Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
Today the Sugars are trying to help with an age-old dilemma. It's a choice between love and everything else.
You've heard it before: Two people are dating, even though one of them already has plans to move away. Despite best intentions, things get serious. Should you follow your significant other to a brand new life, or keep your current life, which was still pretty good before that guy came along?
To help figure things out, they're joined today by Leslie Bell, a psychotherapist, sociologist and author of Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom.
A little over a year ago, I got divorced. My ex-husband and I were together a total of 10 years and married for six. We got married very young, right after college. By the end of our marriage, I felt like I had given up so much of myself: my individuality and my dreams, all in the name of being a loving and supportive wife. The best way I can describe how I felt was that I had withered.
My ex-husband's career always came first. For it, we moved to multiple cities where I did not want to live. Nonetheless, I supported his pursuits unconditionally while struggling to find my own way. When I finally identified what I wanted my life's work to be, I assumed I'd have my husband's support. Instead, he suddenly revealed that he didn't support my career, and that he disagreed with the steps I was taking to move it forward. I was devastated.
After the divorce, I moved across the country to a city where I truly wanted to be, and I started over. I was determined that going forward, it would be my life that I lived, not someone else's. The first several months were hard, but I can now say that I love my life. I love the city where I live, I love my apartment, and I love that I am the only one who decides what I do. I recently got a promotion at work, and now my job is exciting and challenging and is opening up many possibilities for my future. For the first time in my life, I love my job.
My problem is this: I'm now being asked to walk away from all of it.
Several months ago, I started dating a wonderful guy. When we met, I wasn't looking for a serious relationship, and he was making preparations to move to South America. He intends to be in South America for a minimum of two years, so we both agreed that the relationship would remain casual and end when he left.
It didn't. We ended up falling deeply in love. There is no doubt in my mind that we are kindred spirits, and I am constantly blown away by the way he loves me. He truly supports me, and he talks about my long-term goals more than I do. We had the most amazing four months together, right up until the day he left. He told me he wants to spend the rest of his life with me, and he asked me to follow him to South America so that we can be together.
We both desperately want to be together, and we both recognize that in order for that to happen, one of us is going to have to sacrifice. I could never ask him to give up his dream in South America to stay here with me, which means I would be the one to go. I am fluent in Spanish, so it's not really an issue of my being able to make a life there.
But the thought of turning away from the life I've built to follow someone else's path brings me to tears. I'm afraid of going back to being the follower. I'm afraid of history repeating itself. On the other hand, if I decide to stay, my fear is that I would be letting the mistakes of my past and the fallout from a bad relationship dictate my life and hold me back. I feel strongly that if my failed marriage were erased from my life, I'd jump at the opportunity to travel around the world with the man I love. If I stay, I'm afraid that I'd be letting someone who truly loves me walk out of my life for silly reasons. I've been trying to listen to my spirit, but the more I think about it, the more I feel torn in two.
Sugars, I know you can't tell me what to do, but I don't know how to go about making this decision. How do I reconcile these two parts of my life that I love so much?
Torn Between Two Loves
Leslie Bell: Torn Between Two Loves says she could never ask her boyfriend to give up his dreams. He's also head over heels for her, and yet, it's outside the realm of possibility for both of them that he would consider putting his dream on hold. There's a sense that this woman is left to make this decision on her own, as opposed to making it with her partner.
Cheryl Strayed: Torn Between Two Loves, maybe the riskiest, hardest thing in this case is to stay — to stay in that job you love, get another promotion and fulfill those goals. If someone is madly in love with you, they will often decide they need to make sacrifices. Maybe this guy is going to decide, "I can't do South America, because you're not here."
Steve Almond: To me, this letter is really about volition. Torn Between Two Loves had 10 years of being the follower and subjugating her own needs. She writes, "If my failed marriage were erased, I would jump at this opportunity." But that failed marriage happened, and it taught her that she doesn't want to be a follower. I think she knows that going to South America is a bad move for her.
Cheryl: Yeah, and I think especially right now. This woman is just a year out of her divorce and this is just a four-month-old relationship. To become a follower this early on — this is the reason you're bursting into tears, Torn Between Two Loves. It breaks her heart to be a follower right now.
Leslie: My sense is there's part of her spirit that's attached to her new life and is just beginning to be known to her. If she were to follow her boyfriend at this early stage of the relationship, I'm concerned that the part of herself that's attached to her own desires and goals and path wouldn't get to be developed.
She needs to ask herself, "What would it be like to ask the same thing of my partner that he's asking of me?" She needs to make sure her understanding of the situation and of what's possible is as clear-eyed as is conceivable.
Cheryl: Ultimately, we make decisions about our own lives. But within the context of a relationship, questions about whose career to prioritize are actually answered by the two of you coming together and saying, "What do we want to do? Do we want to do the long-distance thing? Should one person make a sacrifice now and the other person will make one later?" Or, will we find that our partner isn't willing to make any sacrifices? That's some information you need to have, too. Think of these conversations as, essentially, information-gathering. And then make the decision.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear more questions pondering career versus love.
Have a question for the Sugars? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered on a future episode.
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.