He told me he loved me the other night.
Actually, his exact words were: “I think I might love you. If that’s alright with you.” As though I was going to say it wasn’t alright. As though there was a chance that if I said it wasn’t alright, he would be able to somehow un-love me. As though I wasn’t going to say it back. None of these, of course, were very likely to occur.
I came home that night in a bit of a schoolgirl stupor, with his words swirling around in my mind. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, of course. We’ve been together going on eight months. To the untrained eye, this little statement probably seems overdue. But I know what this means, coming from him. I know how hurt he has been in the past, how cautious he has been with his feelings. I know the weight those words carry if he’s saying them. It feels really overdue and way too soon at the same time.
What I didn’t really expect was the pressure those words suddenly put on me. Not pressure to say it back; I had felt that way for quite a while and just didn’t know when the appropriate time was to say it. So, no, not that. The pressure put on me is regarding the future.
About a week ago, we were driving through the countryside, talking about the university where we met, where I’m still employed part-time. I had made some comment about how I hoped I wasn’t still there next academic year (aka that I’m in a PhD program by that point), to which he responded that maybe it would be worth staying around if I could get a lectureship and work full-time with benefits. I didn’t think much about why he was saying this at the time, but with my new information, I now recognize the hidden message in that suggestion: Don’t leave me.
He would never ask me to stay outright. At least, I don’t think he would. But the implication is still there. My mother, on the other hand, isn’t too shy to speak her mind. “Maybe you should reconsider applying this year,” she said to me yesterday. “I’d hate for you to go through the trouble of applying, get into a school, and then not want to go.”
When I asked her why on earth I would not want to go if I was accepted into a program, she started talking about him. What if he got a really good, full-time job here? What if I could get a full-time job here too? What if things continued to get more serious between us? Four or five years is a really long time to live apart. Plus, once he got some experience, he could follow me when I went to school later down the road.
I told her that I couldn’t believe she, of all people, was suggesting that I put my career plans on hold for a man. She responded that she wasn’t saying I should put it aside for him (even though she pretty much was), but that a lot could change in the next year, and who knows where I’ll want to go with my life.
A lot can definitely change in a year. A year from now, we could decide to get married and live in our hometown for the rest of our lives. In a year, we could be broken up and no longer speaking. If I apply to schools, there’s no guarantee I’d even get in. If I don’t apply to schools, a full-time position may never come up. To risk not applying to PhD programs over a relationship that may not last and a job that may not exist is a risk I’m not really willing to take. That’s too much pressure on a relatively new relationship. That’s too much pressure to put on one girl.
So, in my downtime, I’m mentally oscillating between potential futures, trying to decipher how the hell I’m going to figure this all out.