Q: I’m a 25-year-old guy and my girlfriend has been gone on military deployment for the past six months. I love her and I take pride in waiting for her, but sometimes it isn’t easy. I feel a huge lack of attention and control over the relationship, but the hardest part is this: Women suddenly want me. I feel that some women need to “steal” a man in order to feel loved. I hate rejecting people, so this problem sucks. Do you have any advice for making this long-distance thing work?
A: Those who seek out unavailable people often tend to have issues with their own self-esteem. You hit the nail on the head: Some women do steal partners who don’t belong to them because it gives them a sense of self-worth. (Plenty of men do the exact same thing.) These insecure people can be very persistent. It’s worth it to them to work hard at getting the guy or girl because that validation is a big payoff. They might even change their own habits and consciously alter their personalities if it means appearing more attractive to the unavailable person they’re chasing.
These are not bad people. I’d guess that most, if not all, had an important but unavailable adult in their lives when they were kids — like a parent whose affections had to be hard-earned. Don’t feel bad about rejecting these women chasing you, because you have a very good reason for being unavailable right now: You’re taken. Just because your girlfriend is on deployment doesn’t mean your relationship is in stasis.
Assuming her permanent, nonmilitary home is in the same neck of the woods as yours, you already have a strong base for your relationship. You didn’t just meet her while on vacation in Cozumel and decide to try the long-distance thing. Those situations tend to be doomed from the start because every moment spent together is usually part of an elaborate, planned event, complete with travel itineraries. In order to thrive, couples need uneventful downtime together, too, like making dinner and falling asleep on the couch watching “Star Trek.” Another killer of permanently long-distance relationships is the absence of one partner in a sudden time of need. We bond with others over shared experiences — even bad ones. Going through both the good and the bad times together is critical for sustaining a strong bond. If the two of you have that already, then there’s plenty of hope for your future.
That lack of control you’re feeling comes from a nagging insecurity of your own: You don’t know who she’s become close to because she’s unable to be close to you. Make an effort to talk to her every single day so you can reinforce your feelings for each other. Daily e-mails, Google Hangouts, Skype chats and phone calls can be overkill in a traditional relationship, but they’re necessary when one of you is on the other side of the world. Send her surprise packages and notes. Write an e-mail five minutes after you hang up the phone just to say “I love you” one more time. Reassure your girlfriend that you’re always thinking of her, and let her reassure you of the same.
Don’t succumb to those thoughts of throwing in the towel. It’s easy to give up on something that requires a lot of effort upfront but with no reward in the near future. The reward will be there, but you have to exercise some patience. It’s also easy to give in to temptation when the cat’s away, so try to avoid those other women if you can. You say you love your girlfriend and you’re proud of her. Keep wearing that pride and do what you can to nurture the bond while she’s gone. All relationships take at least a little bit of work. You just have to be willing to put in your share.