Help! I've fallen in love with an older woman.

I'm 33; she's 48. It was supposed to be platonic, but my feelings have changed.

By Cary Tennis

Published September 17, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 33-year-old single guy, and about 10 months ago I responded to an online personals post by a 48-year-old single woman that was in the "strictly platonic" section of a personals Web site. At first we met for coffee and talked on the phone a lot and really hit it off. We had told each other that we were both glad to have found a friend to go do things with. We went on a few outings sightseeing around the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area. We went to movies and sang Metallica karaoke together. I helped her pick out a new car. We talked on the phone quite a bit about things as big as life and how to live it, to as small as the proper way to cook a baked potato (rubbing butter all over the outside of the potato before baking it really makes it turn out good).

Because she had made it clear from the very beginning that she was not looking for a boyfriend or a sexual hookup, I've resisted intimating to her that I now have romantic feelings. It's not just that I'm sexually aroused by her wonderful body and happy-go-lucky personality, but I really feel that I've fallen in love with her despite the age difference. When I see her car pull up in front of my house, I get all giddy like a child. When we hug goodbye after a movie or an afternoon hike, I feel something in my heart as I watch her drive away and wave goodbye. I've tried being more observant to see if I can get any sort of hint via her body language that she may or may not feel the same way, but alas, I'm a stupid male and can't seem to read any signals one way or the other.

I'm afraid if I tell her how I feel and she doesn't feel the same way, she will blame and look down on me for trying to break the "strictly platonic" boundary that was previously set up and that I feel I should probably honor. But if I don't tell her how I feel I will probably regret it for the rest of my life.

I have a feeling that if I spring this on her, if she doesn't feel the same way, she will want to end the relationship and I would be devastated. And if she does have romantic feelings for me, she probably doesn't approve of the age difference and thinks it would never work. I feel like I need to do something, but I don't know what. Can you help?


Dear Tongue-tied,

It would be delicate, but if I were you I would try to discuss it without revealing how your feelings have changed.

How do you do that? Put your own feelings aside. Keep the discussion in the abstract.

It's corny and transparent, but you might use the old "friend" trick. "You know, a friend of mine was asking me about my friendship with you and I told him it was strictly platonic. And he asked me, 'What would happen if it changed, if it suddenly wasn't platonic anymore?' And I told him that you and I had an agreement. And he said, 'But what if things changed?' And I said I didn't think things were going to change. And he said, 'Things always change.' And this is a good friend of mine. I hadn't thought about that. What if things do change? What would we do?"

At which point she might say, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Or she might say, "Well, what are you saying? Have your feelings changed?" And then you would be on the spot. It's hard to know exactly what to say in a situation like that, but it's be best not to outright lie. You can make agreements and rules about relationships, but that doesn't mean the unexpected won't happen. If she really wants to know what's going on, I think you should tell her. You may find that your honesty deepens the friendship. Or it might become clear that it can't continue as it has. You can't know that yet. You'll have to cross that bridge when you come to it.

Good luck!

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