“The Economy Destroyed My Relationship”

“The Economy Destroyed My Relationship”

Illustration: Emma Erickson

Dear Emily,

I currently live in Seattle and my boyfriend is moving to Las Vegas because the cost of living here has become too high. He quit a job he was unhappy at last summer and has been working 3-5 jobs and applying for full-time positions just to stay afloat. This is causing him a ton of stress, so he decided to move back home where his family lives (he has a large family and they have always been his biggest supporters, so I understand why it would be good for him).

We decided to break up rather than do a long-distance relationship because (a) neither of us has the money to visit each other often enough and (b) there is no time frame for whether he will stay, come back, or do something else (and I will most likely be living in Seattle for the foreseeable future).

The amount of work he takes on and the stress it’s put on him lately has affected the quality of time we spend together (he often has to work late nights at Uber Eats multiple times a week). And while I wish I could give him my full support, I recently lost my job and my dog ​​died, so life has been overwhelming me as well. Not being able to fully commit to each other, while also not having enough time to recalibrate, has left me feeling like something just isn’t working (which we both acknowledge).

We’ve been together for a little over a year and we felt like we really had something special, especially since we put in so much work to support each other through the tough times. It really hurts that the only reason this is happening is because of this shitty economy and shitty job market. It’s so unfair that something that was going really well just ended for reasons beyond my control and I’m struggling to figure out how to move on.

Do I have hope that we will be together in the future? Do I consider texting him in a few months just to make sure? I guess I’m asking how do I accept a loss that is beyond my control and how do I grieve a relationship that had so much life left to live? I’m probably asking for an answer to an impossible question that time will reveal, but man, am I sick of hearing that “time heals.”

— Broken

Dear Broken Up,

It’s strange—not necessarily bad, but just plain strange—to read about a breakup that seems so rationally reached and mutually decided. The only problem is that something about it doesn’t feel real or final. You say the only reason is his impending move, but the circumstances leading up to it—his job situation, your own difficult times—have left you both feeling like “something’s not working.” But deep down, you also feel like the only reason you’re breaking up is because he’s moving. It’s hard to get clarity on the situation, and it’s definitely impossible to grieve something that’s not over yet.

Do you want to break up with him? From your letter, it sounds like the answer is no. You know you won’t be able to visit him often, but you still want to keep in touch. It sounds to me like in a real breakup you’d like to rip off the band-aid so you can both start living in the present instead of clinging to the past. But I get the impression that you feel a deep ambivalence about the situation, partly because Is it’s unfair that so many of the obstacles to being together are external.

One factor I don’t think you can afford to ignore is that he ultimately makes the decision to leave. He wants stability for his family and perhaps thinks his career prospects will be better in Vegas. You also recently lost your job, so you’re ready to settle in with him. But your losses haven’t made you want to leave your city, at least not “for the foreseeable future.” Again, he chose to leave and you chose to stay. While neither choice feels completely autonomous, at the end of the day he has to take responsibility for his decision, and you have to accept that by choosing Vegas he has made it very difficult for you to continue your relationship with him. He’s essentially the one who decided to end the relationship between you, and if you want the breakup to last, you have to decide to focus on that.

On the other hand: Have you considered what it would be like to move there with him? Do you love him and he loves you? Do you see a long-term future for this relationship if you lived in the same city—marriage if you like it, kids if you want it? Maybe I’ve watched too many Nora Ephron movies, but part of me thinks that if you’re passionately in love with this guy, there’s a version of reality where you could move, too. Maybe tentatively, rationally, temporarily at first—sublet your apartment, stay on the job market. Since you just lost your job, it could be an exciting new beginning! That is, if you’re willing to put this relationship above everything else in your life, which is, okay, crazy. Although if you’re young and free, sometimes you can do crazy things! And love is important and rare.

But there’s something about the tone of your letter—mostly the focus on the grind you both went through and how hard it was to keep the relationship going—that makes me think of the ending where you run onto his plane to Vegas at the last minute to declare that your love isn’t in the cards. If that turns out to be the case, the hard work you have to do is about acceptance. Accepting what’s happening and living in the difficult moment you’re in now, rather than imagining different futures, is what’s really going to get you through this difficult time. At this particular moment, the only way to keep from driving yourself crazy is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, and trying to get comfortable with the ambivalence that life has thrown at you.

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