Dear Dr. Wes & Katie: I’m a 20-year-old guy in a fairly new long-distance relationship. My girlfriend has stopped answering my texts or calls. A call to her mother (who is unsupportive of our relationship) indicates that my girlfriend is OK, but her mom seems to think it’s already over or soon will be. Everything was going well until my girlfriend learned about some events that happened prior to our relationship. I also made some recent decisions that upset her, but we haven’t gotten to discuss them in depth yet. How should I handle this?
Katie: Carefully. By ignoring your attempts to reach her, your girlfriend is telling you without words that she needs space. The best action you can take at this point is to do nothing. Stop calling. Wait for her to make the next move.
You already let her know you care about her and want to repair your relationship. Your conversation with her mother confirms that this is a personal issue, not a missing persons case. She can reach out if and when she wants to, but she’ll have to do it on her terms.
Without knowing the details about the previous events or the decisions that upset her, it’s difficult for me to try to guess her thoughts and emotions, and for the sake of your own nerves, neither should you. Her mother insinuated that your relationship has run its course, but the only person who can truly tell you what’s going on is your girlfriend. Perhaps she’ll be better able to convey that after she’s had time to reflect.
I’m sorry this isn’t the answer you were hoping to hear. Anxiety-wise, it might be easier for you to pull a Hollywood stunt and get on the first flight to her hometown. Unfortunately, those radical demonstrations of love that seem romantic in movies aren’t usually taken well in real life. She’ll appreciate breathing room more than an unexpected knock at her door.
To officially turn the responsibility over to her, leave one last message letting her know that you’re going to respect her wishes and then wait for her to contact you. If she does, then you can at least attain closure. If she doesn’t, move on knowing you did everything in your power to fix whatever went wrong.
Wes: Harsh as it may seem, Katie’s advice is spot on. That boom box scene from “Say Anything” seemed to work great when your parents went to the movies back in the 1980s. But even then, it was more likely grounds for an excessive noise violation than a reliable method of rescuing love. Today it might garner a no-stalking order. So, keep your cool.
If your girlfriend wrote us, I’d call her out for leaving you hanging, but at this critical juncture patience is particularly virtuous. You need to be strategic — define the end you’re trying to achieve (keeping the relationship alive) and figure out what to do, and not do, to bring that about.
Too often while breaking up, emotion takes over and a whole series of dumb ideas start pouring out, feeding off each other. Presto, you get exactly what you least wanted.
Put the ball back in her court as Katie suggests, then sit on the bench. You could write her a letter in whatever medium you like. Just be sure it’s private (please, no Twitter!). You can probably do it in a multipage text, but write it out first before pasting it in and hitting “send.”
The essential element of all communication right now is to avoid fighting, excuses and whining. That’s not sexy, yet too many young people in your situation act as if expressing guilt and frustration might light the pathway back to a lover’s heart. They don’t. Instead, reiterate that you care about her, and that you would like a chance to discuss whatever’s gone wrong and make amends, face-to-face. Tell her that if, after that conversation, she wants to end things, you will fully honor that request, no questions asked. Just be sure you’ve practiced that conversation about a hundred times in front of a mirror.
This is no time to let a broken heart do your thinking. That’s what your brain is for. Use it wisely and things may turn out OK.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Katie Guyot is a Free State High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.