Dear Leather and Lace: I’m a 25 year old law student, recently engaged to a wonderful man. “Bryan” and I initially met online, He lives in England and I’m in the United States. He is 36 and has been divorced for about 5 years. For the first year of our relationship, he used to travel from England to the United States every couple of months, just to see me for a couple of days. The reason my fiancé isn’t with me is that he is working hard to make money so I can relocate to England, but he has been complaining that success is slow in coming, and he’s getting frustrated. I am willing to wait as long as it takes, especially since I’m still in law school for another two years. Bryan has treated me with respect and kindness, and he’s always saying he is so lucky and I deserve better than him. But lately, Bryan stopped calling and emailing me. He says he’s busy with work and that he’s just doing this for our future. But I sensed there was a problem because he no longer says he loves me when he does call or write. I finally asked, point-blank, whether he still feels the same about me and to my shock, he replied stating that he’s seeing and sleeping with another woman and that we should break our engagement and I should move on. I still can’t believe that he could just stop loving me, especially after everything he has done for me (he helped me tremendously throughout our relationship). We have exchanged a few more emails, and in the last one he said that he realized he wasn’t in love with me or he wouldn’t have cheated, and fallen in love with someone else. I haven’t replied yet, but I don’t know what I should say or do. I love him and don’t want to give up, but how can I compete with a woman who is with him in person, when I’m not? Should I send him back his ring? Should I tell him that I want us to be friends? This is my first love and I’ve never been in a relationship before. I really need your help.
Signed, Sheila, so far away
Lace’s Take on This: Sheila, even when the relationship is going well, the stress of being apart without the daily constant of companionship can be a lonely experience and a catalyst for miscommunication, dissatisfaction, and cheating.
Your fiancé has been married before, and while we don’t know why he got divorced, it might be something you should consider when evaluating your next move. In addition, your fiancé is more than a decade older than you. He is working hard at his career, while you are still working your way through law school. You’re at very different points in your lives. While you are willing to wait, especially since you’re still in school for a few years, Bryan’s frustrations are immediate.
And, as you stated, this is your first real relationship. Not all love relationships end in “forever.” I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had their heart broken at least once by someone they thought they loved or had a future with that didn’t materialize. You were wise enough to sense that things had changed between the two of you, but as “Leather” states below, you could have done more to prevent this. People who are lonely and far away from the one they supposedly love, can sometimes fall into new relationships more deeply than they had originally intended. Your fiancé might have wanted to be with you, but realizing that it was not going to happen any time soon, turned his frustration and loneliness into a relationship with a woman who was close by. You know that old song “love the one you’re with?” It might not be a romantic notion, but it is a practical one.
I am also wondering about something you said that I think might be relevant to your fiancé’s change of heart. Many men won’t tell you how they are feeling, but they do want support. You told Leather and Lace that Bryan was having a hard time, and yet instead of asking: “do you love me?” you should have been asking: “Is there anything I can do to help you?’ Insisting that a man who is already overworked and struggling pay continual attention to you adds extra stress to an already stressed-out long-distance relationship. You said (and I quote)” . I still can’t believe that he can stop loving me after everything he has done for me (he helped me tremendously over the last couple of months)..” Apparently he has done a lot for you, but what have you done for HIM? It is not a man’s job to take care of you–you need to take care of each other for the relationship to work.
I don’t have enough information to fully analyze the situation, but based on what you told us, I’d guess he does care about you and feels guilty about his indiscretions. And for whatever reasons, he has already said you deserve better. There are probably really valid reasons he is saying that.
So what to do now? You can take him back, assuming that is what he wants too, and chalk the affair he had up to the problems of a long distance relationships. But once someone has cheated, the trust is gone in the relationship. A man who cheats on you before you are even married will continue to do so –count on it. Do you really want that? Not every engagement ends in marriage. It’s supposed to be a trial time, and in your case, the trial has failed. You didn’t say you were devastated, just confused about what to do. Could it be that this relationship was just a “dress rehearsal” for the next relationship – which will be the right one? What role did you play in making the relationship work, or not work? Would it be better for you to finish school and find someone new who is closer to your own age and closer in proximity? Do you want to remain friends with someone who has cheated on you, has fallen out of love with you, and isn’t even in the same country?
An engagement only works when both people want to be in it with marriage in the future. As I see it, the engagement is over. You can keep the ring, but the original Advice Sisters (my sister and I) actually were quoted in the Yale Law Journal about this very subject. An engagement ring is given in promise of marriage. Legally, when the marriage, doesn’t occur, you should not keep the ring. However, if this man has cost you a great deal of money you might justify the ring as compensation when you sell it. In any case, wearing a diamond from a broken relationship is a sad reminder, and just plain bad for your well being.
Leather’s Take on This: Oh Sheila, what mistakes you have made!
Long distance relationships can work but you must be hyper aware of those things which will kill the relationship, signs you have missed.
When you are separated from your partner, the main glue that keeps you together, the physical intimacy and the ability to have shared experiences is missing. You must create substitutes for these in order to keep him bonded with you, which failed here.
Let us take this a point at the time, since he was the one coming over here, you selfishly expected him to continue to do so. No where did you say you tried to go visit him. Long distance relations are built on having high quality time together as often as you can manage it. This high quality time builds up the shared experiences that are discussed when you are apart and it is the anticipation of those high quality experiences the next time you are together is what drives the relation forward. You must always know when the next visit is going to be and what you plan to do together (including in the bedroom).
The second mistake you made is not have included him in your hopes and dreams. You are in an American law school that is not in Louisiana (whose law schools also teach French Law), your only possibility for a job is in the U.S. not England. Where does that leave him? Had you gone to law school in Canada you could end up qualified as a lawyer in Canada, U.S., England and France, solving your money and employment problems. Did you even consider what work you could do in England? If you take intellectual property law or patent law there is always a job available for people who are admitted to the Bar in multiple countries.
Your third mistake is one of communications. Life without your partner is lonely and boring, and you needed to make it less so. You have implicitly used the excuse of how busy you are in law school to justify not calling him every day or every other day. And you wonder why he ended up talking to another woman? Contact with you was what he desired, contact with you is what he needed and you took him for granted, “oh he will be there when I have a need”, never thinking that as a working guy he needs someone to talk to because his life is boring and stressful. Also you have not thought of his physical needs (much less your own). Unless you can freely have phone sex without embarrassment, unless you can let you inner “sexy” out, unless you are comfortable with mutual self pleasuring, long distance, then very long separations where he has access to other women are doomed. You need to keep him physically bonded to you by making him remember what is waiting for him and having him desire it every day (every laptop these days has a web cam which is great so that he can see your face and you can see his but also a little strip show will go a long way to make him feel appreciated. Note – LIVE ONLY, SEX TAPES ARE A VERY BAD IDEA, DO NOT EVER ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE RECORDED OR PHOTOGRAPHED.
About the ring, as a lawyer you know it depends on the state you are in. In some states if he breaks the engagement it is yours, in the state I am in it is his till he marries you. If it is the later then it became his property again the day he broke the engagement and you must ask him in a written letter how he wishes for you to dispose of his property. Remind him that he already owes you money for the homeowners insurance and safe deposit box rental to protect his property and that if he wishes to come pick it up you will be happy to hand him it after he pays his bills. If he wants a friend to pick it up said friend better be carrying a signed notarized release from him authorizing the transfer to the friend. If he wants it mailed he must provide money for registered mail, insurance, customs and packing. Get a quote from UPS for doing packing and customs declaration then do it yourself and charge him UPS rates (cash upfront).
As far as getting him back, living well is the best revenge. You really do not want him back because he has betrayed and abandoned you and probably will again. Even if you did at this point you would have to essentially beg, which would create a huge imbalance in the relationship and cause him to lose respect for you. If you were physically close to him there are a number of things you can do, being at a distance your only hope is to rub his face in what he lost and make him want you again. Write him letters as a “friend”, talking about your life and the great things you are doing. Throw in a picture of yourself at some event looking especially lovely with a good looking guy just in the back ground. Summer is about here so a beach shot in a sexy bikini is justified, again with that guy in the background.
But why bother? You are 25, reasonably mature (and getting more so by the minute) and like older guys, the world is your oyster if you dump the engagement ring and get the word out you are dating. You want a serious relationship at an age where many women do not which makes you a valuable commodity to another quality 36 year old guy.
Lace’s Comments on Leather’s Answer: I was going to applaud Leather’s answer, especially since he offered additional advice I hadn’t really thought of. I loved it, until the end. No woman with any self-respect would lower herself to taking bikini shots or essentially fabricating fun with other men, to make someone jealous. Getting “revenge” this way is tacky and juvenile! I believe that these kinds of games usually backfire. But I do agree 100% with Leather that since you are inexperienced with relationships, why bother–just move on. You’ve just been given a “get out of jail free” pass by your fiance. Use it, and find someone who really wants you and who can show you every day, in every way, in person.