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Will Distance Make The Heart Grow Fonder? If He Needs a Break from Her, Will He Realize What He's Missing?

Updated on September 1, 2010

Dear Veronica,

I've never been on this site before but found it when looking for information on a problem I am having. I came across some advice you gave to a woman with a similar situation to mine. I am 19 and have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for almost 2 years. (I know we're young, but mature for our age). We have known each other since we were in middle school and started dating halfway through our senior year. We are absolutely perfect for each other-we have so much fun together, we rarely argue, and are very physically attracted to each other. From the time we started dating we have been pretty close to inseparable. We have the same goals and values and have been seriously planning our future together. We have had a major problem that has happened before, and I thought it was all over, but it has happened again.

He didn't first say he loved me until a year into our relationship. After a year of dating, he was going on a week's trip with his friends over Christmas break. We got into a discussion about him saying that he didn't think he was in love-he loved everything about me and could see himself marrying me-but he didn't know if he was in love. I told him that we would take a break and he needed to spend the week thinking about this because I couldn't be in a loveless relationship-although I knew deep inside that he loved me. When he came back home he took me out to dinner, gave me red roses and told me he loved me. Everything was pure bliss until a week ago when completely out of the blue he said that he wasn't in love anymore and wanted to break up. He had basically given up. He says that he loves everything about me, we are completely compatible, he is physically attracted, but doesn't think he has the right feelings he should have. It has been a week and he says that he misses me, but he feels relieved "not being in a relationship he shouldn't be in." I know that he has issues with his emotional side-I don't think he understands his emotions well and I think he is just tired of this. He didn't say there's no chance that his feelings will change-he said he doesn't know.

He has a terrible relationship with his mom and I know he doesn't love her, I don't know if that has anything to do with it.

I want to do anything I can to make our relationship last. During the week after our break up we still talked and spent time together. A couple nights after our breakup we had some very passionate sex. I asked him if it was meaningless to him and he said no, that he felt something other than just sex. Two nights ago I told him that we needed to not talk to spend time together anymore because I love him so much and it hurts me to be around him. He said that's not what he wanted, but he understood. He is coming over tonight to get some of his things from my house. I truly feel that he does love me and just has personal issues. (I forgot to add, he said he loves me..but he's not in love).

My mom and best friend both think that if he spends some time away from me he will "come around" and realize "what he's missing."

Anyway, any advice would be appreciated because at this point I really don't know what to do.


Dear Michelle,

I'm going to explain to you what's going on with this boy, and then I will give you some tips on how to handle it.

I'm going to assume your boyfriend is around your age. There is a part of the brain called the Frontal Lobe that is only just beginning to develop for him. Well, it's happening for you too, it's just more evident with males. It won't really be finished developing until he's maybe 22, 23 years old. It's the part of the brian that governs consequence, and long term thinking. The lack of a developed frontal lobe is why a 17 year old might get up on the roof with his skateboard and try to jump off. They just don't really conceive of consequence in a realistic way. A 27 year old might still make a stupid jump off the roof, but the odds are more likely that he will talk himself out of it, that he'll realize if he hurts himself it'll cost money to go to the hospital, and that he may miss work, and then how will he pay rent, etc. The cycle of consequence and the long term effects of things become more easily accessible in his thinking.

It's the same with words, and emotions, and people. When he was 9 or 10 or 12 it was easier to say things like love and forever, because essentially they had no meaning. When he became 16, the meaning became clearer. Now that he's 19, not only is the meaning clearer still, but as the frontal lobe of his brain is developing, he also realizes the consequence of hurting you. He realizes in a new way with a new clarity that his commitment, words, feelings, promises, all have consequences - if he keeps them AND if he breaks them.

i talk about this over and over, but people still don't really grasp that this has nothing to do with maturity. It's a physical change. It's exactly the same as if you said you know a 3 year old that can run really fast. If I said to you, well he can't race in the olympics yet, and you argued "You don't even know how fast he can run." The truth is, I don't need to know. There is no way a 3 year old can have a physical body that can run as fast as professional adult Olympic athletes. This is not a reflection on the baby. He may run really fast, he may really love to run, he may really be amazing, but there is still no way in hell that he can win a race against 21 year old professional athletes.

So, however mature your boyfriend is, or you are, however much you are in love, it is still not physically possible for him to really fully understand his feelings, and it is impossible for him to be able to know if you are "The One" or if he wants to marry you, or even how he really feels about marriage.

His current cycle of questioning the difference between loving you and being in love with you could be the work of his frontal lobe developing. When he says he doesn't know, that's probably the truth. Really. He probably does not know.

Please take this as good news. I think he's being honest. It's not a criticism, it's an honest assessment of your situation. It sounds like he's a good guy, and you two have a good thing. He's growing and changing, he is physically developing a part of the brain that will usher a huge transition for him into adulthood.

Now, for the advice on how to handle it.

Michelle, in your life, you need to be the best You that you can be. You need to grow yourself, and develop yourself into a whole individual. Following a career path, going to school, practicing your art or your calling, are all major factors that will go toward your being interesting, developed, and whole. Having friends, dating different kinds of people, travel... there are many things that will help you figure out all the different opportunities that are out there in the world. Being completely fixated on a relationship at your age isn't the best way to grow yourself.

After you've become an independent developed adult, you can begin to work on what it is to be a partner. It is not possible to be a good partner until you can be a great You.

There's some truth in what your mother is saying. Absolutely. Let the boy go. He can not possibly miss you if you never go away. But it goes deeper than that.

For one thing, he's spreading his wings. He's growing himself, a part of his brain is new and he's asking deeper questions of himself than he has before. He's stretching, and that's normal and healthy, and completely appropriate. He may be unaware of these things, but this is what's happening. You should be doing the same. If you aren't, at least then, try to understand that what he's doing is completely normal and healthy. Have you ever tried to hold onto a dog or cat that doesn't want to be held? The more you hold on, the harder they fight. You refuse to let go, you yell, you cry, eventually you're going to get bitten, and that animal is going to take off, most likely not to return because of the bad impression you've left.

This isn't too different. He's telling you he needs some space to grow and experience things. To question. To figure stuff out. He probably doesn't even understand what's happening, he just knows he's changing. If you can't respect that and let him, then you're going to wind up getting bitten.

But if you can let go and let him grow, he really just may find his way back to you. But that's only going to happen if he you don't make him feel guilty, or stupid, or misunderstood. At 19, 20, 21 years old he should be experiencing different things.

And so should you.

If he feels like his time with you is happy and that you understand him and support him as a friend, that will help. And what will help even more is if you are interesting and whole. The more you grow yourself, develop your passions and explore your possibilities, I guarantee you the more worthy boys (and eventually men) will be attracted and interested in you. And that includes this boy. Most men can't stand the feeling that their partner's happiness depends on them. Most worthy men are attracted to successful women, or women that are interesting, or women that are happy, or women that are making their own lives. I get many emails from unhappily married men who all say the same thing - their wives are dependent on them for everything including their emotions. Their wives are boring, or have no life outside of the relationship and the men find this suffocating, boring, clingy and pathetic.

If you've been so extremely part of a couple for such a very long time as a youth, then hopefully you can embrace this time apart to be just You. Grow some friendships, grow some time on just yourself. I'm sure you think you're doing those things, but doing them with more time, focus and energy is going to be something entirely different. Not only is it the healthier thing for you to do, it will also keep your boy interested when you do talk to or bump into him.

Men enjoy it when a woman can be a little mysterious or intriguing. They have a tendency to be competitive, and to enjoy playing games. I'm not saying be a jerk, or lie, or do anything stupid. I'm saying, be your own person, make your own happiness, try new things, develop yourself so you can be strong, beautiful, and independent. Not only is it good for you, it will also be good for him.

Let me give you an example.

Say you don't see him for a month. Then you bump into him in the mall. Try to walk yourself through these two scenarios and get a feel for them:

1 - He says hi, and you nod like it's painful and say hi back. He asks what's going on and you say nothing. Same old. Same job or school or whatever. Sigh. He asks what you're doing and you say, "Why? Do you want to go someplace and talk?" He doesn't really know what to say, he declines, he starts to make an excuse about why he has to go. You ask him if he's done thinking. Has he figured out what he wants. He says he has to go. He leaves you feeling heavy, and weighted, and guilty. He thinks how hard it is to be around you. He's not anxious to go through that again.

2 - You see him, you run over and smile and give him a big hug and say "Hi! It's so great to see you! But I gotta go, maybe we can talk another time!" You're smiling, happy, running away. He says, "Wait! Where are you going?" You say with a very excited smile, "Tae Kwon Do! I'm already a yellow belt. I gotta go." You're happy, and excited, and doing your thing. He's mesmerized. "Who are you taking karate with?" You smile and shrug, "Oh I don't think you know them. It was good to see you!" He is asking you to wait, go grab a coffee with him. You are smiling, but you say, "Aww can't right now. Maybe another time. Great to see you!" And you run off. You leave him wanting more, you leave him remembering your smile, and how fun it is to be around you when you're happy. He doesn't feel guilty or responsible for you, he doesn't feel like you're judging him, he just feels... wow. Look at her. She's so happy, exciting, interesting... new.

Very exaggerated, probably bad examples. But try to get passed the ripping apart and get into the spirit of the examples. It's all about positive reinforcement.

Deep breath. Good luck to you. Keep us posted.


Submit a Comment

  • Twyla-kay profile image


    7 years ago

    omg!!!! Michelle, i'm going through the same situation as you, but only difference is my boyfriend and i have been in a relationship for 5years. He is full of so much pride, and EXACTLY what happen to you, happen to me but the thing is the break up happened 1 month ago so it is still fresh. Not going lie i've to get him back butit's like he put up a hard wall to prevent me from breaking in, i can't seem to get tru.

    Veronica, thank you so so much for your advice. Even though, it wasn't directly for me, am learning vicariously. There is a something I need to know still. okay, although we agreed to be friends, we still communicate by texting only. Do you think I should cut of all contacts?? as you said he can't miss me if I'm still around but I don't want him to feel as if i am ignoring him.

    So please tell me what you think I should do, as I said it is Exactly like Michelle's situation.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Incredible advice. My boyfriend just recently (about two weeks ago) broke up with me as he said he loves me and he wants to be with me but it feels like he's stuck in his whole life, everything makes him feel empty and he has no goals and everyone pressures him. This Wednesday we will talk, but to be honest, (I am 20, he is 19) I really do want him back. I am aware of the fact that he might not be able to be with me right now, but him telling me he wants me but he just can't be there for another person right now hurts. Reading this article makes me feel a lot better. I will meet him this Wednesday to get some of my stuff back, but then we will not talk for some time. I wont call, it is a daily fight, but I've done it so far. It's just, as naïve as it may sound, I am really very much into him, he made me happy for the year that we were together, and we are very similar, taste- and character-wise. Even though he is struggling with the whole breaking up-thing, he is doing it, and I will try to have fun and do what I did before: go out lots, meet new people... so can you tell me, if he says he really never met a girl that made him so crazy about someone, and I've become such a big part in his life that when I am away he fears that a part too big will be missing, does it have a chance? I really understand him and I don't want to pressure him. I am trying hard to be happy and all, I still think it's a pity to not give this another chance, but not now. Later on, if he wants that then. Do you think I should just try to have fun and not call him for.. how much time? Then maybe talk to him again? Friends say he is having a hard time and he's really not okay. I don't want to lose him forever, and to be honest, I might be naïve, but I really don't think it's the end. The way he broke up went from: "Where are we going to go on holidays?" to "I need a break for myself and all my problems and I can't be there for you completely and don't want to hurt you" two hours later to "I need to break up. I want you and I don't want to do this, but I need to break up." And I really did not think he'd do it, there were no problems, and he said so three times and he's always been completely honest. It's just he needs to be alone, work his things out, set himself goals, have fun, see his friends again (we both study in a city far away from home), live and travel. Can you please give me advice? Sorry if my English is bad in some places, I'm not a native! Thanks so much, this REALLY for once makes sense! Incredible!

  • KateWest profile image


    7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

    Incredible advice.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    PS. I know there's not a lot I can do right now, but I would love some of your insightful advice. Thank you!

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I just thought I would update on the situation. The first four months after we broke up, I broke the rules and we tried to be "friends" off an on until December. It never worked out and he usually ended up kissing me; therefore giving me mixed messages. His sister and I are still friends and when she was in town we all went out to dinner and he was there as well. He was asking me a lot of questions about what I've been doing. After that he was making obvious attempts to see me again and when I brought some of his clothes to him which were left at my house, everything unraveled. He got very emotional and told me he had been missing me a lot and realized that the reason we broke up was basically because he was afraid of the commitment, not that he didn't love me. Yes, you were right. We talked for hours and hours and I can tell he has made a lot of progress, however he is still not ready for a relationship. He says that since I'm his only girlfriends he wants to date other people (which scares me). But that I am perfect for him and he's never met anyone that comes close. This was all very recent and he has made the decision that we need some more time apart for right now. Basically, your advice was right but he still needs some more time. Even though it has been seven months and I thought I had moved on, I am back to the place where I am hoping we get back together. There are a lot more details of course but this is the gist of everything that happened.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY


    Rambling is good, keep a journal if you don't already. It's always helpful to articulate your thoughts and try to get them in some sort of linear fashion. I hope you get that job, that would be great. Doing some healthy activities like zumba, maybe learn what you can about nutrition, lots of angles that that could work out for you with a job through a gym! Good luck with that!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    I took your advice and am staying as positive as I can, especially when I have talked to him. I am also applying for a job at the gym so I can stay busy and start doing zumba.

    He ended up just coming over to get his stuff when I wasn't home because he's been busy moving and that's when he was able to come over. I am going to be home alone this weekend and my friend was supposed to stay with me flaked so I unfortunately had to ask him to stay with me saturday and sunday night. I didn't want to have to ask, but I won't stay overnight alone and that was the plan before we broke up anyway. We're planning on him just coming over to sleep and we'll be sleeping in separate rooms.


    I obviously talked to him today because he was going to my house, and I told him if he ever needs to talk about anything he can always call me. (I want him to know that if he has any different feelings I want to know). His response was "same goes for you." I'm not going to call him anytime when I'm upset, we are going to stop talking and seeing each other, but I just don't understand him. He acts in every way that he is in love but says that he's not. I can't imagine loving everyone about someone, loving him as a person, and missing him when he's not around, but not feeling in love.

    I told him a few days ago that it sounded like he was moving on and he said "I'm moving on pretty well." He says this feels right because he doesn't feel like he's in a relationship he should't be in. He's just giving me mixed messages and I can't stand it.

    I just wanted to add that his parents are going through a divorce and have had serious problems ever since we have been together. I still don't know if this has anything to do with it. He has also never been in a relationship prior to me. I would seriously love for him to see a counselor about this, but I know he wouldn't. Hopefully time to himself will help him get his head straight...He says that he knows how he feels but he still seems confused. Sorry, I'm rambling I'm just trying to sort everything out.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY


    Thanks. Aww, I really appreciate what you said. I really feel for her too. Yup, we've all been there. I get such a sincere vibe from her, I really hope everything works out ok for her.

  • efeyas profile image


    8 years ago from Some Sunny Beach, USA

    Great hub Veronica! I really feel for this girl because I think we have all been there at lest once before and it can be really painful. I wish you were around in my day, I could have used this advice a long time ago! Keep up the good work!

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY


    Thanks again for your email, and for commenting. I apologize for all the typos initially, I posted this without proofing because I wanted to get it up for you before you saw him again. I've just gone back through and fixed the errors.

    I'm glad you were able to understand my example. Making him want to be around you may take some time, but it is pretty easy to figure out that if being around you equates to happiness and intrigue and fun, then he's much more likely to come around then if being around you is always a heavy conversation.

    His comments that he is understanding that youth is fleeting, that he doesn't want to grow up too fast, that he wants to party and hang out and have fun, that there will be plenty of time later on to be serious and settle down - all absolutely part of long term thinking. He's "Frontal Lobing." It's healthy and normal, and he's right.

    Lack of excitement in the relationship? Yes, absolutely. You can't be a partner until you're a You. You have to be whole first.

    Yes, you should quit cold turkey. Happily tell him to take someone else to the concert and have a good time. As a matter of fact tell him you have other plans now for that night.

    I can't stress this enough. He can't miss you if you never go away. Stop trying to figure out how you should interact with him. Let him do that. Let go. Step back. Give him a chance to be without you.

    Meanwhile you hit a very big important nail on the head. You're having a hard time being whole. Sweetie, you really need to work on that. I mean this with all my heart - you will not be happy long term in your life if you are depending on someone else to bring you happiness, or make you whole. And I promise you, this boy and others to come will not be attracted to you if they have to give you a life. If we were sitting across from each other in a diner booth I'd be whispering, and patting the top of your hand. I am sure this is hard and that you're hurting. But I promise you this advice is right. Let go of this boy for now. Give him time, and give yourself time. Follow some dreams, take some classes, get a job, try art. Self defense classes are wonderfully empowering. Yoga or Tae Chi can be so nice when you're trying to center yourself. These kinds of things add dimensions to you, they show you new parts of yourself and the world. And they make you more interesting. You can do this.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Thanks for your advice and for responding so quickly. That end example is actually really good. I am going to see him tonight when he picks up his laptop from my house and I know how I should and shouldn't act.

    I also wanted to add something. A few months ago he had mentioned that it felt like he was in a marriage-because we hadn't been going out to parties as much as he wanted. He says that this has nothing to do with it but I'm sure it's an underlying problem. Lack of excitement in the relationship. I guess he felt like we were acting older than our age. He also told me a very long time ago that he always looked forward to the college life but that I was more important than that. Like I said, he denies that this has anything to do with it but I'm sure it does.

    I'm having a hard time with the whole be on my own and do my own thing-kinda thing. We have both spent most of our time together and now I feel pretty lost. I bought him concert tickets a while back and that concert is coming up in a few weeks. I told him that I wouldn't be going...should I? And how much contact should I keep with him? Quit cold turkey? Ask how he's doing every once in awhile?


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