Hi Carolyn:

My girlfriend of almost two years broke up with me about a month ago. It was really out of nowhere. She said it was because she has never been alone, and couldn't figure out who she was and grow if she was with someone (she is 23 and I am 28). We really enjoyed being with each other, and she told me she still wanted to talk to me; that I was the best thing that ever happened to her and she didn't want to lose me completely. She and her friends are high school dropouts with no real desire to move forward in their lives, while I am a college grad who is ambitious and successful, and I tried to push her to accomplish the same thing. But she started dating someone from her neighborhood not even three weeks after we broke up, and now she won't even answer my calls. I feel like I treated her better than she had ever been treated in her life. I'm having a hard time understanding why she would just up and dump me like that.


To date someone who accepts her as she is and doesn't feel she needs to improve.

You're probably thinking, it's not that simple. But I wish it were more complicated. Any time you "push" someone to be "successful," you are calling that person a failure, in every way but those exact words.

When it comes from a teacher or coach or a boss, it can infuriate, urge and inspire.

When it comes from a partner or parent or friend, it can make you want to stop taking his calls.

These are the people who love you, or at least they're supposed to. And while calling that love "unconditional" may be idealistic, that is the ideal we all hope for, and being judged -- yes, judged -- as a "dropout with no real desire to move forward" puts that love on a merit system. "You'd be perfect for me if only . . . ."

If you weren't happy with her as-is -- if you needed her to change for you to be happy -- then the answer wasn't to change or better or rescue her. It was to break up with her.

That doesn't mean partners can't encourage each other, that you weren't supposed to cheer her on if she did choose to seek her diploma. It just means the idea needed to be hers. That frees you to say, genuinely, that you'd do anything to support her effort, beginning with love her no matter what.

It just means: "Self-help" sections in bookstores are huge. "Girlfriend-help" sections, not so much.

Her saying she needed to be alone to figure out who she was is a pretty good sign she felt pressured.

I don't doubt that you cared, and miss her, and hurt.

Nor do I doubt that you saw yourself as the one good influence in her life -- as opposed to seeing her as a good influence on you, too. For, say, her warmth, unique perspective, low-pressure outlook on life, whatever.

I also don't doubt that you treated her well. But never as your equal, and there is no better treatment than that.

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