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TWO PEOPLE CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT

Dear Carolyn: "Joanne" and I have invested a lot in our friendship for the past four years. There are times she has wanted to make it more and times I have wanted to, but they never seemed to coincide. We have had a physical relationship in the past but have never actually "dated."

Recently she asked me who the last person I slept with was. I told her it was an ex-girlfriend about three months ago. She then became furious that I didn't tell her the day after it happened! Carolyn, at that time she had made it clear we were not dating and we probably never would. I didn't feel an obligation to tell her; when she asked, though, I didn't hesitate to tell her the truth.

We live in different states, but she is planning to move to mine (not for me specifically). This is the first opportunity we have really had to try for something more. How can I repair the damage that has been done?

-- Richmond
A: That's up to Joanne. (Good luck!) But I can tell you how not to repair it: by assuming responsibility where you don't feel it, or taking blame that's not yours, or otherwise selling your soul for her blessing.

Tempting as it might be, apologizing just to remove a romantic obstacle would only perpetuate the problem you both seem to have made your specialty -- an inability to figure out what you want, believe in it, articulate it, and stand by it. (Leading to an inability to lay off moronic, invasive, loaded questions the answers to which you're unprepared to hear, like, "Who's the last person you slept with?")

Do you want a future with Joanne? Yes. Did you think you had any chance of one three months ago? No. Did she think otherwise? Apparently.

The best hope for you to repair damage is for you both to accept these three statements as fact, and to declare, once and for all and for cryin' in a bucket, that you love each other. In fact, it could be the beginning of a beautiful whatever.

Motives in question
Dear Carolyn: What if you want to be friends with guys because you think they're fun, only to find out they wanted to be friends with you only because they wanted to get you in bed?

-- Friends With Guys
A: What if a guy really wanted a girl, only to find out she's just hanging with him to have fun? Misaligned motives are as old as friendship. All you can do is pay attention long enough to understand what people are telling you about themselves. And keep your pants on till you do.

Two wrongs don't make a right
Dear Carolyn: Whenever my older sister suggests anything she will end it with, "That's what I would do." It aggravates me to no end. Do you have any snarky responses I could throw back at her? What makes it worse is I do not ask for her suggestions.

-- Maryland
A: No, what makes it worse is throwing back snarky responses. Better to kill her momentum with, "Thanks for the suggestion." And if your snark tooth must be satisfied, try, "I'm sure that is what you'd do" -- and let her parse what that means.

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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