Q: Dear Meredith,
Three years ago I met a wonderful man (let's call him James) online who lives in London. It quickly became apparent that we had an amazing connection. We've visited each other many times since then, met each other's friends and family, and he even stayed with me here in the US last summer. We always have a fabulous time together. I'm crazy about him and he has become a very important person in my life!
The problem is, I'm not sure that he's crazy about me. I get very mixed messages. Although he writes every day, says that he loves and adores me, and we talk often, he still refuses to call me his girlfriend. He says that he would ask me to be his girlfriend if we lived in the same country. He was burned by an American girl some years ago after having gone through the visa process and says that he's terrified to go through that again. He has taken contracting work with a company based in Boston (yay!) but as of now there are no plans to bring him here as a regular employee although this could change in the future. He is unable to visit the US for the next 2 years due to some complex visa issues, so the only way that I will see him is if I am the one to make the trip or if he gets special permission for a business trip.
I am tired of being in this quasi-relationship; I want more. I am so confused as he says that he loves and misses me, but then acts very distant and aloof at times. I know that he has suffered from anxiety and depression in the past and this is still an issue for him and he is not receiving help. James often states that things never work out for him no matter how hard he tries. As of now it seems like the only way to be together would be to fill out fiance visas or for one of us to get a job in the other's country. He's obviously not ready to fill out visa forms if he chokes on the word "girlfriend" and it is very competitive to get a job in London in my field (although I have sent out applications and am trying!). He says that he wishes that our relationship could just unfold naturally. I have told him how I feel and he has said that he thinks that everything will be OK but offers no concrete plans as to how that will happen.
How do you know when to throw in the towel? I almost feel as if I'm gambling... if I put one more quarter in the machine/wait a few more months maybe something will happen to bring us together, which has worked before. I know that being in this quasi-relationship is keeping me from pursuing other options, and while I have great friends and family I often feel lonely. When I was in London in January I gave him a ring and asked him to be my boyfriend. He said that he loves me but can't make that commitment, yet wears the ring every day and raves about how much he loves it, how special it makes him feel, and that he wishes he had money to buy me one too. While I know he cares for me, I am starting to feel that he's stringing me along and likes knowing that someone loves him.
When I was in London last November visiting James I met another guy, we can call him Gavin, at a party. We instantly hit it off. As I was at the party with James, I was doing my best not to flirt, but boy was there a spark with Gavin! He found me on Facebook the next day and sent me a very sweet note. I friended him to make it known to James so that I wouldn't feel that I was being sneaky. A few months ago, I got a note from Gavin that he was taking a break from Facebook, and that started a series of emails back and forth; it started to get a little intense and I felt guilty so I stopped writing back but I thought about him a lot. Last month I got another email from him that has started the email exchange again. He is planning on visiting the US for a week in April and spending a few of those days with me in Boston (I offered to show him around). While Gavin seems interested, I don't know what his intentions are. It could be a steamy visit or it could just be a few friends hanging out! Maybe he just wants a tour guide?! In the last year he ended a very long relationship, so he might not be looking to get into another one any time soon.
So, I've got a lot of questions! Is it time to set James free if he's not willing to make solid future plans or do I keep hanging on, and if so on what conditions? Do I need to tell James about Gavin? At this point I don't even know what to say as Gavin's intentions aren't clear and neither are mine. I don't want to be sneaky, and I really do want to be with James, but I am tired of his mixed messages and have to admit that I am enjoying this attention from Gavin. James and I have no clear rules about our relationship, yet why do I feel like I'm breaking them with Gavin?
Thank you for reading my letter. I'm looking forward to some much needed advice!
– Languishing in Long-Distance Love Near Boston
A: I empathize with James. It seems silly for him to call you his girlfriend when he'll probably only see you a handful of times over the next two years. He's said that he'd commit if you lived nearby, and that's the best he can do. It's horribly frustrating, but why should he make big romantic promises that he just can't keep? All he can say is: "I hope this works out."
My advice is to take another trip over there and meet with some potential employers. If you're serious about making this move, you have to see these people in person and start working the employment opportunities from every angle. Set up meetings. Ask James to ask his friends for help with the job search. Find out whether he can be enthusiastic about helping you become a local. His reaction will be telling. Understand that until you're down the street from him, you just don't know what that ring represents. Push and push to make this happen.
As for Gavin, you're allowed to see him. And you should absolutely tell James that you're playing tour guide. He already knows that you're friends with Gavin, so it shouldn't be a shock. I don't think that Gavin is a real romantic option, but if you find yourself smitten with him, you need to consider that James isn't the only one out there and that maybe you're not ready to take the next big step either. Honestly, your need to commit is more about loneliness than about James. Yes, you love him, but there are so many unknowns. That ring is about hope. That's all you have right now, which is OK.
No matter how it goes with Gavin, push this move forward because you obviously have a thing for London and want answers. Use all of your nervous, frustrated energy to get where you need to be because you won't find any answers as long as you're on this side of the pond.
Readers? Should she be moving for James? Is this about James or about her? Can we talk about Gavin? Should I be advising her to stay here and find a local boyfriend? Should she see Gavin while he's here? And is James doing the right thing by not committing? Is this about his depression? Discuss.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.