Leia was upset.
“He knows how much I care about him, James!” she told me. “Before he left, I told him he could take all the time in the world. I would be here for him. I loved him, and I wasn’t going anywhere.”
“And how did he respond?” I asked.
From her pained expression, I could already guess the answer.
“Didn’t really say anything. He just nodded and said he’d see me when he got back.”
“And you still don’t know when he’s coming back?”
Leia sighed. “Nope.”
Leia’s partner had taken a job on the other side of the country. It was supposed to last three months. But it had been six months, and Leia was still waiting.
She hardly heard from him. When they did talk, she got the feeling that he wanted to hurry and get off the phone.
Her friends had urged her to draw a line. If he didn’t give her a concrete return date, she should start dating other men.
But Leia felt infuriated by that advice.
She told me, “I’m not going to be in a relationship where I don’t give my all. I’m not going to play hard to get. I’m going to be honest about how I feel and loyal to the end. How is that a bad thing?”
What do you think?
Do you agree with Leia?
Or do you think her friends have a point?
When He Doesn’t Want What You Want
For Leia, love meant making sure her partner knew that she would always love him and always be there for him, no matter what.
If he told her the same thing she’d told him—that she could take all the time in the world and he would wait for her, because he wasn’t going anywhere—she’d swoon.
What a romantic thing to say!
But Leia’s partner wasn’t Leia.
He didn’t experience her promise as romantic bliss. If anything, it seemed he didn’t appreciate it.
What was going on?
You know the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated.
Leia was following the Golden Rule. She was giving her partner the words she longed to hear.
But she wasn’t following the Relationship Golden Rule.
The Relationship Golden Rule is a little different.
It says we should treat others the way they want to be treated.
And if you don’t know how they want to be treated, you have to ask.
Upsetting the Balance
Leia didn’t ask if her partner wanted her to wait for him.
She gave him that promise anyway.
He didn’t receive it as the gift she intended. Instead, it made him feel as if he owed her something.
He had to come back, because she was waiting—even though he hadn’t asked her to.
Their relationship now felt one-sided. She was giving him everything and asking for nothing in return. It was as if she’d said, “I will always love you, but you don’t have to love me back.”
That made him uncomfortable.
He couldn’t offer her the same. He might want to get back together if he came back. That was it.
But instead of telling her that and disappointing her, he just talked to her less and less. He thought it was better that way.
How might Leia have handled the situation differently?
Express Your Boundaries
Leia could have said something like:
“I love you but that’s a long time. How are we going to stay connected while you’re gone? Can we talk about what a long-term relationship might look like? Or are you thinking it might be better to take a break for a few months and then see where we are?”
That’s a risky conversation to have.
Instead of assuming they’d stay together, Leia would have to ask him if he wanted to stay together and, if so, what that would look like.
Then she would have to decide whether she could accept a relationship under those conditions.
It’s not easy, but if you follow the Relationship Golden Rule, you can’t assume you know what’s best for both of you.
What’s best for you may not be what’s best for him.
The only way you can find out what he thinks is best is to ask.
It’s nerve-wracking to consider that what you want and what he wants might not be the same.
It’s scary to consider that your feelings for him may not be matched by his feelings for you.
And it’s heartbreaking to feel that you’re willing to give so much more than he is.
But not talking about it, or promising him commitment he doesn’t want, isn’t the answer.
Relationships are about more than giving love to someone. They’re also about teaching that person how to love us.
What Leia needed to do was not just love her partner, but teach him what it would look like to love her.
Loving her meant committing to a long-distance relationship.
Loving her meant talking on the phone every day.
Loving her meant counting down the day until they could be together again.
Without having that conversation, her partner may not know that’s what she expected.
So have those conversations.
Find out what he wants. Share what you want.
Then find out if you can give each other what you both need.