“If he loves me so much, why won’t he move for me”: On expectations, blindspots and self-inflicted misery

Ladies — At first glance, this email exchange I had with your fellow reader Karin seems to be about long-distance relationships — a dead horse that in the past I have beaten so thoroughly as to pulverize, nay, vaporize it. So how does this corpse seem to resurrect itself from the very air, and keep coming back?

Well, that’s easy. For tens of thousands of years, humans used to live and die within a 10-mile radius of where they were born. So you basically hung out with the boy or girl next door, because, well, he/she was next door. Usually in the same tribe, even.

But once you create means of transportation that take you to the opposite end of the planet in half a day, then the fast-acting mechanism of limerence — also known as that lovin’ feeling — could get activated somewhere very far away from home. For both parties. Add to that the exoticism of being in a novel place and the stress of being a stranger, and you have the optimal brain chemical cocktail to make you fall for someone exceptionally non-local.

Further add to that the Western Romantic Ideal — i.e. “this temporary state of massively impaired judgment called being in love means I must destroy everything in my path to give in to it” — and that’s when the trouble begins. Here’s the exchange, mostly unedited and as it occurred:

Hi Dr. Ali, I just read your post on long distance relationships, and it really spoke to me.

I met my boyfriend nearly 2 years ago when we were working in Iraq. We became friends, and then it evolved into more. We lived together for 6 months at our compound in Baghdad. And we’ve been doing 1 year of long distance since then, as he goes back and forth to Iraq a lot. But he has made his US home base in FL (where he is from), while my job is in DC. So, when he is in the US, we see each other quite a bit, but not nearly enough. Overall, in the past year, while we talk at least twice a day, we have seen each other in person maybe 7 weeks altogether. Note that he only works when he is deployed out to Iraq, and that he can live wherever he wants and have his job.

He is a very good person — a wonderful boyfriend. In fact, he is everything I could ask for and more in a man, and we know each other so well now. But of course, the distance is killing me. It’s become very hurtful.

In the past few months, we’ve had several conversations. Always tearful on my part, but never shouting or cursing between us. We love and respect each other every much. He was first to say I love you, and I do believe him. But he says he just can’t move, only feels at home in FL, nothing to do about me and how much he loves me, doesn’t know when we can move in same place, it’s scary for him, etc.

I just question how much he must really love me. It’s just heartbreaking for me. I don’t understand it in the least. Is he just selfish deep down? Maybe he does not know how to do a regular relationship? Or maybe I am not good enough for him to move for? I want to explain it, but I can’t figure it out.

He’s driven the relationship the whole way, e.g. he asked me to be with him, he has asked me in the past how I feel about marriage and kids. He has always known how I want to see my life in the future – i.e. married to a partner, with the intention to have kids. I recently sent him an email laying it all out: that I loved him, that he is wonderful, but maybe we don’t want the same things, most indicative in that he can live anywhere in the world and do his job and yet he chooses not to live in my area. His response was the same as usual.

Why do you think he is like this? How can a man love and care for a woman — and I do think he does for me — but not be able to move on and have some “normalcy”? I’m already heartbroken, so do I just give up on the best man I’ve ever met?

Thank you so much for any insight you can provide. It really means a lot! Best,

On Wed 3:16 AM, Dr Ali Binazir wrote:

So you read my post on why long-distance relationships are a terrible idea.
Then you were kind enough to corroborate everything that I said with real-life data. It’s pretty obvious what you have to do, so what exactly do you want me to say?
My only insight:

  1. You must have an unconscious need for high drama in your life (Iraq? Really?), and this is providing it, which means
  2. You’re also a little bit of a glutton for pain and/or drama. As such, anything that I say that applies to healthy, local, mutually-supportive, stable, peace-building relationships may not even apply to you. Normalcy is probably the last thing you want, whether you’re aware of it or not.
    Also, if you signed up for a relationship with an adventurous man (partially because he was adventurous), do you think the best way to perpetuate it is to clip his wings and say, “Come here and be my domestic lackey”? No. You set him free. Especially if he feels like Florida is where he can flourish better.

If you love him, you must love him as he is, not as you want him to be. Otherwise it’s just ego speaking, not love.

On 5/20/15, 7:47 AM, Karin wrote:

Hi Dr. Binazir,

I think I wrote you because I don’t understand how a man can love someone but not be there with her, at least most of the time. And maybe you misunderstood: he can live wherever he wants when he isn’t working in Iraq. He lives in Florida, when not in Baghdad, because he loves it. And he hates DC, where I live and work. So, I can’t really clip his wings, even if I wanted to!

I’m trying to understand how he and I have come so far in this relationship, yet it is stopping short here. And maybe I am trying to rationalize it because I am not sure I will be able to trust easily after this man. If another man tells me he loves me in the future, will he really mean it? Because I just don’t understand how love and this chosen physical distance work here. Is this just how love is sometimes?

I know it may seem like I like drama. I wish I could convince you that I really, really don’t. I only went to Iraq because my work literally forced me. And I keep trying to imagine my ideal life. To me, happiness looks like coming home to a partner and relaxing, thinking of one day having a child together. Is this drama or pain?

Maybe the only way to rationalize my situation is that something is truly wrong with me, as you suggest. Do you think this is it? Or is my love just more than his?

Again, thank you for taking the time to write me. 

On Wed at 9:26 PM, Dr Ali Binazir wrote:

Everything that I do is like looking through a keyhole trying to take in all of Yellowstone Park. Some details will be missing. And I haven’t met you, haven’t met the dude, don’t know your background, don’t know the nature of your relationship.

But this much I know: you’ve gotta let this one go, Karin. What else do you need to know?
Remember: a long-distance relationship is no relationship at all. And let’s not generalize to all men just because YOU insist on a bad choice (i.e. a non-local man).

You’re also coming from a massive scarcity point of view. It’s like you found this one 7-11 back where you were before, and now that’s the only 7-11 for you, forever. Um, there’s one of those every two blocks. There are MILLIONS of eligible men around you. There are opportunities for opening your heart and practicing being loving every minute of every day.

Also, you’re acting needy as hell, which is hugely unattractive. “Why can’t you come be with me if you can live anywhere you want?” ‘Cause I hate your stupid one-show town and like it down here in Florida where I can hit the beach, go fishing, and prove my manhood by wrassling ‘gators, that’s why!

And of course, the reverse argument could be made, too: if you love him so much, why don’t you move to Florida? Because your pre-existing job and network of friends is more important than his, of course. Ergo, you must not really love him.

You do realize that’s it’s a lot to ask for a person to uproot his life and come and move to your city — all for loooove, which I’m assuming equals that I’m-in-love feeling, which lasts 18mos on average? And how loving is it of you to ask him to do something that is clearly distasteful to him? Is this being loving, or being selfish?

What matters a hell of a lot more than being in love is fit. And there is beyond a shadow of a doubt a poor fit here. Hey, why don’t we extrapolate this into the future. Let’s say he does move to DC, grudgingly. And he hates it there. Now he’s always got one over you and will blame his misery on you — ’cause remember, he hates it there. Is this the way to start any kind of lasting relationship?

Instead of being whiny and selfish, tap into your higher self, Karin. See the bigger picture. Feel the abundance that surrounds you. Send him love, and be appreciative of what you had, your connection, your friendship, which is probably going to outlast all of this — if you play this right. Wish him the best, and set himself and yourself free.

Then open your heart and mind to local folks who are already in DC and like it there, and would be way more interested in you if you were to just pull your head out of the sand and look around. There’s probably half a dozen guys waiting on you who don’t dare approach you because, oh, she’s stuck on some dude in Florida, so she’s not available.

And by the way, chances are none of these local DC guys are going to get deployed to some god-forsaken desert for months at a time where they can get killed, which I’ve heard puts a damper on romance. Point is, you just might meet your future husband if you start paying attention outwards instead of being stuck in your story.


On 5/20/15, 10:46 AM, Karin wrote:

Thank you for writing back. Email hurt a bit to read; I hadn’t thought of myself before as needy and selfish, but I can see your point. I just do love him, and it’s hard to let go. Maybe there will be someone else, but I just don’t know. I appreciate your time in responding to me, Karin

On Wed at 11:56 PM, Dr Ali Binazir wrote:

Part of my job as a guy is to tell you how you come off to guys. And sometimes it ain’t pretty. But I’m sure you can handle it :)

Remember that you say you love him. But to love him truly is to wish the best for his long-term growth and thriving as a person. This thing you call love comes off a lot more like possessiveness.

I was going to keep this one as an email exchange, but I believe it’s got a lot of useful material in there. And there are a lot of people out there blaming circumstance, men etc for their plight instead of taking a good hard look at themselves and taking responsibility for their own happiness. So I’ll post this on the blog with your blessing. Best, Dr Ali

<end of email exchange>

UPDATE: Project Irresistible Online Course

So about 10 days ago, I said that I was putting the finishing touches on the online version of Project Irresistible, the 6-week course elaborating on the principles of The Tao of Dating.

Well, it turns out that the software needs further wrestling down. It looks nice now, but the system to take payments does not work, aaaarrrrrgh. It’s okay — I’ll figure it out eventually.

In the meantime, if some of you are thinking about taking the course LIVE — as in, I speak to you via teleconference in real time, and the whole thing takes 6 weeks, vs. being self-paced — please let me know! Say something in the comments below, and that way I have a sense if this is a worthwhile endeavor for us all. Haven’t done it in over a year, so I’m assuming there’s some pent-up demand out there.

Best, Dr Ali

19 Comments on ““If he loves me so much, why won’t he move for me”: On expectations, blindspots and self-inflicted misery”

      1. Elyse

        For an online course or a telecom, 6 weeks long? Great value! I just paid that for boudoir shoot (and will pay it again for the pictures. :) ). I may consider this!

  1. Serah Delaini

    Great article and conversation. I have an older friend that told me last week, “If you and your romantic interest are not riding the same horse, going in the same direction, and heading for the same goal, it’s not time to make a commitment.”

    Say more about the 6-week class. What is the idea for the topic — dating success in general?

  2. Koko

    First off, I read Dr. Binazir’s book (Tao of Dating) which changed my life forever! Secondly, this email exchange sounds exactly like what’s going on with a friend of mine! My friend dated this guy for six months. They spent every waking moment together and fell in love. But he doesn’t want kids at all (apparently kids is a deal breaker), so when she hinted at possibly wanting some, the relationship ended. They are still friends, supposedly, and hang out. He claims he still loves her but also says he doesn’t want to be with her.

    I keep telling her she needs to cut ties and move on, but she says she’s confused and thinks deep down they still may have a chance. I will agree that he is sending mixed signals, but I would figure if he doesn’t want a relationship, then that should be the end of it. So she keeps holding out for this guy! I’m starting to think she just likes the drama. Don’t know how to help her except that she’s going to need to learn the hard way (i.e. when he starts dating someone else).

  3. Diane Lee

    Dr Ali, I respectfully suggest that you read Attached by Dr Amir Levine. I agree that this relationship is doomed, but for different reasons. What I see going on here is someone with an anxious attachment style (Karin) trying to get close to someone with an avoidant attachment style (Iraq dude). Her attachment system is on hyper BECAUSE her intimacy needs aren’t being met. Telling her she clearly likes “drama” and is “unattractive” because she is being “needy” is not helpful. What this advice does is continue with her attracting avoidant types (who like emotional distance and will send her attachment system into hyper) rather than those with a secure attachment, who will calm her anxiety. Teach her to screen for and avoid avoidants!

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      Diane –
      Thanks for the great tip! I have read “Attached” and it’s a great lens to look through, about which I have written before. Unfortunately, in the absence of a proper interview with both him and her, I’m not qualified to comment on their respective attachment styles. Just going with the information presented, which is that her intimacy needs aren’t being met because intimacy is a need fulfilled at arm’s length distance or less, and the dude is 1500 miles away :)

      1. Monica

        Diane and Dr. Ali, this reminds me of advice Marianne Williamson gives which is act your way into a new mindset. InThis case, Dr. Ali is right, think. Regardless of attachment style, the minute she lets him go and begins to live her TODAY differently, she will automatically transform what her future will look like. I know because I did it last year with the man whom I thought was “the love of my life” and you should see me now ;-). I will always love him but the reasons why we weren’t moving in the direction I wanted were ultimately reasons that would have made this empowered girl, a disillusioned and possibly regretful one. If it becomes too hard, it’s the universe telling us all is not aligned. We need to learn to listen and trust. Do you agree Dr. Ali?

    2. Catherine

      I agree. This exchange sounds like Dr. Ali disconnected from what was going on and what he had previously written: some long-distance relationships work. That half-dozen guys whom you have in store for Karin–will she meet them? At my age (60), I don’t think you are right. Furthermore, we don’t know who those half-dozen guys are until we know them well, and can make many mistakes along the way.

      I don’t believe that Karin has an anxious attachment style–she and a man developed a loving relationship and he has decided not to do what is necessary to make it a viable relationship–figuring out how to live in the same place. To burden a person with a label (anxious relationship style) for what is a normal relationship problem in this day and age (how do we live closer together) is more than unhelpful.

      This relationship is doomed because he is not only unwilling to move but because he is unwilling to do the problem solving that a relationship needs–how will we be together.
      You failed us on this one, Dr. Ali. You sound dismissive. This kind of problem solving is necessary for any relationship–whether the person lives next door or thousands of miles away.

      1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

        Catherine – What I previously said about long-distance relationships that can work is that they fulfill three conditions: a) They started when both people resided in the same spot, not when they were traveling b) There was a definite commitment to a long-term relationship — already engaged or married, for example and c) There was a definite move-in date for one of the parties, however remote (e.g. “I’ll finish my Ph.D. in two years and then move to Boston”). This relationship fulfills none of the 3 conditions. And the situation is far different from that of a 60yr old divorced or widowed woman, where the supply of single age-appropriate men is drastically reduced, so that’s not an analogous comparison.

      2. Shoanna

        Bravo! This guy was absolutely dismissive and insulting and judgemental and skewed. It sounds almost as if he couldn’t rise into a neutral space to see this as a critical problem solving issue on his part and hers. Shame on you for your abrasive verbiage towards her and filling her head with toxic illusions about herself. Unhelpful from that standpoint.

    3. Rosalie

      Couldn’t agree more.

      I did not get the impression that Karin like drama but rather, as you pointed out, her behavior is more the product of an anxious attachment paradigm.

      Empathy is what helps people step out of these paradigms, not misjudged “tough love.”

  4. Marie

    Yes, I would totally be interested in taking the Project Irresistible live – as long as it worked with scheduling. Bring it on!!!!

  5. Yolanda Williams

    It definitely seems like she is trying to make something work and fit. I am a firm believer that long distance relationships won’t work unless there’s some kind of goal behind it. I think she wants this relationship to work because she’s comfortable and don’t want to start over.

  6. Karen Rubin

    Self-paced ALL THE WAY. I work in instructional design, and not only do I prefer being a student in a self-paced course, I prefer developing self-paced courses (ie RECORDED, scripted, edited). To feel the difference, I suggest checking out any edEX course of your choice, or anyone of the fine offerings on Lynda.com (no I do not work for either) and then check out ANY excellent lecture – I highly recomment anything by Marshall Ganz (a Harvard buddy). Both products are top-notch. Live will never feel polished. And you have to continue to reinvest that same span of time to explain the same concepts to very similar batches of people. YMMV. I’m riveted by your position on long-distance relationships which, of course, is correct. I’ve just had a series of three; each dumber than the last. But I live in a two-horse town, with an exceptionally shallow dating pool. That’s me moving to major metropolitan area then, huh? I wonder if I can find work in London, lol.

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      Thanks for the feedback, Karen! Have taken EdX courses and they’re fabulous. And Marshall Ganz noted!

  7. sofia

    There are many maybe’s but bottom line is if she’s unhappy and having to convince someone, it’s best she steps back. Dr Ali is giving her direct and practical advice…so long as anyone stays in a situation because “it’s the best I can do but I feel terrible” mentality, there’s no future. Karin, you want a future? Get your power back or know it’s always there and make your life happen, namely let love in