Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dismaying Story #75: Plato's Relationship Legacy

Dear Andrew,

I have a history of "friendships" with men, whom either want something more with me, or whom I want something more with. I do not know how realistic or fair it would be, to them or me, to continue the friendship, knowing that we are on different wavelengths. There are two such men in my life currently.

I have a 67 year old friend whom I can communicate with and enjoy the occasional night of dancing with, that I could not entertain a relationship with because of the age gap (more than 2x my age). We did share the occasional hug or peck on the cheek in our friendship, but somewhere along the way he developed stronger feelings for me and it is clear that he wants something more. I have expressed my feelings that I could not be more than friends with him, but the frequency of his affection interferes with the boundaries that I want, which have also been expressed to him. He is an excellent dancer and that is one of my favorite past-times, but the difference in our perceptions is affecting my motivation to see him. Do you have any suggestions to keep him as a friend and get him to respect the boundaries, so I can continue the friendship? Or would it be better to say good-bye and leave it alone?

The other man is someone I have known for 2 years, dating then and again recently. We have great communication, a deep connection on various levels and there is a physical chemistry as well. For whatever reason, he has stated that he is not ready for anything more than "friends only." Without getting into backgrounds, I understand his position. My dilemma is this, I want to continue a friendship with him - because that foundation has been built quite solidly, but I fear that my feelings for him and "hope" that we will get together again, may make future interactions awkward. I am ordinarily a person whom cuts my losses and moves forward, leaving ex's in the past, but this guy is someone whom I'd rather have in my life, even if only friends. I'm just not sure if I'm capable of being "only friends" with someone who in many ways could be the right guy for me. Am I setting myself up for continued heartache?

Signed, Platonic Possibilities

Dear Platonic Possibilities,

I must admit, dancing and hugging and cheek pecking between two otherwise unattached adults can be potent stuff. That combination has been known to get the embers of desire glowing, even when there is quite an age gap. I can understand how the older gentleman could fall for you and how he could take your continued desire to see him and go dancing as tacit approval for his advances, even if you say otherwise. To him, your actions may speak louder than your words. His ongoing expressions of affection mean that he is somehow encouraged to continue.

Think about how you react when he expresses his feelings. Is the feedback to him consistently neutral or even negative? Or do you get a bit of a payoff when he pays you that compliment? And does this tiny pleasure, however muted, come through to him? Do you smile? Maybe touch his arm in an "Aw shucks" gesture of fondness? If so, that would dramatically lessen the impact when you also suggest he shouldn't do that anymore.

Pay attention to your own reactions and cut out any rewards you might be unconsciously throwing his way. Combine that with telling him explicitly where you want the boundaries drawn, and that may encourage him to be good.

I can't say whether it would be better for you to simply walk away from your dancing partner. This seems to me to be a matter of balance and your own comfort zone. If you can keep the relationship on a level where the fun outweighs your annoyance, then it might be worth it to keep on. Only you can decide if any continued advances bother you enough to call it quits.

You might also want to consider this from his point of view. By allowing him to have hope when none really exists, are you keeping him from other relationships where he might have a better chance of finding what he is looking for?

The situation is reversed with the second guy -- you have the feelings and he wants to keep things light and breezy. You say you want to maintain the friendship even if that is all it is, but you also still hope his ambivalence will someday evolve into deeper feelings for you.

Some readers may remember Dismaying Story #47: The Objectionable Beau, which deals with a similar situation. If so, perhaps you can join me in telling Platonic Possibilities what she needs to hear: He's Just Not That Into You! Yours is one of the classic situations described in the book of that name by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. In my opinion, if this guy was going to be excited about having a relationship with you, he already would be. The chances are extremely low that his feelings will spontaneously bloom at some later magical date. You'd be better off to face the music right now; this is not the guy with whom you're going to ride off into the sunset.

Could you keep him as a friend? Sure, if that will make you happy. I wonder if it will, though. You said it yourself -- you have hopes for a deeper relationship. Since it won't be with him, I suggest you get busy looking for it elsewhere. As it stands now, he is getting the level of companionship he wants, while you are not.

As a final thought, you might want to consider whether having your older dancing partner in your life could be a roadblock when seeing other guys. There is certainly nothing wrong with having multiple platonic friends, regardless of gender. It is possible, though, (even probable) that potential dating partners might perceive the older gent as more than your friend and as a possible threat.

All the best,

1 comment:

  1. As hard as it would be for you to lose a friend, I feel that it would be cruel to allow the older gentleman to entertain false hope that your feelings could change. (And he would, you know.) And it might, indeed, keep him from pursuing other relationships that could fill his need.

    The younger guy might decide the same thing, though, and feel that he might be keeping you from pursuing other relationships. And then you would have lost both friends!

    Wow, what a dilemma...good luck to you.