SAY WHAT


Question: I’m a single dad who married his high school sweetheart. As a consequence, I have dated very little. So now I’m divorced, and I am thrust adrift into the dating scene – in Bali of all places. The dating part comes easy; being a gentleman and forming relationships has gone well for me. I get that part.

My question is about when it’s okay to introduce someone new to my son. I have been extremely cautious about keeping him out of any of my relationships thus far. But, now I have met a woman, who I think has some serious potential to be around for a while. I don’t want to put either her or my son in a problematic situation. She knows I have a son and often asks about him and how things are. We have been seeing each other for about a month and have been much more involved than I have been with previous relationships. She comes from a background of school counseling, so she’s probably better at this than I am. But I haven’t wanted to saddle her with the responsibility of answering this question. Thanks!

 

Dr. ZZ: I know that this is not about the number of days on the calendar for you, and more about the fact that you feel as if the woman you are dating will stick around for a while and be a positive influence in your son’s life. It also largely depends on your son as much as it does on the woman and/or on your relationship with her.

Regardless of any background she may have in counseling, she is not going to know better than you, the parent, because this is a decision that needs to come from your heart. That said, it is probably not a terrible idea to say to her, “I’m thinking of introducing you to my son, What do you feel about that?” and get her opinion as your girlfriend about whether she thinks it’s time. The fact that you are being so thoughtful about this is wonderful; I’m fairly confident you’ll make a reasonable decision. Obviously, you don’t want to act from a place of heartfelt ineptitude, but unconditional love (i.e., love without expectations) is generally a failsafe guide.

 

Question: For a few years, I have had a long-distance, not 100% platonic relationship with a man I met online. I was married when we first met, and he’s made it clear from the start that he wants only to be friends. I’m fine with that though I still have feelings. He supported me through my divorce, and I supported him through various personal crises. We have emailed each other back and forth, watched movies together and sent each other photos etc.. Everything has been great.

Then, about 4 months ago, he moved back to an area where he has a wider circle of friends, and suddenly he was not there for me so much. I got clingy and depressed as I perceived him to be drifting away. It was difficult to break the habit of messaging him daily or every-other-day. Once I realized what I was doing, I managed to stop pestering him and asked a few times how much space he needed. All he would ever say was a variation on “I’m fine, nothing has changed. You’re being overdramatic.” Meanwhile our actual conversations grew shorter, colder and increasingly rare.

He still contacts me occasionally, but I want to know how to repair and disentangle our friendship without risking a breach of his invisible boundaries. I’m afraid I’ve lost too much goodwill to even try testing the limits.

 

Dr. ZZ: You don’t have to be a mind-reader. Just take your friend at his word (“I’m fine, nothing has changed. You’re being overdramatic.”) You didn’t cause the distance between you; you didn’t do anything wrong; you don’t have to check in and atone, worry or apologize. In fact, he specifically does not want to talk about the nature of your relationship or your anxiety about it. The more he has to reassure you that he’s not annoyed, the more apt he is to become secretly annoyed, and the more loudly he will protest that he’s annoyed.

You are not wrong to pick up on the diminished contact between the two of you because, as you pointed out, something has changed; he moved back to a town where he has a larger circle of friends and a more active social life. Long distance friendships are genuine; but, when people are deciding how to allocate limited time and attention in day-to-day life, proximity generally wins. It is not surprising that part of his moving and reinventing of self is making a conscious decision to move beyond your formerly shared, romantic, not-exactly-sexual past to actively putting his energy into a life closer to home.

How to “repair and disentangle” the situation? Take him at his word that nothing is wrong. Something, however, has changed about his priorities and about how much time, attention and effort he is putting into your friendship. His actions speak loudly here, and your instincts are sound. Continue your self-monitoring strategy of pulling back on communication and letting him initiate contact. Put a moratorium on any conversations about the state of your friendship and send no emotional emails.

Your romantic feelings are definitely at play here, and you’re understandably missing your daily jolts of attention and affection. Whether this is a breakup or not, to you it feels like one. So, treat it as such, mourn the loss of your closeness privately, and then take all the energy you are putting into this not-so-active friendship and put it into being awesome someplace else.

 

Dr. ZZ has a Ph.D. in Counseling and a doctorate in Natural Healing. Drawing on a background of over thirty years as a professional therapist, she offers self-help in the areas health, relationship and personal growth. All queries are answered by email and, if they appear in print, are subject to editing. Please email your questions : (ba.saywhat@yahoo.co.id). All identifying information is kept strictly confidential.

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