Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q.I’m lost. I’ve been with the same person for over three years. We said “I love you” more times than I can count. I believe he loved me – I believe he still loves me. We seemed very happy together. I thought he was “the one.” He was my first boyfriend. This summer, I was away for a vacation with my family that led into a long conference out of state. This was our first real separation. We met in college. We graduated in May of 2017 and got jobs near one another. We don’t cohabit, because it would upset my parents if we did, but we do everything together. I returned from my trip of three weeks, and he, out of the blue, tells me he’s not in love with me. He told me this by text! I vacillate between anger and despair. How could this man I thought I knew hurt me like this? I had you for sex ed in high school. One of the things I remember you telling us was that relationships were complicated. Sex, you would say, was just body parts, but relationships took effort. How very true! Should I try to get him back? Should I go on as if he was never part of my life? How do you get back three years of time? Why would he do this without even giving me an inkling of his intentions? Sorry for the long texts. As I said, I feel lost. Thanks for always being there.

22-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: From my heart, please accept my sorrow for this difficult experience. You’re correct, this is very challenging. I think your anger is justified and normal. I’d like to help you heal from feeling despair. You are grieving the loss of a long-term relationship, but you are not lost.

It’s true, I do talk about relationships taking more effort than sex. Sex is also complicated. Sexual health includes consent, open communication about physical health, and preventing an unplanned pregnancy.

Long-term relationships involve commitment to the four C’s: communication, compromise, commitment and collaboration. You were blindsided by your partner’s breakup, by text, without any prior communication of his unhappiness. Love is tough to quantify – it is a feeling and is defined differently by many. You describe a happy relationship; your partner’s abrupt departure signals he wasn’t being honest with you or with himself.

As with any loss, you need time to grieve. Your pain is real. Take time to care for you. Surround yourself with people who care about you. In time, you may feel more at peace, but right now the loss is acute.

You ask how to get back three years of time. It isn’t possible to take away life experiences. Consider the learning and growth gained from them, even the troubling ones. Deciding to reconnect with him is a deeply personal choice. It might help to have closure if you could talk about what drove you apart, but I am concerned that resuming this relationship could cause you more harm in the future. Breaking up as he did was not respectful. You are worth more than a text, especially after three years.

People can fall in love many times. I often think high school relationships are learning experiences where we begin to understand the compromise and collaboration needed to make relationships thrive. You’re older than a teen, but this was your first – and only – relationship. Have hope.

One of your challenges will be moving forward and entering into a new relationship. You’re vulnerable. It will be easy to compare someone new to this partner. I suggest openness. Share with a new person. Strive to judge a new partner as an individual, not as a clone of this partner. Trust may be more challenging next time. Give yourself a chance. Give someone new a chance.

I’m happy to continue connecting with you as you heal from this loss. I have faith in your ability to move forward in time. You are worthy of a healthy relationship where both partners are able to grow.

Peer Educator response: Things like this are very, very hard. People in relationships can get very weird, along with the relationship itself. It’s hard to think of three years of your life as lost, but try to think of the good times you had without self-loathing or hating him. Some people say we each have three loves in our lives. Other people say there’s no limit to how many times we can fall in love. People can be with us for a while and then turn out to be the pathway to someone else. This may seem harsh, but everyone we meet in life has some significance in some type of way. Relationships can be scary. Our group discussed this a long time, and we think you should not go back with him. He might have held his feelings inside for fear of being honest or in the misguided belief he wouldn’t hurt you by breaking up via text. We don’t think there are easy answers to this, but we hope you can feel better in time.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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