It's Me Or The Cats: From Long-Distance To Contentious Coexistence

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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.

Some say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Today, the Sugars hear from one writer who has discovered she misses her traveling boyfriend more than she expected, and another who has encountered new problems after moving in with a former long-distance boyfriend.

Hi Sugars,

My boyfriend just left for an extended period of time to bike across the country (he's really cool). We talked a lot about how things were going to be after he left, and I felt comfortable with it all. I trust him. He left two days ago, and now I'm in a panic. I feel much sadder than I thought I would. I've always been on the other side of things — the one leaving for adventures and having fun while my loved ones cheered me on. Now I'm watching him fulfill a dream, and while I'm happy for him, I miss him an incredible amount. How do I cope with his trip without being jealous, sad and paranoid? How can I make the most of my time without him? How do I cherish, rather than dread, the opportunity to be by myself for the next few months?


Blue Without You

Steve Almond: The sentence that's really illuminated here is, "He left two days ago, and now I'm in a panic." He left two days ago. Hey, you love him more than you thought. I think what you need to do right now is try to really discern how much of this is, "I miss him," and how much of it is, "Damn it, he gets to do this and I don't." My hunch is that it's a complicated mix of those two. Wallowing in feelings about his departure — especially feelings of envy — is exactly the wrong thing to do if you want to start to enjoy his time away. And he's on a bike trip — I imagine they still have phones, don't they? Or write each other letters. That's what people used to do — it sustained their relationships, it deepened their relationships. So, my sense is, this is a great opportunity.

Cheryl Strayed: Sometimes — in fact, always — growth is uncomfortable and queasy and painful. I think that it's really valuable to ask these questions, especially if this relationship does end up being one that sustains over time. You're responsible for your life — do something cool yourself. And that doesn't mean you try to one-up him, but think more deeply about what makes you feel like you're seeking and having adventures.

Dear Sugars,

Three months ago, I relocated for my long-distance boyfriend. I left my dream job, my beloved city and great friends, and took a significant pay cut to move to a new city to live with him. When I first made the move, we were incredibly happy to finally be ending our long-distance relationship. Now, things are markedly different.

We've been fighting almost daily, and my usually sunny disposition has dimmed dramatically to the point where friends and family are starting to worry about me.

The main reason we fight is because of my cats — two adorable, sweet and loving cats I adopted five years ago, long before I met my boyfriend. My boyfriend has never been fond of my cats, but told me he would do his best to get along with them when I moved in with him.

He hasn't. His only interaction with them has been to yell at them and chase them into a tiny powder room where we keep their litter box. They've become so scared of him that they hide in a crate to avoid him. To make matters worse, he has a dog that he treats like a king, and expects me to do the same.

He now says he doesn't think he can live with cats, and he wants me to send them away to live with my parents. I feel like this is incredibly unfair to me and diminishes the importance of my cats in my life. If the tables were turned, I feel he would absolutely choose his dog over me.

Part of me wonders whether this goes beyond just a hatred of cats. Is he simply unwilling to compromise in general, whether it's about cats or anything else? He says that's not the case, and that without the cats, things would be back to normal. I'd love to give this a fair shot since I've already sacrificed so much and it does seem silly to end a 2 ½-year relationship over cats. But I'm 30 years old, and I don't want to waste any more of my time on this relationship if he's going to be stubborn and selfish forever.

I'm so torn about what to do. Please help!


Crazy (and Confused) Cat Lady

Cheryl: This one is not complicated for me at all. From one cat lady to another, honeybun, you should absolutely go. This is not about cats, OK? You're ending a 2 ½-year relationship over the fact that you're with somebody who is not kind, not considerate, and not respectful. And those are big, deep, important things. You sacrificed a lot. You gave up the life you loved to move in with this guy, and guess what, you learned something you didn't expect: that you had fallen in love with somebody who is selfish.

It's one thing to say, "I'm not really in love with your cats, but I love you and respect you, so I'm going to make my best effort to live with these cats." Your boyfriend showed you what his best effort was, and it was to be abusive and mean to these cats. If you're dealing with somebody who, at his core, isn't kind and respectful, to me, those are deal-killers.

Steve: Let me give you few more hints as to why you might want to heed Cheryl's advice: "We've been fighting almost daily, and my usually sunny disposition has dimmed dramatically to the point where friends and family are starting to worry about me." Or I'll do you one better: "If the tables were turned, I feel he would absolutely choose his dog over me."

Yeah ... that's a warning sign. Just "golden rule" this sucker — you would never say, "Get rid of your dog, I can't stand him." There's a power balance that's out of whack. You gave up a lot — dream job, beloved city, great friends — and it's disappointing to face that and step back from a decision. But it's so abundantly clear to me that the only way that this relationship could work is if the terms were radically reinvented. He needs to understand that the things you love and the creatures you love matter to you. And therefore, they should matter to him.

You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the whole episode to hear from one writer wondering what crosses the line in a friendship, and another who ponders delaying a divorce over health insurance.

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