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I think my girlfriend is going to leave me. What more can I do?

I think my girlfriend is going to leave me. She has started being cold and distant and if I ask her if anything is wrong she just says one syllabl

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I think my girlfriend is going to leave me. She has started being cold and distant and if I ask her if anything is wrong she just says one syllable like “nothing” or “it’s fine”. I love her very much but I feel like I am going mad watching her for signs that she no longer loves me back.

I have started working out more in a (maybe pathetic) attempt to remind her that I am attractive and have a future and I am trying not to probe her too much about what’s going on or annoy her with serious conversations. What more can I do? I don’t want to lose her.

Eleanor says: I’m going to say two things right in a row that will be painful to read. The first is that she might be telling the truth when she says nothing’s wrong. Sometimes we convince ourselves our partners are dissatisfied with us when really we are. This last year made millions of us feel physically sluggish, stalled at work, and bored at home. You could be parsing that dissatisfaction as though it’s coming from her, because at least that way it seems it can be solved.

So try to think hard about whether asking “are you mad at me?” is a way to soothe some other feeling. If it is, work with her to find a soothing mechanism that works, because this one doesn’t seem to – and you don’t want her to feel like she’s trying to fill a sieve.

Now for the second painful thing. Suppose you’re right, and she is tiring of you. Then if she wants to leave, she will.

I know that isn’t comforting. But it’s at least concrete. Right now you’re stuck in a place without anything concrete; your perception doesn’t match what she’s telling you and you’re feeling things which she denies. It’s crazy-making. So hang on to this certainty even though it hurts: you cannot make someone want you.

That might break your heart as much as she does, but it can also be a relief. You can exhale. You can end the agony of trying this dress or that joke or this personality, hoping that if you tweak enough variables you’ll make her stay. You can’t.

The reason you can’t is that her decision to leave is not only reacting to you. This is a tricky thing to internalise. We feel so confident in the throes of early love that consistency seems to demand we feel ashamed when we lose it.

But in fact all your effort and change and appeasement can only contribute to a finite amount of her decision. The rest is made up of things that have nothing to do with you, like what she wants from her future, or whether she’s feeling the need for reinvention and the nearest ticket to a transformative experience is parting ways with you.

Losing her will still be a terrible grief, if she goes. It will feel like something roared a hole through your ribcage and all you can do is try to find a way to breathe that doesn’t hurt. You will mourn the future that you learned you will not get. But try to guard your grieving heart against the thought that you have learned more than that. All you have learned is what she wanted; you have not learned about yourself, your value, or your lovability.

And if you can take a deep breath now and calm yourself with the knowledge that all your best efforts will not stop her leaving – if she really wants to – you can avoid something that a lot of people never do: you can avoid prostrating yourself at the feet of someone who no longer cherishes you.

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