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Can't We Just Enjoy the Limited Time We Have Left in Our Relationship?

My girlfriend of 10 months just broke up with me a few days ago. This has been her longest relationship. She had never lasted longer than 3 months with anyone prior because she is an independent girl and is afraid of commitment. For whatever reason, our relationship is different. We fell in love with each other and have had our ups and downs. However, the ever looming fact that we are both about to graduate from college this May and going to different states afterwards has been her main concern.

She claims that she has not felt the same about me lately and that she is tired of fighting for something that is going to end. This is not the first time she has broken up with me because of this, but it is definitely more serious and evident this time around. She says that I love her more than she loves me and that she now only loves me as a friend. The decision to break up was purely hers and now I am heart broken.

I plan on waiting a couple of weeks with no contact with her. If she does not break silence, then I'd like to at least meet up one more time to see if she might have reconsidered and if we can at least spend the rest of the semester together and make the best of it. I just want to be with her and not waste what we have together.

I am really sorry to hear about your heart being broken. It is always hard to end relationships, especially when you had already accepted that your time together was limited to begin with. Based on the information you provided, it sounds as if your ex-girlfriend has a very avoidant attachment style. Adult attachment patterns refer to the thoughts, feelings, and expectations that we have about intimate relationships; how responsive our parents or caregivers were to our needs as young children heavily influence those thoughts, feelings, and expectations.1 Because your ex-girlfriend is independent and reluctant to enter close relationships, she likely has what we call a dismissive style,2 a style characterized by low anxiety but high avoidance about being  intimate. This means that she probably has good self-esteem, but does not trust being really close to others, as they may have let her down a lot in the past.

While your relationship seems different than your girlfriend’s previous relationships (given that she fell in love with you), that there is an end in sight (graduation) likely made it feel safer to “let go” and fall in love when you first met 10 months ago. Why? Because a ‘dismissive’ person would be comforted by the fact that he or she could experience love, but not have to rely on you long-term. With the expiration date looming, your relationship would end before you would have a chance to let her down as others have before.

I cannot be certain, but my guess is that this impending loss was the catalyst for her ending things with you. Ending your relationship was not likely an easy decision for her, but if her feelings for you were to continue to deepen over the next few months, the loss may be more painful later for her. Avoidant individuals, such as your ex-girlfriend, tend to weather loss better than other attachment types (e.g., anxious individuals who want to be close but always question how much their partner really loves them), as they have a higher threshold for insecurity. This means that they are not used to having important people there for them, and so when they break-up they are not as devastated as others might be by the loss.3 To cope with the end of a relationship, folks like your girlfriend typically divert their emotional attention away when faced with potential loss, which results in less emotional experience.1 So, they essentially numb themselves to what they are experiencing, and focus on other things. This may explain why she is only seeing you now as a friend rather than intimate partner.

Whether you get together to chat or not is entirely up to you, but I would not enter such a meeting with high expectations. You may want to spend the rest of the semester together and just take it for what it is…a relationship with an expiration date, but try to understand that from her perspective, it may be too painful to continue exploring. She will likely be less invested than before because of the eventual loss she anticipates experiencing after it ends.

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1Bowlby, J. (1980). Loss: Sadness and depression. Attachment and loss (Vol. 3.). New York. Basic Books.

2Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P.R. (2007). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. New York: Guilford Press.

3Fraley, R. C., & Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Attachment and loss: A test of three competing models on the association between attachment-related avoidance and adaptation to bereavement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 878-890.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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