Q. I have been dating my boyfriend for four years; we met in college. He finished before me and started working some distance away. The first year after he graduated was incredible. He would make sure to come and see me almost every weekend.
By the end of that year he started coming late and telling me he had other things to do. I would wait for hours for him to show up. It really hurt my feelings. Then, last year, he cheated on me. I was devastated — but I still wanted to work things out with him.
After the cheating incident, I would find messages on his phone — him flirting with other people. I became very insecure and jealous. Three months later I went to his place. Things were getting better between us, and I spent two weeks with him. One day he said he needed to visit his parents, so he left me at his place. When he came back I took his phone and found out that while he was out, he also went to see this other girl. He had messaged her how she makes him happy.
Mind you, during the two weeks I spent at his place he never took me anywhere or took a day off for me. After that, I felt like something inside of me was dead. He tried apologizing and reassuring me, but I no longer had any trust. I was bitter and angry and sad. We ended up breaking up for two months — and then he came back. We started dating again but I no longer feel the way I felt before. Most times I feel lonely.
Recently I met this guy on a bus, and we hit it off really well. I feel alive, but at the same time I do not want to cheat on my boyfriend or hurt the new guy either. What do I do? I’m confused about all of these feelings.
A. I was interviewing someone for the “Love Letters” podcast the other day, and he was reminiscing about the many breakups in his life. He brought up the old Kenny Rogers hit “The Gambler” — the one where Kenny sings “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”
This podcast subject admitted that he has been very bad at folding. He’s the last to drop his cards, even when he knows the relationship should be over.
It sounds like you might have that problem too. This college relationship has been crumbling for a long time now. Your boyfriend betrayed your trust multiple times, and after a two-month break for clarity you’ve realized you no longer want to be with him. Yet, you’re still trying to make it work.
Think about why you haven’t let yourself walk away. Maybe it’s because the relationship has been so formative, but not all big romantic connections are meant to last forever. These experiences can stay wonderful, as chapters in your life, if you know when to bail.
The bus crush guy isn’t the answer here, but consider him a nice catalyst. Get single. Fold those cards. Then have a date with a new person. If your boyfriend tries to hang on, tell him there’s no room for negotiation here and that you wish him the best.
I say this with all the concern of being old enough to be your father, and saying exactly what I would say to my own daughter your age. This guy doesn’t love you; you are convenient at best, a door mat at worst. Leave him now, not tomorrow, now.
It is time for you to spread your wings and find yourself. I can promise you it is fun, it is liberating, and it is needed to be the best person you can be. Good luck!
It’s long past time to dump your boyfriend. I doubt he’ll be upset. And if you feel the need to “take his phone” in your next relationship, don’t. Just end it. If you have to snoop, then you don’t trust the person, and if you don’t trust the person, the relationship is already over.
You are defining your options as Cheater Guy and Bus Guy. Why are you keeping your world so small? Your boyfriend is a total cad, keeping you around for his convenience and disrespecting you while you’re in his home. Don’t you think you deserve better than that? Here’s the easy answer to your question: You can’t cheat on your boyfriend if you don’t have one. Send this guy a simple message — “I can, and will, do a whole lot better than you, pal.” Then move on. Whether or not Bus Guy is a possibility doesn’t even matter. Just get yourself free.
Been there, done that. My college boyfriend cheated on me repeatedly over that four-year period. I knew he was cheating but he was my first love. I had such strong feelings of love for him that I couldn’t break it off. As senior year approached, I knew we would each leave for our home states in New England. Like you, after graduation we visited each other a few times. I saw and heard direct evidence he was still a serial cheater. The constant cheating, combined with no longer being on campus and being dependent on him, was what enabled me to feel serious about ending it for the first time.
Your college relationship was just that. You’re both moving on to what’s next in life … just not together. That’s not good or bad. It’s just the way it is.
Your heart has already broken up with him. Finish the job.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this form. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.