Torn Between Two Dreams

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Dear Hoopers,
My boyfriend I have been together for almost five years. I am about to finish my undergraduate degree and am applying to graduate schools. For a long time, I thought he was the one. He wants to stay in our hometown because he wants to be close to his family and he has a great job. However, there aren’t a lot of grad school opportunities for me around here. I love our hometown and would gladly live here, but my dream is to pursue a career in biology (which is hard to do with just a bachelor’s degree). We have done long term long distance before and I don’t want to go through that again especially for the next 5-6 years. What should I do? He has made it clear that he won’t go with me and I’m not willing to give up my dream. Should we call it quits now or just wait and see what happens once I leave?
-Torn Between Two Dreams

Dear Torn,
This is a common conflict with couples, particularly for those emerging into adulthood. As careers begin to come into focus and questions arise about where you want to put down roots, competing goals can quickly arise. There is no easy answer to this one. You can make a case to focus on the relationship since relationships often mean the most to us in the long run. You can also make a case to focus on career, since a relationship may end but education and your career will be with you for a lifetime.

Trying to find a way to make both of them work is often the best outcome, but that may not be viable. It really comes down to your primary values and the pull of your heart. As I listen to your question it sounds as though your heart is telling you that graduate school is your calling and to deny that is to deny yourself.

The question now is how to navigate that decision. Do you cut ties now and have a clean start for school or do you wait to see how things go? I encourage you to think about which outcome you would regret more. Would you rather make a clean breakup and later question if you guys would have worked or try to make it work and later find out that it was a waste of time. That question may lead you towards your answer.

Your heart is telling you that graduate school is your calling and to deny that is to deny yourself.

-Dr. Ryan

I can think back to a similar decision that I made when I left for undergrad. I made the decision to make a break before I left for school. There were times when I regretted that decision for sure, but ultimately I know that I made the right call. By leaving that relationship I was able to focus 100% of my energy on school and making connections in a new city. This certainly wouldn’t have been the outcome for everyone but it was the right one for me.
-Dr. Ryan

Dear Torn,
In order for a relationship to work there has to be compromise. That could take form in a long distance relationship and trying to make it work, or someone compromising to stay or move. However, if there is no compromise, the road ahead is looking pretty rocky.

My suggestion is to continue applying for grad schools near and far, whatever you see as the best fit for your next pursuit and career aspirations. Once things start playing out and acceptance letters start rolling in you will have to make some decisions, but in the meantime enjoy yourself. I think breaking up right now because of “what could” happen in the future may cause unnecessary heartbreak.

When the time is right you will make the right decision for your heart.


Continue talking through options with your boyfriend. It certainly isn’t an issue you can shove under the rug, with you actively apply to programs away from your hometown, but just because long distance didn’t work in the past, doesn’t mean that it can’t work this time around.

When the time is right you will make the right decision for your heart. If you both aren’t willing to compromise or sacrifice, then you are admitting that your individual dreams are more important than your shared dreams. That is perfectly okay. There may be heartbreak, but with that comes growth. Timing has a beautiful way of working things out.