A: It’s got to be unsettling, coming into this woman’s office and seeing what’s basically a framed billboard advertising the serious relationship you told her you aren’t ready to have. In her defense, she does have more contact with you than the guy whose stock photo came with the frame.
You were only looking to hang out with her a few times a week, not wear her around your neck at all times like a scarf. Maybe she thought she could go along with this, or maybe she figured she could nudge you into wanting more. She probably works hard to contain her true feelings, but they sometimes tiptoe out and whisper suggestions, like romantic ideas for your upcoming “anniversary.” Which for you is the anniversary of “I’m dating you in the wake of my 33-year marriage hitting the wall — mainly because it seems more life-affirming than curling up in a fetal position and sucking my thumb for a year or two.”
The big myth of relationships is that you just have to find “the right person.” The reality is, it has to be the right person at the right time. A year ago, a giant meteorite landed on your life, and you’ve just about collected your wallet, your keys, and all the change that blew out of your pockets. Now’s the time to crawl out of the hole, look around, and figure out what you want. Unfortunately, this is difficult with a woman clinging to your ankle, campaigning to change her Facebook relationship status to “engaged” while you’re hunting for the button for “entrapped.”
If you decide to date around, explain that you really like her but the timing’s off. (“Great moments in bad timing” is easier on the ego than “Great. I spent nine months with a guy who never really wanted me.”) If you want to keep seeing her exclusively, remind her that you’re far from ready to shop for bathroom accessories together. She may decide that some of you is better than none of you, but the ground rules will be clear: You can drag a guy to a chick movie, but you can’t make him buy into the plot — unless it’s the first chick movie ever that ends with the male lead waking up hung over in Thailand with two bar hostesses, a tattoo, and a monkey on his belly.
Q: I don’t have a romance issue, but it feels just as complicated. I need to dump a close friend. We meet for coffee each morning and email daily, but I’ve finally admitted to myself that I don’t enjoy her company. Her dour outlook really depresses me. We spent two hours having drinks yesterday, and I felt a physical discomfort, like I could actually see my time being wasted. I can’t tell her the truth: “You drain me.” I’d really like to just disappear.
A: When you’re breaking up with a romantic partner, you can at least put a positive spin on things: “We can be friends!” What do you say to a friend you’re dumping, “We can be strangers who wordlessly pass each other on the sidewalk!”? There’s no wonderful way to shut down a close friendship, but the cruelest way is just disappearing on somebody you see and talk to daily. You actually need to tell her it’s over — as briefly and kindly as possible — and a note does that better than a face-to-face firing, which is icky and humiliating. Avoid personal attacks: “You’re too this or that.” Make your explanation about the dynamics — you just have “different approaches to life,” you’re just not “clicking” anymore (don’t mention that you never have). She may call and press you for details, so be prepared to stick to your short but vague story. In the future, avoid mistaking tenure for friendship. A friend worth having is somebody you respect and admire — and the kind of person who’s there for you when you’re down, not the giant iron anchor that takes you there.