She said dealing with school, new friends and a serious relationship was just too much.

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Dear Carolyn

Carolyn is away. The following first appeared on Dec. 3, 2003.

DEAR CAROLYN: My girlfriend of a year and a half just broke up with me, saying she needed space. We both just moved to a new city (her for school, me for job/her). I don’t know many people here, and we spent virtually all our time together, partly by design, partly by necessity. She indicated that it was too much pressure to deal with school, a social life with her new friends and a serious relationship. We talked pretty openly about marriage, and the breakup came as a shock. How do I respect her wish for more space while letting her know that I very much want to continue our relationship?

— Ship Without a Rudder

DEAR SHIP WITHOUT A RUDDER: I very much suspect she knows very much that you want to continue your relationship. Very much.

But if you need to reassure yourself, tell her in your exact words — at the same time you explain that you’re going to respect her wish by stepping out of the picture, unless and until she welcomes you back into it.

It’s a bummer, but not as big a bummer as your relationship was becoming. By your own admission, you were totally dependent on her. Unhealthy, with a capital unfair. How long before you donated your entire sense of self to the relationship cause? Assuming you hadn’t already.

Even in a situation where no one would expect you to have a rudder independent of hers, you needed to have one anyway — even if it was a hobby or your job or a complete and unforced (and therefore not at all guilt-inducing) comfort with spending long stretches alone. Anything that takes the burden of your happiness off someone else’s back.

So. Release girl, find rudder. When pain becomes ache becomes void becomes action becomes a life, you’ll look back on this giant leap and see it as merely an opening step. One I doubt you’ll regret.

DEAR CAROLYN: I have been seeing someone for the last year and a half. We are both in college. I recently found out he cheated on me with a girl we have been arguing about (on and off) for the last six months. He calls her a “friend” even though she tries to use sex to get him to spend time with her. We almost broke up but I decided to forgive him and take everything slow. The problem is that I had asked him to tell her he will not be spending any time with her and that she needs to stop calling him, but this hasn’t stopped. We agreed to work on the trust issue but if she keeps calling, I don’t think I can deal with it. How do I approach the situation now?

— F.C.

DEAR F.C.: She does not “try” to “use sex” to “get him to spend time with her.” They spend time together, of their own mutual free will, and have sex. The difference is more than semantic.

Especially because it means this isn’t a trust issue. He chose to keep hanging with this girl, which makes it a duh issue. A do-you-want-to-share-your-boyfriend-with-another-girl-(again) issue.

No wait — an is-this-drama-really-what-you-want-to-spend-your-college-years-worrying-about issue. I like that one better. If your answer is, “Yes, because I love him!!!” then wad it up, throw it away and start over.