This is "grad school ruins everything" week, apparently.
Q: Dear Meredith,
I am a 30-year-old female and have been dating my 28-year-old boyfriend, Tim, for more than a year. I bought a house in January (by myself) and we moved in together. Although our relationship is not perfect, our life together is pretty awesome. We have a great group of friends, host game nights and BBQs, go to the farmer's market, work out together, ride our bikes, watch sports and movies, talk about politics and life, etc. I laugh at his wacky sense of humor, appreciate his desire to make holidays and birthdays extra-special and fun, respect his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, share his political views, and admire his ambition and his drive to achieve great things in his life. I feel lucky that he is in my life and I know he feels the same way about me.
Except for the major thing looming over our relationship, which is Tim's recent decision to pursue a PhD in his field no matter where it takes him. He already has a master's and the PhD program would be 5-years, full-time. He will only go if he gets funding from the program. We live in North Carolina and although he will be applying to two schools here, he also plans to apply to schools around the country for admission in fall of 2013. Previously he had decided that he would only go for his PhD if he got accepted to a school in NC -- hence our decision for me to buy a house and for him to move in with me. Now, he has decided that getting a PhD trumps everything else in his life and that he won't be satisfied unless he achieves this goal.
Until this point, I never imagined myself leaving North Carolina. After a rocky start, I have now lived here for almost 5 years and love my job, have good friends, and just bought a beautiful brand-new house. We both know it is unlikely that I would follow Tim if he left (although I would be lying if I said I haven't started thinking about what a more adventurous life might look like, going wherever his education and work takes us). With that in mind -- that I am not sure I would go with him if he left North Carolina -- the question is what to do with our relationship now, when we won't know where he gets accepted until mid-2013.
We have talked about this at length. Tim doesn't want to break up now. He wants to take life day-by-day and get as much out of this relationship as we can, even if he leaves for school next year without me. He says he doesn't like to think about going through the next year without me and my support. I don't want to break up now either, but I also don't want to invest another year in this relationship only for him to tell me he is leaving in the fall of 2013. I don't feel truly happy and secure in this relationship anymore when the thought of it ending is always in the back of my head. Worse, it is hard for me to hear about him planning for this future and what he needs to do to ensure he gets into a good program. Sometimes it feels like he is making all these plans to better his future -- a future that may not include me. I truly admire his ambition and I want him to pursue his dreams but it also hurts to think of what it all means for our relationship. At the same time, I love our life together and don't want to mess that up before I really know there is no hope for our future.
I know I need to make this decision on my own, but I am curious what you and other people think. Sometimes I feel like I should live in the moment and enjoy all our time together and just see what happens next year. Other times it breaks my heart to think of becoming more invested in this relationship knowing there is a good chance it will end. Please help.
– Expiration Dating
A: I'm a little confused about how Tim has framed your options, ED.
If Tim knows that he doesn't want to be with you outside of North Carolina and has asked you to be a placeholder, please kick him out. You're not his cheerleader.
But if Tim is open to the possibility that you might move with him, I want you to live in the moment. Because you don't know what you want.
You just started processing this change and you're already having a few private fantasies about what life would be like in a new place. If Tim framed this as something that you might want to do together after another good year, please give this time.
You've only lived in North Carolina for five years, and Tim is such a big part of your happiness. After a year of dating, no one knows what promises should be made.
Houses can be rented out. A few years in a new university town might be pretty cool. 2013 is far away.
Again, as long as Tim is open to anything, this isn't over. Because you're undecided. By this time next year, you might be.
Readers? Should she stick this out? Are you getting the impression that Tim wants her there? Do you have a problem with him applying to out-of-state schools at this point in their relationship? How can she explore this relationship without feeling as though it's going to expire? 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 new novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith here and on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.