Setting Something (or Someone) Free

Okay, so this comment recently was posted:

I can totally relate to this. My boyfriend was accepted into the Peace corps a year ago and left yesterday for Honduras. We have known for the last year that he would be leaving which made things kind of hard while the year was still playing out. Towards the last two months i started having break downs and crying. The last month he was here we lived together which has made letting go even harder and the last week we spent a lot of time crying together. I am scared and in pain. We broke up after being together 2 years because he wanted to figure himself out (by joining peace corps). I have let him go because i know he needs to do this for himself, but i have this selfish hope that he will not like the PC and come home or that he will miss me too much.. i also have mixed feelings about him joining because of his actual intentions for being in the PC. I am absolutely heartbroken and do not know what will happen which is terifying. I haven’t had anyone to talk to about this because no one else can relate so it is nice to hear about other people’s stories. -Krisztina

Dear Krisztina,

Thanks for sharing your experience.  I can completely relate to your situation.

The last couple of months leading up to my boyfriend leaving were definitely trying for us as well.  There was one moment in particular in our experience where I realized that he would be going on his own without me (that I couldn’t join unless we were married, which we weren’t ready for and honestly, it worked out better in the end). In that moment, I was also really terrified.  I was so scared of being hurt, or being left behind, so he could embark on this other life.  We ultimately decided to be committed to the long distance thing, but different people need different things.

I also completely understand wanting your boyfriend not to like the Peace Corps.  Which is also possible.  I knew a girl who after the three months of training ultimately decided that she couldn’t be away from her boyfriend, so she returned home.  However, they ended up breaking up eventually for different reasons, but she couldn’t handle being apart.  In my situation, I knew my boyfriend was completely committed to the Peace Corps, but in some way, I hoped that maybe there would be a slight chance he would get sent home  (ie. maybe the school would close, and they wouldn’t need all the volunteers they had originally thought).  Was something in the back of my mind, but something really of fiction not reality.

In your situation, the best thing I can say is that people join the Peace Corps for all different reasons.  Some people join thinking it will help with their resume, or that’s it’s something they need/want to do for their own life experience, or to escape their current life, or travel the world, or to get a couple years out of the corporate world in a beautiful environment, or to help others or even to find themselves.  I honestly can say, wanting to find himself is not the worst reason to join the Peace Corps, it’s actually really straight forward.   The interesting thing about the Peace Corps, is that his experience will not be entirely what he expected.  My boyfriend went in wanting/expecting one experience and got something completely different.  If I were you, I would try and accept that your boyfriend needs this experience for whatever reason at this point in his life.  The hardest thing about this is not to take it personally.  Trust me, it doesn’t mean he loves you any less, it just means this is something that he needs right now.  I was on his side of this situation at one point in my life, and I can tell you that leaving my significant other at the time, also broke my heart.

Now in terms of breaking up before he joined…my boyfriend had a few Peace Corps friends that started with significant others, and others that had just recently broken up.  All of the couples (with the exception of us) who were in long-distance relationships broke up during the course of their service.  There were people who were engaged, had been together for years, even a couple where the girlfriend moved to Africa to be with him in the middle of his service but they all didn’t work out.  That said, I heard recently that one of his Peace Corps volunteers who broke up before they joined, got back together immediately upon homecoming.  So you never know.

My best advice is to accept what he is doing, and go about your life.  You don’t know what will happen with the two of you, but you do know that he explicitly has told you he needs this time to find himself.  Even if you don’t agree (or know what that means), this is something he has told you that he needs, and so you need to respect him and his needs.  That said, also give him the space he needs to do this.  If he initiated the breakup to find himself, then you need to let him go, hope for the best and not try to convince him otherwise.  Go about your own life, he made the choice to leave, so you need to make the choice to continue living your own life.  I know it’s super cliché but I really like the following phrase and think it is so true for long-distance relationships:

If You Love Something Set It Free
If It Comes Back, It Was And Always Will Be Yours.

If It Never Returns,
It Was Never Yours To Begin With.

Hang in there, and again, just remember, his choice was not personal against you, it was something he needed-and now you should take this time to figure out what you want in your life.




  • Drew:

    Love this blog – came across it recently and think it’s great! And, I have to agree with the heart of this response. I also think I can extend some additional pespective for anyone in a siutation like this since I am 6 weeks into my girlfriend being overseas in Guyana for her term. Some background is that we met only 2-3 months before her departure date. Neither of us were looking for love, at all, it found us and it was unmistakable. I don’t want to come across as arrogant but I do believe we are a part of the lucky few and are going to make it through this, whether or not she stays commited to her contract through the entire term or not. In fact, I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life because we have an amazing, balanced and, this is key – selfless relationship.

    Here’s the thing, the more selfless and supportive you are towards someone you love the more suited you are to be together. Sure, every relationship is different and every one has different needs but I can tell you that my girlfriend finds ways to show me how much she loves me and it’s effortless and she gets the same from me. If, tomorrow, she decides to quit and come home will I rejoice and be the happiest guy on the earth? – Absoultely!..but at the same time I am already happy and get what I need because of the nature of our relationship and how confident I am that we are meant to be together. In many ways we were bred for this and are extremely lucky – but perhaps there are a few specific things I can share that will be of help in how we are managing this:

    1. When she first got to Guyana she was pretty down but used that depression to look out for me and wrote me the most sincere note about how she wanted this to be the happiest 2 years of my life and how if she could take care of me every day she would but that I needed to take care of myself. She told me to be free, single but when I came to visit in July I would be far from a single man. She was not trying to release me so she could be free but so that I could be and it’s that sincerity that is at the heart of why i love her so much and still feel free even in my commitment to her. Within a week of writing this letter to me and me letting her know I would do what I could to be ‘free’ we both realized it was never going to happen in a sense that I would be single, hit on girls or what not. I just don’t have a need for that because she is all I need and she feels the same way about me. Did I offer her the same freedom – yep – and did she take it – definitely not and every time I hear from her she finds new ways to make me feel secure of her commitment to me.

    2. Luckily, I have spent a good bit of time traveling and a year overseas as well, so I realize the commitment and also how beneficial an experience like that can be to a person. If you haven’t had a similar experience on your own to relate to just try and keep your focus that they do in fact need this, that you supporting them in whatever fashion makes sense for your relationship will reap rewards. don’t be needy, evolve as time goes by to fit your relationship and give them their space if they need it. if you are unsure if you are doing a good job, ask them. Nothing wrong with that.

    3. She writes me every night – this has become her journal in a way. Sure, we email, skype and chat on occasion but the letters are much more intimate and important to me. It’s further reinforcement that she needs this experience but that I am the most important thing in her life and she wants to share it with me.

    4. Plan trips and break it up with milestones. I’m going to see her for 2 weeks in July and then we will meet up again the first week of December and she has already commited to come here for a full month next year. I did not push her taking off a month of her vacay to come back to the states – this was her idea and i think that’s an important point to make.

    5. if you don’t have the money to visit throughout these 2 years then I have pity for you and your relationship. I honestly don’t think it’s a good idea to try and stay together if you can’t visit – that will just be too much on any one person. Yes, I suppose it can be done but it will be incredibly hard.

    6. No matter what, know that it’s going to be tough. Make sure you take care of yourself and don’t get away from what makes you you.

    In closing, I realize it may sound like good advice but also premature for someone only 6 weeks into this, but I hope my confidence and advice is stll helpful. She has made it clear that even if things are going well that if I saw ‘when’ and need her to come back she won’t blink. It is for this reason and the others that I laid out that I want to keep going.

    Good luck everyone!


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