Devoted, or a doofus?

I'm in love with a woman who is newly divorced and wants to play the field. Should I wait or move on?

By Cary Tennis
Published December 6, 2002 8:10PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am in love with a woman who is, it seems, exactly what I've always dreamed of, in those relatively rare moments when I dare to dream. She's amazingly kind, she's quirky, she's passionate. She defies description. She inspires me in 10 different ways and when we're together amazing things happen. But there is of course a catch: Though she professes and genuinely seems to be mad for me, too, she is newly divorced and isn't ready for another big relationship. Self-discovery is her focus right now, which is another reason to dig her. But the process of learning more about who she is and what she wants includes seeing other people.

I've been at this needs-discovering game for years now, and I already know that I can't possibly be good at a non-monogamous relationship. I'd like to say I'm secure enough to do it, but I'm just not. But what if this is the person I've been waiting for? Despite my cynicism about relationships, I've secretly continued to harbor hope that there's someone out there for me. And she looks a lot like her to me. I've dated a lot, and it's clear that she's a rarity. Do I leave the situation, and tell myself that if it's right, it will happen eventually? Do I stay, and hope that love will conquer all (a romantic but shaky premise)? Would that make me the world's most patient and supportive lover (and thus a good long-term bet) or just the world's biggest self-disrespecting doofus? Or do I ask her to make a choice, which seems a little authoritarian to me and probably wouldn't work anyway?

I have always been content enough as a single person, but the thought of not having her in my life makes me weep. And I'm not an especially patient person. Mr. Tennis, can someone who's in love with someone even think about being with someone else? I certainly can't. Though maybe I should.


Dear Discombobulated,

To state it in coldly logical terms, this is not the person you've been waiting for because the person you've been waiting for is monogamous. However, after she completes her research, she might choose to close the laboratory. She might give you the only key. I think it might be worth waiting around for, as long as you don't string it out indefinitely. She probably wants to make a better choice next time, so she's casting as wide a net as she can. After all, if you only date serially, it does limit the field.

The best thing you can do is set some kind of time limit for yourself, like say six months or a year. Don't make it like an ultimatum for her, but let her know that you like her enough that you're going to give this relationship the maximum chance to succeed. If there are things she needs to do, if she does indeed just need to give herself some time during which she feels under no obligation, that might allow her to do it. But don't string yourself out. It might take her longer than you're willing to wait. Or she might even just be trying to be nice to you, and have no intention of ever committing.

Set the deadline for yourself. Make it concrete. Write it down. Stick to it. Whatever you can handle. And at that point, if she isn't ready to commit, you'll have to walk away. Don't give in. And don't fall into a trap of believing that there will never be another woman as wonderful as this one. You'll find somebody who wants you as much or more than you want her.

Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

Cary Tennis

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