Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Getting out there

I got lucky with some free time last night (I worked late in Herndon and missed rowing) and was able to tackle a couple of "Dear Jamy" questions. The first one is a classic in the "why is the person I like so crazy?" genre (though the asker probably doesn't see it this way). The second is short and to the point and, while there may be many opinions on it, I gave it my best shot.


I've got a question. I'm a 33-year-old guy who has gone through a divorce. After allowing some time for that to heal and get my life in order, I've decided to dip my toe back into the dating waters...though I admit it's hard because I can be a bit shy. I went the on-line route and wasn't having much success and was considering giving up when I got a message from a woman. We had an immediate chemistry and exchanged a few, long e-mails before advancing to the phone call level. Early on the phone calls could last anywhere from 30 minutes to three plus hours. We decided to go out on a date and things were going well enough so we had a second.

But in the last few days, it's got a bit weird.

She revealed to me early she has issues trusting guys and that she believes herself to be "no picnic" due to her "baggage". I've assured we all have our baggage and that so far, nothing about her was scaring me off. But I decided to pull back and take things slower to build her trust and hopefully let her know that I'm not just going to run out on her or suddenly vanish. We had a good level of honesty and openness--to the point that she told me that she was talking to one other guy from the personals. Even though I only had two dates with her, I was a little jealous because some other guy was getting her attention. But I figured all I can do is be me and to act insane or jealous would just drive her away.

Anyway, it was all going well until last week when she calls me, talking about how the other guy is self-destructing and how I suddenly look better by comparison. She then says she has been wondering if it might not be a good idea for us to think about exploring whatever we have going on and not be looking for other people....so I responded that I'd be happy with that, if that's what we both wanted. Then, it got strange.....the next day when we spoke, I felt her pulling away. She said that while she'd been sure then, she wasn't sure about me.... She said she is attracted to me on a mental and emotional level, but physically, I don't make her weak in the knees. (Her words.)

It was hard news to take, but she said she wondered to herself if she really did like me and was afraid of being hurt and was coming up with excuses to not explore things with me.

That was the last real conversation we've had. In the past few days, we've not really talked because she said she needed some time and space...which I'm happy to give her. But I just wonder--how much time and space should I give her? I don't want to show up on her doorstep with some expansive gesture from most of those romantic comedies we see but I also don't want to appear too aloof or as if I don't care. Until now, it's been fairly easy to know when to call or e-mail, but now I wonder--how much is too much or too little?

I'm horribly confused by this woman and part of it is that for the first time in years, I've allowed my guard down and her to get close to me.....

Any help you've got would be appreciated.

Sign me....Single in Nashville

Dear Nashville,

This letter is good evidence that men love the drama as much as women do. I do not mean this as a slight towards Nashville. My point is that ANYONE can get caught up in the emotional excitement that even a little bit of romantic potential brings.

Nashville, what I will say more specifically to you, is that, despite the intensity of your feelings, your actual contact with and knowledge of this woman is limited. Your involvement is potential, not actual. And when she says she is "no picnic," believe her.

Why believe her? Re-read your letter. So much drama going on with someone you've only met in the flesh two times is disturbing. I chalk your tolerance of her behavior up to your re-entry into the dating market, but the truth is: she's a teaser. She has introduced a third party into your relationship and tells you that he is "self-destructing." What possible good can it do to talk to you about him? At best, it's misguided. At worst, it's deliberately manipulative. Then, as the second part of her 1-2 combo, she hits you with, "physically, you don't do it for me." Yikes.

While a lack of attraction is a perfectly legitimate reason reject someone, it is also the reason we should most resist saying. Most of us cannot do much about our looks and attraction is a frightfully subjective thing. It's only hurtful to let someone know that they don't make you weak in the knees, and it can almost always be avoided. (A "it's not going to work out" fits almost all occasions.)

We may, perhaps, date people from time to time who don't bowl us over physically. Yet, as we get to know them better, they become irresistible. Online dating, where you know the purpose of the meeting from before day one, takes away the option of letting someone grow on you. Or of having a friend who becomes attractive to you. It's a major problem with online dating. It makes something that is often good for shy people, ironically, bad for shy people. Because it is shy people, especially, who need a chance to grow upon others.

All of that aside, my advice is to back slowly away from this one. Or run quickly away (that would be ideal). If you do feel the need to be in touch with her, you can send an email (or make a phone call) where you say, "I'd like to see you, but I don't want to pressure you. I will wait for you to contact me." After that, it's in her hands and you should let it alone. Assume it is over and date other people if you have the opportunity.

I hope you can see it as a positive experience. Being able to let your guard down means you are ready to be in a relationship again—very good news. That it didn't work with the first person you clicked with is not surprising. It sucks but I'm sure you will find someone else even better. I promise.

Take care,

Everyone knows that when people fall in love, they dump their friends like hot potatoes - for awhile, that is. How long is it proper to cut your friends slack when they fall in love?

Hi Reya,

It's proper to cut your friends slack for as long as you can stand it. In reality, three months is about the max I could take it before I stopped making friendly overtures. After that, I'd need my friend to come to me. After three months or so, most couples have stopped doing all that mushy stuff I can't stand.

That said, I don't think it's ever ok to dump your friends. Perhaps you might reduce the frequency of contact—you used to see each other three times a week, now it's once—that's understandable. But disappearing for long stretches? That's not my definition of friendship. Then again, I'm all in favor of forgiving such lapses if they occur. What are friends for, after all?


Grateful for: good friends and no confusion.

Drop me a line.

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