What does a woman mean when she says “I need space”?

What does a woman mean when she says “I need space”? October 18, 2012

young businesswoman or student with a stop gesture

Dear John,

A good friend of mine suggested I contact you.

I am now at the end of a five-year relationship and I am feeling lost as to what happened. We have had no fights, no disagreements, no infidelity. Just all of a sudden, it is over. I came home yesterday to a “Dear John” letter, asking me to move out.

I am 41 years old, and this is/was the first time in my life that I could say I found my soul mate. I have been living in what seemed like a wonderland of bliss. Right before our five-year anniversary, my partner told me that she did not feel like moving forward—but that she also didn’t know why she felt that way. Said she is afraid of conflict, so she had put off telling and hurting me—but letting it build up until there is no way of fixing it is not much better.

She tells me it is not me at all, that I have been doing everything right. But she just doesn’t know why she is feeling this way.

I am an old school gentleman. I believe in manners, and treating people well. I open doors for her, I rub her feet when she has had a long day at work, I cook her dinner, I do my part around the house. I listen to her vent about her day and I interact with her conversations. Yet nothing I do seems to be the right thing.

I am so in love with this woman. And even though I know I can survive without her, I want to do whatever I can to stay with her.

I will be giving her space—as she wanted. But where do I go from here? I have spent the last 5 years thinking we were going to grow old together . . . I never planned for this ( I guess none of us do…but it still hit me fast and hard). I know five years does not sound like much to most people. I have been in longer relationships, but when you are this in love with a person five years felt like 20!

I just don’t know what to do…Every girlfriend I have had in the past ALWAYS ended up cheating on me, sometimes with a good friend, sometimes with an “enemy,” and even once with my older brother.

This time was different. She NEVER cheated on me. We had a completely different relationship than I had known…and I embraced it with open arms. I felt completely comfortable for once in my life. I never had any worries about infidelity.

Last night I got a chance to speak with her. She told me that she feels smothered and trapped…and that she needs space.

What exactly does it mean when a woman says she “needs space”?

I have asked a few different female friends: What does it mean when a woman says she needs space? And none of them had an answer for me. When I ask my guy friends, they all immediately say, “Oh, she is having an affair.”

I have asked her straight-out about affairs or even other people she might be interested in, and her response was a very believable NO! And I do believe her when she says it.

But not even she can explain to me what she means by “needing space,” other than me out of her life. I think that is just the easy way out….and not facing whatever is really bothering her.

She told me last night, “Let me go and hope that I come back.”

What kind of craziness is that?

It’s not crazy at all.

Dude, first of all, you need to make some new friends. “I dunno,” and “It means she’s having an affair” are two of the dipshittiest answers ever to the question, “What does a woman mean when she says she needs space?” (Actually, you need to get new guy friends, and to ask your female friends why they weren’t being honest with you. Because, I promise you, they know exactly what your girlfriend meant.)

What a woman means when she says she needs more space and wants you to go away, is that she needs more space and wants you to go away. I don’t see how she could have made herself more clear.

And “Let me go and hope that I come back” is a superb thing for you to hear. It’s a whole key to a successful relationship, right there. You need to send her a card and thank her for sharing with you the ultimate wisdom of the universe when it comes to relationships.

But don’t call her. Don’t track her down and hang around her making the deluxe faces alá mopey. Don’t do anything. Leave her alone.

When I was a kid, I used to be nuts over butterflies. One day I caught a monarch butterfly, took it home, and let it loose in my bedroom. I thought that butterfly fluttering about my bedroom was just about the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. So, of course, I tried to catch it again. But I couldn’t; every time I tried to cup it in my hands, it flew just outside my reach. So I gave up, and just stood still in the middle of my room, watching it.

And you know what happened? It landed on my nose. And, by way of hanging onto my nose, it jammed its long legs right up my nostrils.

So remember: If you let your girlfriend go, and she comes back, refuse to let her stick her feet up your nose. It’s not as delightful as you’d think.

No, but listen, man: You’re too invasive. That’s where this relationship went wrong. I can tell just from your letter that you did that thing guys are really prone to doing in relationships: you tried to make her too much yours. In a way the full depth of which you would do extremely well to take the time to fully comprehend (which won’t be easy: this is core stuff), you way too often tried to make you and her occupy the same mental and spiritual space. You pressed her to let you know her every thought, her every feeling, her every inclination, her every opinion, desire, mood, motivation. You just sort of naturally assumed that by persistently (not to say compulsively) doing that, you and she would be even closer. So close, in fact, that you’d actually be one.

And it makes utter sense that you would do that. Desiring to essentially occupy the same emotional and spiritual space as your beloved feels so much like love! It is love. But it’s love in the way that 400 lbs. of chocolate is dessert. It’s sweet at first. And then it’s just entirely too much.

One of the hardest things about loving someone—especially when you live with them, and so have access to them all the time—is … well, not trying to make them you. When you really love someone, you worry about them. You want to know they’re okay; you want to know if there’s anything you can do to make them more okay. You want to help them. You want to always be there for them.

You want, as you put it, to open doors for her, rub her feet when she’s had a long day at work, cook her dinner, do your part around the house, listen to her vent about her day, interact with her conversations. (Okay, so I have to say that I tripped a bit over that last part—where you wrote, “I interact with her conversations.” That’s something I would expect this guy to say:

You know what I mean? That’s a weird way to say that. And it makes me pretty sure, actually, now that I think about, that English is not your first language. Which … has nothing to do with anything. So never mind. But do let me say that you are rocking English. English is the only language I know, and I can’t figure out how to say half the stuff I want to. So, dude: way to have a humongous, Data-size brain.)

Anyway: You love someone; you want them to be okay; you make it your constant business to see to it that they’re okay—and the next thing you know, they’re telling you that you’re sucking the life out of them. Because you are. Because loving someone is really close to loving them too much. Many, many people fall into that dark and terrible chasm between “I love you,” and “Tell me what you’re thinking about right now and why.”

One is the stuff of romance. The other is the stuff of getting arrested for stalking.

Bottom line: Any women (just like any man) wants to be loved. But people want to be loved by a person they can love. And you can’t love somebody who’s too often more about you than they are themselves. Because that tells you that they don’t have a life: that they want you to make their life for them. And that sucks. When you’re with someone like that, what you pretty soon realize is that you’re not really in a relationship at all. All that’s really happened is that you’ve managed to adapt a gargantuan needy child.

What you want from someone you love is for them to not just love but respect you. And in fact no one can really love you if they don’t respect you. And the only way anyone—any woman in whom you’re interested, I mean—will ever respect you is if they understand that in some real and enduring sense you don’t need them. That you want them, yes. That you choose them, yes. But that you need them? No. That they will flee from. For anyone who’s worth having, needy is the ultimate in anti-aphrodisiacs.

Ball up, my friend! Take your hit, suffer for a while, and learn something so this doesn’t happen to you again. Namely, learn the hard truth informing the adage that we’ve all heard so often it’s much too easy to dismiss: The only person in this world who can make you happy is you.

Bottom line: You don’t need her. And until you know that, you can’t have her.

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