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IS MAN GIVING OR DICTATING?

Dear Carolyn:

I have been dating a wonderful girl for a year and a half, whom I am so in love with. Last September I had to move away because of a job. I came to visit her twice a month and sometimes even more. Everything is going very well, but I can't stand not being with her. I have quit my job and was ready to move back.

She, on the other hand, has gotten in the best master's program in the country for her field. She is the most talented human I have ever met. I am so proud of her, and I don't think she realizes her talents.

So, I turned down jobs in her area and I got a job in the city where the school is. I thought that it would be a no-brainer. Now, she doesn't know if she is going to go. I always thought that a relationship was a give-and-take kind of thing, and I am trying to be accommodating but I feel that there is no giving back here.

-- Hanging in There
A. Dude, you're scaring me -- I can only imagine how your girlfriend feels.

And you can only imagine because you apparently forgot to ask her. Before you quit your job, did you talk to her about it? About moving back? About not moving back and following her to grad school instead? About turning away jobs in one place and accepting a job in the other? About packing her off for her master's before she'd made up her mind? About putting your life on a truck and idling at her front door?

The way you tell it, you've been "giving" unilaterally and assuming your girlfriend will take it. What you're giving, though, is your own answers to her major life decisions. Whoopsie. Even if she'd been dying to go to this grad school, she might not want to go any more -- because now it'll be hard to tell: Is she fulfilling her own dream, or the one you've been dreaming for her?

What you need to ask is why you've presumed her entire future for her. Are you new at this? Controlling? Obsessed?

If she were writing to me, she'd get a two-word answer. ("Witness protection.") You get the long version because you need to grasp that her psyche ain't big enough for the both of you. Back off. Once she decides on her future, then you can ask -- as in, the thing that ends in a question mark? -- if there's room in that future for you.

Single for a reason

Hi Carolyn:

I have a good friend who can be obnoxious and annoying at times, and never has a girlfriend for more than a few weeks. Every now and then he laments that he's going to be single forever, he wants to have kids but afraid he'll never meet the right woman, etc. etc., and I never know what to say to him. "Don't be such an ass and maybe you'll meet someone nice"? Do I give him some self-improvement pointers, or leave him to wallow?

-- D.C.
A. Or, "Don't worry, men can be fertile till death"?

A moot point, of course, if he keeps being an ass -- which brings you back to the question of whether you should be the self-awareness messenger.

It's easy to see why not. There's the ugliness of what you have to say, for one thing, and the potential ugliness he might volley back in your face. Painful.

But there's also the robust possibility that speaking up won't even help. A man who suffers chronic female flight and continues to blame the females is a man not eager to process bad news -- from his girlfriends, his instincts or you.

Painful, meet Pointless.

Still, you've got a friend who's clueless and suffering for it, so there's your reason to give education a try. Subtle education: Say, "When I hit a dry spell, I asked myself, 'Would I go out with me?' I gave introspection a try."

OK, so "subtle" is a bit overstated. It's still a gently made point.

Still on his mind

Dear Carolyn:

Six months ago, my girlfriend of 3 1/2 years broke up with me. I was deeply and passionately in love with her and losing her devastated me. Just recently, I met and had a great conversation with a woman. We talked for a while and there was some serious flirting from both of us. Later, I realized that I felt guilty. Even later, I realized I felt guilty because I felt as if I had cheated on my ex-girlfriend. I can't decide if this means I am not ready to start dating again, or that it is a good time to start.

-- R.P.
A. I can't decide either, so go out with this woman and see. If you're sitting at dinner and you hear yourself holding a three-course discourse on whether you've regained the emotional vigor necessary to re-enter the dating scene, then you'll know you weren't ready to start. But it's been six months and you're flirting, so I suspect you are.

Write to "Tell Me About It," c/o Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail: tellme@washpost.com.

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