She Needs 'Space'
Q: My girlfriend has just graduated from college, and, at age 27, I'm still in the process. She claims now that we decided to take some time apart, but it was all her idea. A few months ago she said she was in love with me, and she wanted to get to know everything about me. Then she went to study abroad and that gave me a lot of time to see that I, too, was in love with her. Since she got back she has been distant and pushed me away. I thought it was understandable, with big decisions looming in front of her. The funny thing is every time we do hang out we have a great time, with lots of laughs and lots of passion. But she says all her serious relationships are like this after two years or so, and so she freaks out and gets scared to commit. I still love her and would be willing to give her as much space as possible. But I don't want to give her enough space so that she forgets about me. What do I do? -- Matt
Dr. Susan: Poor Matt! I get this kind of question so often from people your age. The thing about relationships is that they change over time, and most sparkly honeymoon periods last anywhere from six months to two years. That's the way biology works. The problem is that your girlfriend isn't mature enough to handle that reality and seems to want to feel first-month fireworks forever. What she was calling "love" a few months ago was mainly lust, I'd suspect. Which by itself isn't a bad thing, but if she can't handle the changes, then she's a bad bet for a long-term relationship. I wonder if something that happened abroad -- a little flirtation? -- reminded her of how much fun a new relationship can be, and now she's unwilling to commit to good old familiar you.
The thing about space: it doesn't make people get closer. You build a strong, tight, loving, forever-type bond by spending time together, growing together, enjoying new activities together, struggling with and overcoming challenges together. Sure, you ought to know who you are as an individual before you commit to marriage, but asking for space apart is often just an excuse to sow a few more wild oats. The truth is that if she's now acting distant and pushing you away, that does not bode well for a future together. Sounds like she likes the fun and the passion, but otherwise, she's out of there when the going gets tough.
Ask her for a few undistracted hours to discuss how she sees you and this relationship. And if she says she's not ready for that or not ready to even imagine being with you for keeps, believe her. If you agree to give her space, i.e., freedom to try out new people, then be fair to yourself and take the same space for yourself.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.