest.
    “I don’t ever want to meet a man who thinks that if I really, really love him, I’ll risk my financial security and employability.   B/c when that relationship is over, the only person left to take care of me is me. ” This is exactly what I’m trying to point to – an underlying sense that whatever relationship you have, it’s gonna fail, and that you better not take any risks to make things work. People in healthy, successful relationships frequently take risks, financial and otherwise, and in fact, often owe their relationships to having done just that. The OP can take the risk of sticking things out for another year or so, and see how things unfold. The boyfriend could decide the job isn’t a good fit, and take the risk of figuring out something else more in tandem with the OP’s life.
      
    Goldie, you may be right. But what do you make of this statement from the OP’s letter: “When the job market started picking up and he began getting lots of calls from recruiters, we agreed he would only look at jobs in the area.” Perhaps they had a misunderstanding about what “in the area” meant, but what I wonder more about is that this guy was getting “lots of calls” from recruiters, which suggests to me he could have more options. How many people at any age are getting a lot of calls from job recruiters these days?  

      
    I’ll be honest – I’ve heard a lot women over the years complain about men who focus too much on their careers at the expense of everything else. And yet, here we have a fair number of women bashing the OP both for dating an older man and also for questioning whether his career decision will significantly impact their relationship. You all can disagree with the points I’ve made above, but it never ceases to amaze me how brutal women can be to other women.
      

  19. 39
    helene

    I was really interested in what Angie said, not just for the OP but for all of us meeting people, dating, weighing things up: ” I would wait to see if something is bad before labeling it as bad. You should really evaluate your position based on the reality and not your prediction”

    This interested me  because whilst I accept that dating involves a certain level of risk, I do try to prevent myself getting into bad situations by pulling the plug if   I don’t think things are going in a good direction and I forsee worse to come.I DON’T  wait till things are bad before labelling them as bad – and I consider this “learning from experience” . To allow thinkgs to continue till a situation is bad is something I actively try to avoid, so yes, I DO try to predict, now, where things SEEM to be headed and I get out if I don’t like the prediction. What do others think? Is this sane….or just risk averse behaviour that may be sabotaging my relationships?!

  20. 40
    Saint Stephen

    nathan, there is nothing in the letter that suggest that her BF is trying to maintain an upper middle class lifestyle, rather she says he needed the job to recoup what he’d lost when his 401(k) tanked a few years ago. Why can’t you just go by what the letter says(?).

    Seriously, why can’t some of u just give this guy the benefit of doubt and stop projecting your own (selfish) motives onto him.   

    Ray Said:
    You are  letting this man suck whatever is left of  your youth so that he can have a relationship and his career goals met.  
    When did 52 becomes one’s youthful age? Maybe when people begin to live up to 200 years. Frankly, some of you on here needs to stop making all the assumptions that this man is some sort of a leech who lured her into a parasitic relationship. She wouldn’t be in this relationship if she wasn’t having her needs met. And in her own words she said; “This is one of the best relationship she’d ever been in her entire life.” You can go ahead to tell who she should and shouldn’t date, how this man is too old for her and how she has tons of options at 52. But when you take out all the men of advanced (middle?) age looking to casually date and those searching for younger women – u’ll see she doesn’t really.   

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