Q. My boyfriend and I have been together for four years. Two years ago, he got a job that is directly in the line of work he intends to pursue as a career. His company pays for his licensure exams, but he is always at work or locked up at home studying. His dedication is inspiring, but his demeanor has changed. He is quiet, serious, gives me one-word answers, and spends most of his time studying for his next certification (and there are many). Any excess free time he spends on his fantasy football team. He has another four years of these exams, and I don’t have four years more of patience in me.
I don’t know what I want to change. I don’t want him to stop studying, and I don’t want to break up with him because when he is stress-free and happy, he is still that man that I fell in love with. But I don’t want to live another four years feeling like a single woman with a grumpy male roommate.
I know I need to talk to him, but I don’t know what to say. I can’t keep “sucking it up” for another four years. What do I do?
A. I understand that you don’t want to break up — and I’m not saying that you should (yet) — but I want you to consider whether you’re open to being with someone who lives his job and handles stress by shutting down. Has he been grumpy since he started this work? If so, you had two years of a good relationship and then another two years of one-word answers. Will this really end when the exams are over? Or will his career be just as demanding and keep him in a similar mood?
Tell him that you understand his stress and have great respect for all that he does, but that you can’t take full-time grumpy for four years (or a lifetime). Explain that you want to be an escape for him, just like fantasy football. Is he treating you like another obligation? If so, why? Is there something else going on here? How does he feel about the state of the relationship?
Find out whether he’s open to making an effort and having some fun — because there’s always time to hang out and laugh, even if it’s just before bed. Life will only get more demanding. If he can’t find ways to enjoy you in the present, I’m just not sure about the future.
Tell him that you miss the guy you fell for, and you get these exams are important, but you can’t come in last for the next four years. If this is how it’s going to be, and you can’t deal with it, leave.
I don’t think he’ll change. You’ll spend four more years with him and he’ll finish all his certifications. Then he’ll move on to something else to obsess about.
If he spends all his free time on fantasy football, then he must be a pretty awful manager.
Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com.