One Confused Guy

I apologize for this letter being so long, but I didn't think I could have left anything out.

There is a woman I have known since last September (I am 37, she is 33). We got to know each other gradually and from January to mid-March we went out alone about 5-6 times and with mutual friends about 5 times. We hit it off and had a great time whenever we went out. We have had a lot of deep, intense, discussions and both opened up to each other about a broad range of topics.

Early on I told her that I liked her and was willing to invest the time to get to know her better. She told that this freaked her out at first because she never met anyone who was as honest and straightforward as I was. She told me that she was severely hurt in her last relationship which ended almost 2 years ago and that she has a hard time trusting men.

Even after we hung out for several months, I never even tried to kiss her on the lips even though I often wanted to. I think I should have tried but I might have erred on the side of caution (we did hug and she would kiss me on the cheek but I'm wasn't sure how to take this).

I know for at least a short time, she started to think of me more than as a friend based some of the discussions we had. But then, soon after, I felt like she was giving me the brush off (i. e. we'd make tentative plans and then she was too busy).

I got the message and basically stopped calling her for a while. I think she felt we were seeing too much of each other and there was a lot going on in her life. May be she saw me as desperate or needy, but this isn't the case since I do not enter into relationships lightly (I have been in love before and I don't date someone just for the sake of dating).

I think she felt that I thought we were a couple and I think she felt like she was being pushed into it without having any say in the matter. This is the one thing I did not want to happen. I do understand why she felt this way as I definitely called her often and wanted to hang out a lot, but even though I did like her, as I said, my intention was not to push her into anything.

I think she misunderstood my intentions. A lot of that had to do with the fact that she was the first person I met in years that I could really talk to, and I really enjoyed her company and she enjoyed mine. I even once asked her to tell me if she ever felt that we were spending too much time together and another time I even addressed it more directly, but I took it for granted that she would feel comfortable enough to tell me. Me bringing this up might have freaked her out even more.

I got the feeling she wasn't used to someone being this open and honest. For whatever the reason, she didn't tell me she was feeling crowded. Since she didn't tell me, I made the wrong assumption about how much time she wanted to spend with me. I should have been more sensitive to her feelings but hindsight, etc, etc.

Since mid-March, we saw each other once for about 1/2 hour. Then about 3 weeks after, we saw each other when we had lunch with mutual friends and when we hugged goodbye, she grabbed my arm and said she was sorry we weren't able to really talk (I definitely felt like she missed me. Maybe this was because I decided not to bug her for a while).

I waited a couple of weeks, called her, and about two weeks ago, we had dinner. Once again we had a great time. We just talked and laughed for hours and it was comfortable and natural.

Once again, I was even more conscious of just acting like her friend. A couple of days later, I found out that she has been dating someone she seems to really like for the last month or so (she didn't tell me this and she doesn't know that I know).

I am incredibly confused about how she thinks of me, as a friend or as possibly more than that. She basically knows I'm interested in her and after this cooling off period, it seems like she might want to start hanging out again, but I'm not sure yet.

I can't stand being this confused and I have no idea what I should do. We never spoke about what happened and I want to know if I should trust my instincts and address it with her openly and honestly to see how she feels and apologize for being insensitive and inadvertently putting too much pressure on her or should I just take it slow and try to occasionally get together and see what develops?

Am I too late because I might have acted too much like a friend? I have never had to deal with anything like this. As I said I am totally confused. I really feel that this is a women I could have a long term relationship with and I want to and I am willing to work at it. Once again, I apologize for the length of the letter. I look forward to your guidance! One Confused Guy

Answer: 

The reason why you are confused is because the woman you love is confused. In fact, she is what we call ambivalent (meaning torn between two positions) about whether to be involved with you or not.

When you ask what should you do, you need to know that whatever you decide to do will be wrong. If you come in close, she will feel pressured, and if you pull back, she will miss you (as you have observed).

So, I think that you have two choices. You can be very cool and distant, which will bring her in close. The downside of this plan is that as soon as you respond to her closeness, she will run again. So, it seems to me that you will need to more actively tackle the problem through open discussion.

One way to begin doing this is to verbally mirror her ambivalence by saying, 'I see that you can't decide whether you want to have a relationship or run for the hills. Which of your two messages I should respond to?' The problem with trying to use the verbal approach with her is that she doesn't talk.

As you said in your letter, you already tried to discuss how much time she wanted to spend together and she declined to talk directly with you. So, we have to assume that she won't be any more verbal when you address the issue this time around.

For this reason, it seems to me that before you can discuss the level of closeness that she wants, you would do well to dialogue about her unwillingness to talk about her needs and wants. You might say, 'Have you noticed that when I ask you to tell me what you need from me that you don't speak up? What do you think stops you from speaking?'

By asking these two questions you are working to resolve her block to communicating her needs and wants. Unless she can learn to verbalize her needs, you can't possibly have a relationship with her.

For one thing, you will never know what she needs, which means that you will, unwittingly, step on her toes, right and left. Then, when you do, the boom will drop on your head and you'll be accused of crowding her and you'll be dumped again.

So, before you can even think about a relationship or addressing her mixed feelings about closeness, this woman must first work to overcome her block to communicating her needs and feelings. If you can get her interested in working on this with you, you can soon begin working on the larger issue--her fear of closeness.

I also want to mention that you are blaming yourself for not having been sensitive to her, and for having made the wrong assumption about how much time she wanted to spend with you. It is not your job to read someone else's mind. All you can do is ask what the other person needs, which you did. If the other person is unable or unwilling to say, then that is his or her problem.

So, I don't want you to even think about going down that crazy road of trying to read her mind. You will always fail to read her mind correctly, and most importantly, you won't be helping her to grow up and verbalize her own thoughts and feelings.

So, here's your plan. Get her to recognize her unwillingness to verbalize her needs. Help her to see that before you can even consider a relationship, she must be willing to resolve this pattern with you. Then, once you are confident that she can take responsibility for verbalizing her needs, then you can talk about how much closeness and space she wants.

If you decide to go forward, she must be willing to tell you about her space needs on a daily basis. You must realize that you are dealing with a very damaged person. She has numerous issues and none of them will be quick or easy to fix.

So, if you decide to trudge ahead, be prepared for a bumpy road. You also need to know that unless or until she resolves her intimacy fears, you will be facing regular pull-backs and break-up threats. All of this means that you will be vulnerable to being hurt again and again.

This point leads me to wonder whether you would be wiser to hold off on the love affair until she resolves her ambivalent feelings. The other choice is to hold back on the affair until she is at least able to talk about her ambivalent feelings (mention whenever she's afraid to be close) and not act on them (by breaking up, etc. ).

Ideally, she should be working on these issues in therapy. You might point out to her that her mixed feelings, and fear of involvement won't lessen over time. She will need to actively work on resolving these issues for them to diminish. Good luck.

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