Truth and beauty

He says he loves me, but he's taking her to Italy!

By Cary Tennis
Published March 31, 2004 8:48PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

This past winter, I reconnected with a man that I knew 30 years ago after he searched me out on the Internet and then went on a business trip to a town near me. We are 50-ish, he is divorced two years and I am single 12 years, he lives on the East Coast and I live in the Southwest. We e-mailed long letters for months before meeting and talked on the phone and have a real meeting of the minds.

It was very interesting meeting someone I knew so long ago, because he seemed the same and said the same thing about me. This was a very passionate encounter, a week of being so happy with each other. The long distances between us were an obstacle, but we genuinely fell in love on this meeting, an intense and changing experience.

He did tell me he had a "girlfriend" on the East Coast although living in another state. He had been seeing her for a year, and she deserted him from September to March looking for some "space," does not want to live with him, only sees him occasionally. His comment is the relationship has its "limitations." This was his first girlfriend since his divorce. He tells me he cares for her but is in love with me.

His business takes him to Italy yearly, and he is going this spring. He is taking his girlfriend with him on this trip. He says they made plans to go before Christmas and he has a duty to go with her. I say, if he really loved me as he says, he would tell her that he is in love with another and then we could go to Italy together. I am devastated by this decision of his.

I stopped talking to him and now we just e-mail each other. My feeling is that this is a deal breaker. There is no chance for any kind of relationship in the future if he goes with another woman to romantic Italy when I could easily go on this trip with him. I am so confused, because I think he is telling the truth about his feeling for me. And, of course, I am in that weird new love chemistry state that only lasts a short while. How can a man say he loves me like no other and then make a decision like this?

How do I make any sense of what has happened to me? The trip is scheduled for next month, and I think I am falling out of love over this.

Beauty, Truth and Justice

Dear Beauty, Truth and Justice,

It might seem strange to you, but he probably thinks he's being fair and doing the right thing. After all, he did promise her the trip.

If he is a businessman, he probably believes in keeping his word. If he told this woman he was taking her to Italy, he may believe that he's now bound to do it. That is, he may place more emphasis on the literal meaning of what he says than on the emotional content, as though his relations with people were governed by contractual agreement.

To you, taking her to Italy means he likes her more than he likes you. That might not be what it means to him at all. It might mean simply that he's a man who doesn't break his word. That can be a valuable quality in a man: If he won't break his word to her, then he won't break his word to you, either.

So the fact that he's taking her to Italy may in some sense be a good thing. It indicates that he can be depended upon. Nevertheless, you want to be the one who's depending on him, not her, whoever she is. I'm just saying, you're going to need some patience. You may have to let these other leases run out their term, if you get my drift.

You say, "There is no chance for any kind of relationship in the future if he goes with another woman to romantic Italy when I could easily go on this trip with him." If you really believed that, you wouldn't be confused, and you wouldn't be writing to me. You'd just break up with him.

But I don't think you really believe that. I think instead that it's a rhetorical device, that you are saying that because it represents the depth of your feelings about him. So you are going to have to rephrase your feelings in a way that expresses their intensity but leaves you some options. There's nothing wrong with being upset, humiliated, angry, fearful, lonely, aggrieved, hungry for his attention, feeling left out, any of these things. They're just emotions and we all feel them. The great thing about being specific about your emotions is that you still have options. You can feel all those things and still love him and still be with him.

Just as he, I'm sure, can feel what he feels for you and still take this other woman to Italy. People are capable of vastly complicated and seemingly contradictory emotions. That's why it's so interesting to be alive.

So, because he may be a literally minded man, be careful in your discussions with him. Don't paint yourself into a rhetorical corner, unless you really do want to end the relationship, which I don't think you do. If you tell him there's no way you can have any future relationship with him if he takes her to Italy, he may think you mean that literally, and consider the relationship finished. So don't say that. Instead, describe your actual feelings. Say that you are hurt, that you feel left out, that it makes you feel he doesn't care for you, that you wish it was you going to Italy with him, and that you wonder if he is telling you the truth about how he feels.

Then provide him a creative way that he can show you that he really does care about you. A good way for him to show you how much he cares about you would be for him to take you to Italy next year, and put you up in a wonderful hotel -- in fact, a better hotel than the one he stayed in with her.

Hold him to it. Make him get the tickets. After all, he's obviously a man of his word.

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Cary Tennis

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