Ask Alison: Go, Follow Lo-ove!

Good advice from someone who is terrible at dating

(Paramount Vantage)

I met the guy of my dreams two months into dating my ex. After almost a year of chatting and sneaky coffees, I realized I didn't want to be "that" person and left my ex to commence pursuing the guy who has since become my guy.

Six months of dating and he is off to pursue a Ph.D. in Europe, while I remain in South Africa to complete my Masters. Is it a suicide move in terms of my career and/or long-term relationship if, at age 23, I quit my job and join him abroad? Long-distance seems unattractive and writing up my research in Europe much more appealing. But living together at 23 and 26, halfway across the world, goes against the grain of my independent core. What do I do?

Part of being in a relationship is giving up some of your independence—not all of it, of course. You don’t have to amalgamate into one, unified mass that just watches Big Bang Theory, leaves parties early, and becomes more and more passive-aggressive. But you are part of a team now. That means you and your independent core are going to have to compromise some of the time. Granted, moving a great distance is a huge compromise, but it seems to be the only option if you want to continue this relationship. Long-distance in this situation seems nearly impossible; it’s not like you can just hop up there for a weekend. And you can only look at genitals on Skype so many times.

I don’t know if moving is career suicide. I don’t know what your field is, or what the requirements of your program are, and I certainly don’t know the economic demands of your field in either country because I’m an American. I do know that it isn't unheard of for people to take a year off even from advanced programs, nor is it unheard of for a 23-year-old to think that her whole life hinges on one decision. It doesn't. In life, you are going to be offered paths that lead to different lives and the thing is, if you pick one that you don’t like, you can change course. Nothing is absolute or permanent. You’re not going to ruin your life (unless you commit a major crime or I guess are involved in a horrible accident but let’s stay away from the hyperbolic). You are going to have regrets because everybody does. I think the important thing is that the regrets don’t outweigh the rewards.

So if you really think that your life is with this guy, then you should go. Absolutely. You’re not going to get any work done while you’re moping around, miserable at home. Don’t think of it as following him; think of it as making a new life together. I really can’t stress to you enough that moving away for a year or two is not going to derail your life forever. I’m from the west coast and after college there was this mass exodus of friends who all moved to New York and then promptly moved back after one winter. You’re allowed to try things. You’re allowed to make HUGE mistakes (within reason) because you’re 23 and you don’t know any better.

Yes, you are young and it might not work out. A lot of relationships don’t. A lot of relationships have their entire beginning, middle, and end in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s not about location or stress because there will always be stress. I think of my early relationship where, for a long time, we were in love in the way where that’s all you do, as though eating and sleeping are such secondary functions to just being gross and in love. Even though it didn't eventually work out, I know I would have moved if he had. Not out of weakness, but because he was my person—and I wasn't finished being gross and in love, you know?

Living together is always a legitimate concern, regardless of age. Living together takes away that last tiny shred of mystery and you’re just left with this person whom you love, but who is maybe a slob, or eats all your food, or has some weird habit that won’t ruin your attraction to them, but it’ll make you question it. For the first few days after you move in with a significant other, it feels a little bit like running into a teacher outside of school; you're seeing this person in a context you hadn't quite realized existed. My advice is that if you can swing it, live separately. The relationship is still very new, and you guys should be able to enjoy dating each other before it gets domestic. If that’s not an option financially, which is totally understandable for two grad students, try to have a neutral space where you can be alone if you need to: an extra bedroom, office, oddly roomy closet—something.

Well, there it is. There are always going to be reasons not to do something, most of them valid. But you call this the guy of your dreams, right? As important as it is to say that you'll meet other men who will fit whatever requirements you have, “guy of your dreams” is … heavy. So go. You know, have a plan for money and talk about what logistically you both will do if it doesn't work out and then GO. You know what isn't a good story? “A man I was in love with was moving far away and he asked me to come with him but I was too scared to go.” You know what is? Going.

If you have questions about relationship etiquette, please send them to Ask Alison [at] The Atlantic [.com].