She cheated while we were on a break

I'm sad to say that I remember a "Friends" episode about this. Sort of.

I met my girlfriend a few years ago as I was finishing up school in the summer, right before I left for grad school here in Boston that fall. We had a strong connection, and even though we hadn't spent much time together, we both thought that a relationship would be worth trying, so when I left in the fall, we started a long-distance relationship (and it is true long distance -- not one of these two-hour drive things). We've had our ups and downs and many Skype dates, but we try to see each other about once a month and for holidays (my family lives near her). My outlook has been that if we can survive the distance, we can survive anything. When we see each other in person, we both feel the wait is worth it.

OK, now for a little disclaimer. I'm 25 and she's 21, and this is by far the most meaningful relationship either of us have ever had. I've felt a little guilty for being her boyfriend when she could be enjoying life as a college student and have a traditional, local boyfriend, but at the same time, I love her and think the distance is still worth it. She has sometimes been insecure about our relationship, and has emotionally invested more than is healthy at times, but I've always offered her support and encouraged her to be independent and spend time on her friendships as well.
This summer she went on a study abroad, and since her mom has always had a strong presence in her life while in college, this was her first time really feeling independent and free. She told me that this new found freedom and independence has made her want to take a break from us so she can live for herself and re-evaluate what she wants in life. She doesn't see an end to our distance without her having to sacrifice and move to Boston (she graduates at the end of 2011). She would have good career options for her here, but she doesn't want to feel forced to move here where she doesn't have friends and family. She called for a break, and when I asked if there was a guy in the picture, she admitted there was someone she was interested in, but he wasn't the reason for the break.

I've been having a hard time with this break since it started earlier this summer. I stayed in contact with her some, and have been pretty jealous about this guy despite her saying there was nothing there. I wanted to believe her, but I told her that if she kissed this guy, I don't know if I could ever really trust her again or forgive her. I've really wanted to just forgive her and move on; let it be water under the bridge. This whole break seems like a selfish exercise, and not very fair to me. It has never been mutual, but I've tried to make the most of my free time so I went on few dates and tried to see what's out there. I kissed a girl, but it was awful and I immediately regretted not avoiding it more. She has since told me that she did kiss the boy, and it was empty, but she lied and had denied it earlier. She says she wants to work things out, and knows what she wants now.

I'm deeply hurt that she kissed the one guy I was worried about, and the only person I asked her to avoid. It feels like the only difference between what she did and cheating is that she asked for time off. I feel as if I'm being treated like a fool. She took advantage of how I felt during this break to do what she wanted, didn't find anything better, and now expects me to take her back. We need to talk in person, and she's planning to come visit after she gets back, but I don't know what to do. On the one hand, I want us to work and rebuild what we have because I know how great we can be together. On the other, I am hurt, angry, and feel like I was treated like a floor mat. I'm aware that this is complicated as it being first love, us being young, and the distance being a factor, but what we had was really great, and if it comes back fully, I could imagine proposing to her in a year. I was willing to fully forgive her before I found out about the guy, but now I don't know. I'm curious what you and your readers think of this, and if you have suggestions on what to do. Can I learn to trust her again?

– I still don't understand breaks, Cambridge

ISDUB, here we go:

1. She took the break to kiss the boy. Sorry.

2. I'm glad she took the break to kiss the boy. She needed to -- and it says a great deal that she took a break first as opposed to just cheating. You may feel like a "floor mat," but she was honest about her feelings for someone else. Many 21-year-old girlfriends studying abroad wouldn't have bothered with disclosure.

3. "My outlook has been if we can survive the distance, we can survive anything." Not true. I don't know where you got that. I've known long-distance couples who imploded when they lived in the same city. I've also known couples who lied, cheated, and cried when they were on opposite sides of the country but wound up doing beautifully when they moved into the same apartment.

4. She wants you back because the new guy didn't work out. And because she misses you. That's fine. Her feelings are real. Just know that her need for independence and self-discovery didn't vanish over the summer. She's not old enough to know that but you are.

This is tough. You're young. She's younger. You're in very different places -- literally. You can keep her in your life, but please manage your expectations. If you set the bar too high, you'll both fail and hate each other. Try to see her as much as you can and expect that until 2012 -- or maybe 2012 ½ -- things are going to be far less stable than you want them to be. The rules will change. Feelings might get hurt.

If she's the woman you want in 2012.5 or maybe even 2013, that's great. But please, don't even think about a proposal right now. There's no rush. An engagement won't ensure that there won't be another break.

And know that this isn't about trust. It shouldn't be about her proving to you that she'll never do this again. This is about dating a 21-year-old who will live very far away for the next year. It is what it is. Give her (and yourself) some space to mess up -- that way, if you wind up together in 2011, you'll know it's real and not about obligation.

Readers? Is this about a kiss? Is this about trust? What does it mean that she wanted a break? Is she treating him like a "floor mat" or is she just trying to live without losing him? Should they even attempt to see each other over the next year? Do your thing.

– Meredith