Q: I’ve been separated from my husband for two years. (Our divorce isn’t yet final.) A terrific man sought me out when he was breaking up with his girlfriend, but then he got back together with her and said we could only be friends. We still get together at times, and he told me, “I’m just not ready to give up my girlfriend, although I may feel different when your divorce is final.” I’ve tried moving on, but whenever I get to a good place, he calls and is interested again! I normally wouldn’t allow this behavior, but I enjoy his company so much!
A: The fact that a man calls for you to come running isn’t necessarily reason to do it, unless you’re a golden retriever and he’s got a dirty tennis ball to throw you.
Assuming you live in North America and not a culture where marriage is a big tent filled with lots of wives, a man’s involvement with another woman should immediately disqualify him from consideration. Accepting continued contact with a downgrade to “only friends” works if you can shift the man into the friends-only slot, but it seems you can’t, and it seems that’s just how this man likes it. You’re now his ego’s girlfriend and his backup entertainment when his girlfriend’s getting her nails done.
Okay, so technically you’re not yet available, but that’s just a matter of paperwork; you aren’t romantically attached to another person. What’s keeping you stuck on this man is a psychological fishhook called “intermittent reinforcement.” When rewards for our behavior (like affection or attention we’re shown) come regularly and predictably, we relax and take them for granted. But the stuff that sods the ground for an obsession is random, unpredictable reinforcement -- a guy you can’t have who occasionally surprises you by throwing you a bone of hope: telling you that he isn’t ready to give up his girlfriend but “may feel different when your divorce is final.” Sure, and the moon may grow a mustache and start orbiting your dentist’s office.
So, no, you aren’t stuck on him because it’s so darn enjoyable being with him. It’s because he’s turned you into a lab rat frantically pushing a bar for a hit of rat chow that only sometimes comes. The way to kick the habit is to recognize this, detach, and have the self-discipline to stay detached. Send him a message that it’s over and not to contact you again, and then do everything in your power to keep that from happening: Mail your phone to a stranger in China, and hole up in an out-of-the-way motel. Of course, you could just change your number and not answer your door, but going to at least a little more effort might help reinforce that you have a new policy: No matter how handsome, amusing, and compelling a man seems, you will chase him only if he also happens to be sprinting away with your purse.
Q: I am 18 and took a baking course at a cooking school, where I met this dreamy 19-year-old guy. We both constantly found lame excuses to be around each other, so I was fairly positive our attraction went both ways. I get that men need to show their interest by asking you out, so I flirted and flirted and waited and waited for him to ask me out, but he never did. Now the course is over, and I’m wondering what I did wrong and whether I missed out on the love of my life!
A: Perhaps he was hoping he could get a girlfriend the way a dog gets food scraps: just wait for a woman to fall on the kitchen floor and then carry her off in his teeth. He may now be hitting himself upside the head with a wire whisk for showing all the mojo of garnish. This also may have been a situational crush -- one that he couldn’t follow through on outside the test kitchen due to his having a girlfriend or even a boyfriend. Or maybe he’s just being 19. At 24, with a little more experience, he might do more than make like a kid staring into the bakery window. Sadly, all that matters now is what he didn’t do. But you did the right thing by not making up for a guy’s inability to squeak out a request for a date. Keep on flirting, and stop fretting that you may have “missed out on the love of (your) life!” Sure, you may have -- if you’ve always dreamed of a day when you’d spot a white horse galloping toward you in the distance and, as it drew closer, see that there’s no prince, only a bag of frozen vegetables duct-taped to the saddle.
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