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My messy long-distance relationship is ruining my life. Help!

July 30, 2013, at 8:45 AM

Dear Starshine,

I'm a single father in a long-distance relationship with a single mom. We're both recently separated vets and the plan was for her and her child to join my kids and I once I found a job and a new place to live. Recently she's become distant and cold to me. She confessed that she's been feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and that she no longer knows what she wants. She has told me about other guys who live near her that she's interested in. She says they've chosen to remain just friends — yet one of them she calls her "cuddle buddy." She tells me it's for comfort and nothing more, but it seems she tells me these things for the sole purpose of hurting me or making me jealous. My children love and adore her and have even started referring to her as "mom," so I worry about how this is going to affect them. I'm holding on to a dream that may never come to pass and it's tearing me up inside. I can't stand the thought of seeking out someone new. This has started to physically affect me. I hardly sleep or eat from the stress. I can't seem to get past it. How do I move past this? Every time I try to talk to her she says she can't because she is on her way out the door for one thing or another.

The tension of limbo is excruciating, indeed. I can spring you from it — but you're not going to like where you land.

Your girlfriend is kind of a mess, and so are you. (Look, they don't call this Tough Love for nothing.) But you're supposed to be messes right now. Recently separated and newly tasked with raising kids on your own — and at least one of you unemployed — this is the get-off-my-case, duly warranted, totally justified "kind of a mess" phase of your lives. Things are not ideal here, man!

But two hot messes do not a happy home make. How are you guys going to co-manage a family of five or more when you can't even communicate with each other? Listen closely: She's trying to tell you — in a passive-aggressive, "kind of a mess" way — that she's not coming to live with you.

Hatching this move-in plan was romantic, and working toward it was optimistic. But getting your kids excited about it was careless and unfair. You and your far-away female have obligations beyond your own loneliness. Maybe she realizes this and that's why she's stalling (although I question the prudence of a woman who'd adopt a "cuddle buddy" and tell her boyfriend about it).

This isn't happening for you right now, my friend. I'm so sorry. It isn't. But there's something your kids need more than someone to call mom. They need their dad. They need you to focus on them, and on yourself. They need you to sleep, and eat, and get a job, and find a place to live, and not be torn up inside. They need you to be the guy who is so "no longer a mess" that he doesn't pine for broken women who snuggle their neighbors. So go find that guy. And cuddle him good.

Send me your dilemmas via email: ToughLove@TheWeek.com. And follow me on Twitter: @ToughLoveAdvice.

Update: I (incorrectly!) assumed that "recently separated vet" referred to these veterans' marital status, when in fact it's a military term referring to the end of one's service. As the questioner explains in a follow-up: "She has never been married and separated from the military about 18 months ago. I have been divorced for almost a year but was separated from my ex spouse for almost a year before the divorce became final. I separated from the military 1 year ago, almost to the day." Apologies for the misunderstanding!

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