How long should I wait?

My British lover is waffling. Should I put the hammer down?

By Cary Tennis
Published August 27, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dearest Cary,

I'm seeing an amazing man. He's 42, divorced three years ago from his wife of 10 years, British, smart, dashing, sweet, funny, phenomenally talented in more ways than I can count, and someone I can see spending some serious amounts of time with. I'm 32, been in long-term, committed relationships, almost finished with grad school, happy, successful in more than just the monetary sense of the word, and mostly rid of my old demons. Life is good for both of us.

We have a great time being together and we both feel a strong sense of emotional commitment to each other. And all the little things are in place for us -- the common interests, the shared sense of humor, the respect and the desire, the passion. We've had all the talks -- Would he marry again? Would I ever marry? Do we want kid(s)? Do we pool our money if we marry? Do we stay in this area? Do we want to buy a house?

And did I bring these things up? No ... he did.

Interestingly, the amazing man has said more than once that "he's not ready for a relationship," while plunging in wholeheartedly at the same time. Also interestingly, we are "not dating" and never have been (according to the amazing man). This is his insistence -- describing our relationship as "not dating." This is confusing to me ... we go on dates once or twice a week, and until recently we spent at least that many nights together on the weekend.

So now, quite suddenly, after five-odd delicious months of playing and laughing and talking and more talking, he has (overnight) pulled almost completely away from me -- emotionally -- and is saying that there's something wrong with him, but he doesn't know what. That he can't be "emotionally responsible" for anyone else right now. That he doesn't think he's fully recovered from his divorce. That he is a selfish person, too selfish and self-centered to be here with me "the way I want."

I'm a psych student, so of course I've got lots and lots of theories on what's happening. Mostly, though, I think he's scaring himself away from this love between us because he allowed himself to become terribly unhappy in his marriage and hasn't fully recovered from it. And I just don't know what to do.

I can give him some time and I can definitely give him some space (in fact, we're there), but is there some sort of reasonable guideline here for amount of space and time needed? Are we going to make it? How long until I just have to let go and move on?

Tired of Wondering

Dear Tired of Wondering,

Five months is not enough time to make a definitive judgment about your future compatibility. I would say a reasonable guideline would be maybe six months to a year for him to work out whatever it is he has to work out. That's not such a long time to wait for the man of your dreams.

Keep in mind that he's British and the British are different. I'm not sure exactly how they're different, but they're different. They talk differently but that's just part of it. Maybe their wiring is different. It stands to reason when you think about it. The Anglo-American settlers, of whom I am descended, were sick of being British, or they wouldn't have come here and become Americans, right? They would have stayed in England and kept being British. You feel me?

You can't possibly know what's going on in the mind of a smart, talented and dashing British man. If you knew what was going on in his head, then he wouldn't be inscrutable and he wouldn't be dashing. He'd be American. Being British, he's also got to be complex in areas where Americans are simple -- like the matrimonial regions, for instance. So there are probably things going on, complex, invisible things that you would understand only if you were his sister.

He may also have lost his composure and needs time to regain it. Composure is something Americans have never had and so can never lose. But the British often lose theirs, and once they lose it, it has to be located and securely refastened before the game can continue. Perhaps it was lost in the back of a cab or in your bedroom among the tangled sheets; until it's located, you'll just have to stand out on a muddy field in the rain, waiting for a signal from a man in white plus-fours. While you wait, have a mint.

Am I being flip? I do not mean to be flip. My wife tells me that occasionally in this column I seem to be flip. There was a woman recently whose husband worked on the stock exchange and yelled a lot around the house and his wife didn't like that and there was a baby on the way and she was concerned about the effect his yelling would have on the baby, as was I. I thought I was giving her good, sound advice about the husband's yelling, ornamented with comic grace notes, but apparently it seemed to many that I was simply being flip. Imagine that. I do not mean to be flip. I simply mean to leaven my advice with comic grace notes.

Anyway, concerning your problem with the smart, dashing and talented British man, you just need to hang in there, roll with the punches, stay the course, and stick to your guns until all this complicated British waffling runs its course. At the same time, I do think you can set a time limit for yourself. In fact, you can set a very firm and exact time limit if you wish. Decide how long you are willing to wait for him to make up his mind and stick to it. Write it down. Make it a date.

But I am not sure it would help to present this time limit to your British waffler. I fear that if you corner him he may bolt. Instead, tell him in a general way that you have faith it's going to work out, but you're not waiting around forever while he searches among the couch cushions for his composure or his certainty or his sense of decorum or whatever he seems to require to feel OK about his badass British self.

Tell him this, and then settle back and wait for the ring. I bet he goes down on his knees before the year is out.

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