Tell Me About It

My girlfriend is unhappy with life in Ireland but I don’t want to leave

Tell Me About It: I don’t think a long-distance relationship would be fair on either of us

PROBLEM: I met my girlfriend seven years ago. I was in the final year of college and she was in her first year. Once I finished my course, I started to work close to the university and have remained in the same position since. Dating her during this time was fantastic; it was like getting an extra three years of living the student lifestyle, except this time I had a bit more money.

Once she completed college she started working abroad. Many relationships would struggle with this arrangement but ours flourished. We would talk to each other every day and would share our experiences online most days. Each month she would either return to Ireland for the weekend or we would both get cheap flights and meet in a European city for a long weekend. We both had an opportunity to take an extended career break, and during this time we travelled around north Africa and the US.

Every time we would be in contact or meet up it would feel like magic. We would spend our time chatting incessantly or having amazing sex. We often joked that we could try and set a world record for the number of different diverse and interesting locations that we did it.

I love her and always will – I am in turmoil contemplating the likelihood of having to let her go

Last year we bought an apartment, and six months ago, following a lot of planning, she returned to Ireland. In order to move home, she needed to take a more junior role in her career than she was used to. She finds this very frustrating and is working every moment she can to prove herself to her new firm, to ensure that she returns to the level of seniority that she has worked so hard to achieve. I rarely see her, and when we do spend time together, she is usually exhausted. We barely touch and our conversations are limited almost exclusively to her work, or her annoyance with systems in Ireland.

We are both unhappy and I think we both know that she desperately wants to return to her bohemian continental life. I have tried to ask her if she wants to return – she says that she does and wishes that I would either go with her or agree to return to our former situation until such a time that we decide to settle down and have a family.

I do not want to move abroad, and I don’t think it would be fair on either of us to re-engage in a long-distance relationship. She is still very young, and I do not want to lock her into a life that she is not satisfied with.

I love her and always will – I am in turmoil contemplating the likelihood of having to let her go.

ADVICE: You sound as though you had an idyllic seven years in your relationship, but of course sacrifice is a core part of love, and you two have now hit this. When we love someone, we willingly give up something for them, such as considering them before we say yes to any social commitments or, in the case of parenting, money so that the child can thrive.

In this situation, your girlfriend has given up her good job and bohemian life to join you in Ireland, and it seems she harbours resentment about this. She is asking you that you give up your position, much as she did for you, and go to Europe with her but you say that this is not something you can do (and I wonder why you are so adamant about this?). So you have stalemate.

You say you love her, and if this is true, then you could consider how to support her (and the couple) by considering all options

If a couple is to move jobs and countries, one person has to adapt more than another, but what is important in this decision-making is a sense of fairness. If there is an agreement that one person makes the sacrifice now, then the other person should have a guarantee that their desire will be supported at a later stage: this might be in the form of financial support for returning to college or, if necessary, moving to another location that might suit their lives. If there is no sense of fairness in the relationship, then resentment and bitterness can take hold and the relationship inevitably struggles. Love is supposed to stretch us, it makes us more generous, kind and tolerant and the focus should be on what is best for both people, even if that is not simultaneous.

It seems that your girlfriend is in need now. She is frustrated and pessimistic and is not ready to settle down. She has offered you the choice to return to your former arrangement until it is time to have a family, and the question is whether you can take this seriously. You say you love her, and if this is true, then you could consider how to support her by considering all options.

The danger here is that you go back to a long-distance relationship but this time, you are both full of judgment and measuring (“Is this good enough?”) and this might kill it. What you both decide now has huge consequences for your future. Given the longevity of your relationship, you might benefit from a couple of sessions with a couple’s therapist to help navigate the looming decision.