Dear Carolyn: I've been dating a guy for about a month. We both are clear about how much we like each other, and despite living about an hour apart, we've spent a considerable amount of time together and talk on the phone almost daily.
Last night, he told me that before we met he'd met someone else whom he still has feelings for, but who lives in Florida (he lives in Maryland). Also before we met, she planned to come visit him next month. He told me this, he says, because he likes me and he isn't sure what to do. He says he told her he's dating someone here, but was honest with me that he didn't know what was going to happen when she came to visit because he does think he likes her.
I've gone through the gamut of feelings, from anger to hurt and then to regret. I don't know if he's doing this to push me away, or because he's immature, but it's mean either way. I know I don't deserve to be treated as anything but someone's first choice, but I'm torn.
I don't want to just end things. I'm also not very inclined to give him an ultimatum because it's so soon in our relationship, but I want to make it very clear I'm not OK with this and I will not just wait around and let him play with my feelings. What is the right next step?
-- Hurt and confused
A: No, you don't deserve to be anyone's second choice, but I think he deserves some forgiveness for not knowing which choice you are yet.
And while his keeping his options open/having his cake sounds like a cross between spoiled and emotionally bankrupt, when we ourselves have feelings that pull us in more than one direction don't our friends usually assure us that the heart is a complicated place? And the best any of us can do is be honest and see where it all leads?
So, here's a guy apparently being honest and trying to see where it leads, when living an hour away offered him room to lie. I could argue that, in a perverse and painful way, this says he's a keeper, versus a play-with-your-feelings-type jerk.
He could indeed be a jerk, sure, or chronically indecisive, or some other deal-breaker.
But since you won't know until this all plays out, your "right next step" is to tell him he can't be in your future unless she is out of his system. Since his seeing her is your best chance that will happen, you're saying goodbye -- for now, forever, who knows -- and giving him room to decide what he wants.
Then: If he has an epiphany and decides you're it, he knows where to find you. You can figure out then how you feel about him.
Then you cry or whatever else you do when you've lost something you value, and lean hard on the fact that this was the path of strength, integrity and, possibly most important, compassion. He put you in a lousy spot, yes, but he got himself in one, too. That's something first-choice people allow themselves to see.