Knowing glances

I've fallen for a girl in my social group and I think she likes me, but she has a long-distance boyfriend. Should I go for it?

By Cary Tennis
January 31, 2004 1:43AM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I have quite suddenly (but also quite seriously) fallen for a woman who is already in a relationship. She is a friend of a friend, and after meeting a few months ago, we have become fairly close, but not so close that we're in the total comfort zone -- there's still a little of the "just met a person who I really click with" vibe. Many times when we see each other, either just the two of us or with other friends, I wander home thinking that if it had been a date, it would have been a great success.


Her current relationship does not appear to be particularly fulfilling or stable, though it has lasted nearly a year, despite being long-distance with a guy several years older than she. Although I have never met her boyfriend, I get the impression that he does not provide the challenge that she desires and deserves.

I am convinced that given the chance, I would sweep this girl off her feet. We are both unusually driven, outgoing, and when we're in the same room not 10 minutes goes by without an exchange of knowing glances. I am not a risk taker, and normally I don't pursue unless I know the feeling is mutual. Yeah, I'm a wuss, but maybe it's just because I've never been moved to relationship courage. Of course, my thinking that we'd be great together means nothing while she's dating Older Far Away Guy.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much advice around on How to Steal Away That Great Girl, and I have to be discreet in soliciting advice from friends because of the possibility that the news of my interest would find its way back to her. Should I tell her how I feel? What are the ethical issues? Is it wrong to tell her that should she become single, I would want a chance to wine and dine her? I'm not a big fan of the "unburden yourself regardless of consequence" school of thought, but I also wonder about the pragmatic issues.


My goal is to get her to at least consider the possibility that she'd be happier with me, but it seems equally problematic to either deny her the opportunity to hear how I really feel or to purposefully try to break up a serious relationship. Incidentally, I am pretty sure that our friendship would remain intact even if she expressed no interest in anything more after hearing the truth. What is the right thing to do, what is the pragmatic thing to do that would most help my goal, and what would you do? And if I should tell her, how do I do it in a way that maximizes the potential for success?

Smitten but Stupid

Dear Smitten but Stupid,


Your scrupulosity is admirable but a little overwrought.

While marriage is a formal, public bond sanctioned by church and state, involving property rights and taxes and money and family and thus not casually dissolved or interfered with, a long-distance relationship between two relatively young people, without any formal promise binding them is a far more fluid thing.


So I say go for it. Boyfriends and girlfriends break up all the time. They break up for all kinds of reasons. Attractions between people ebb and flow of their own accord. People don't really "take people away" from other people; instead, individuals make choices. That's a much more adult way to look at it, don't you think? She may be bored to tears with this guy. She may be looking for a way out. At any rate, she's capable of making up her own mind.

If she were even engaged, it would be wrong to try to interfere. That's one reason people get engaged -- to signal that, even though they may be capable of screwing up, they are trying to make this one work, so please back off and don't make it harder. Wearing a ring is sort of a request: Please don't hit on me, I'm engaged. But in my view, boyfriends and girlfriends are in a provisional status, a kind of limbo; they're still on the market until they do something to declare themselves otherwise. Declaring yourself off the market doesn't have to mean getting married. It can be something you do with your eyes. But if you want to stay with someone, you need to stop flashing signs of interest at the opposite sex. If she's flashing you signals of interest, then clearly she's not all that attached.

So if I were you I would arrange somehow to spend some time with her alone. If you're together at a party, invite her for a walk, or for some coffee, or to take a drive. Just spend some time with her and see where it goes.


You don't have to cross the moral threshold of "asking her out on a date." It can be perfectly innocent. Nobody's cheating. Nobody's lying. You're just having a conversation and a cup of coffee.

You don't have to spell out the whole scenario for her. She already knows she has a boyfriend. If she's interested, she'll be grateful for the opportunity to spend some time with you. If you don't make a big deal about it, it doesn't have to be a big deal.

Chances are it won't lead to anything if the relationship she's in is strong and satisfying. People in strong relationships can be attracted to others and spend time together without breaking up.


But if something does grow between you, and you're going to start going out on dates together, then you need to talk, because all kinds of issues come up. Are you OK sharing her with her boyfriend? Would you rather she clarify her status before you go out together? Is she planning to break up with him but waiting for an opportunity? Does her boyfriend know she's going out with you? If not, are you OK being the secret other boyfriend?

The reason you will need to talk is because you will be placing yourself in a vulnerable position, opening yourself to a world of hurt. She might just be experimenting, and you could fall for her hard. She might also be unscrupulous; if she'll cheat on her boyfriend, she'll cheat on you. She could dump you and go back to her boyfriend. Anything could happen. So if you're going to date, then you have to talk.

P.S. Don't ask what I would have done -- I had no scruples when I was a young, dating person. She'd be in the car already, barefoot and playing with the radio.

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Cary Tennis

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