Dear Sara: My boyfriend and I have been dating for 7 months now. I am 52; he is 55. It started very slow, but he makes me feel very relaxed and cared for when we are together. But the problem is, he is so busy with work, sometimes working without any time off for 3 to 4 weeks straight that I hardly see him.
He is a best friend, he loves me—that’s what he said. But he needs to work a lot and long hours. Meanwhile, my schedule is so different from his that it seems like a long-distance relationship, even though we live 20 minutes from each other. I like independence, but the rare dates we get starts to make me feel unhappy.
I don’t know what to do. He is such an excellent person and I might even love him. I don’t want to lose him, and at the same time I don’t have enough of him. I miss him tremendously. Any advice? Sincerely, I
Dear I: It sounds like you have a lovely relationship, so I understand that you’re reluctant to do anything that might cause strife. But if there is something happening that makes you unhappy, then I think you really need to talk to him about it. You’ve been together for seven months; you’re not being needy or clingy to bring this up. This is your life, and you’re entitled to know what kind of partner he intends to be. So rather than worry about losing him, I suggest seeing this as opportunity to find out if he’ll ever be able to give you what you need.
The big question I have is: Does he really need to work such long hours? Some people do—they really have no choice, and it has nothing to do with how committed they are to the people in their life. There are other people who say they have to work long hours, and maybe even believe they have to work long hours, but actually could leave the office a bit earlier if they really wanted to. For some people, this because they adore their work or are extraordinarily dedicated to the people they serve. For others, it’s because they aren’t engaged with the rest of their life.
So you need to know which of these categories he fits into. Your boyfriend will probably always work hard, but you need to know if there is any flexibility here. Is he willing to change his schedule to spend more time with you? Does he want to change his schedule to spend more time with you? Can he change his schedule to spend more time with you? Does he know the difference between these things?
To me, his schedule is less important than the way he receives your concerns.
Does he listen to what you have to say and acknowledge how frustrating it must be for you? Or does he shut down, become defensive or say, “This is how I live my life—take it or leave it”? Even if he truly can’t or won’t change his hours, it’s important that he acknowledge that this is hard on you and show he wants to find a way to make it better.
Of course, the question for you is: If his schedule isn’t going to change very much, can you be happy in this relationship long-term? Can you find ways to enjoy the time that you’re apart, so you don’t feel like you’re always waiting?
Obviously, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but I think it would be helpful for you to be clear on what you will or won’t accept in this relationship. Where are you willing to compromise and give him some space, and at what point do you simply say, “I need more than what you’re giving me, and if you can’t offer it then we need to part ways”?
Bottom line: He needs to show you he cares, if not by trimming his hours then some other way (and it’s his job to figure out what that is). If he can’t, then I’d suggest finding someone else to spend time with.