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SEE BREAKUP AS CHANCE FOR LIBERATION

Dear Carolyn: When do you decide that a long-distance relationship is over? My girlfriend and I have been dating four years, two years long-distance since we moved to different states for grad school. Lately, I feel like she is dragging out breaking up with me, but I love her and will do anything to work on our relationship (counseling, moving near her, etc.), and she agreed. Any advice?

-- Long-Distance Lover

A: Bad news, you're probably right that she's about to dump you (since no one's been wrong about that, ever).

Good news, you're probably right that she's about to dump you -- so you still have time to avoid the most common mistake people make when they're about to get dumped: trying too hard.

It's as if the sight of someone on the romantic fence compels us to pelt them with love declarations.

Instead, tough as it will be, see the impending breakup as liberating. Since you can't ruin something that's already over, you don't have to tiptoe around trying not to ruin everything, and you can concentrate on doing what you actually want to do. Finish your grad program? Transfer somewhere nearby? Drop everything to relocate to her city?

As long as your expectations remain at zero -- everybody, group sing-along of "Que Sera, Sera"! -- I think you'll find that the best decision for you and the best decision for the relationship will turn out to be one and the same.

Close door on old friend

Dear Carolyn: I fell in love with a very close friend, although he was not interested in dating. I chose to continue the friendship and eventually fell out of love with him, then became aware that while I was in love with him I was overlooking many critical character flaws. I ended the friendship.

He has been pursuing me, claiming he recognizes the errors of his ways and wants me back as a friend. After a year of this, I've concluded I would like to be friends with him only under two conditions -- that he have no involvement with people in my life and I have none with people in his, because I can't stand the way he treats others. He is rude, offensive and manipulative. I'm not sure this would actually qualify as a friendship. So should I try to make something work or just walk away?

-- Seattle
A: I hear you; one can't have enough rude and offensive friends.

But you describe this guy as manipulative to "others," and then point out that he has spent a year pursuing, guilting, cajoling you into taking him back as your friend.

I.e., hello, manipulating you.

(And, hello, how were you planning to pull this off anyway -- call him and spell out your terms?)

You got away once, why make yourself do it again, when it's sure to be even harder. Choose Door No. 2, "walk away," please -- before you run into it with your head.

e-mail: tellme@washpost.com

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