It's getting really hard to be just friends with my ex

I keep thinking things will change, but I fear they never will.

By Cary Tennis
Published March 9, 2005 10:32PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Simply put, there is a guy, we had a fling over a year ago, after which we remained "friends." I am finding it harder and harder to do the "friends" thing as I get older (I'm 28). In fact, it's tearing me apart!

When our fling ended, he told me he didn't want to lead me into thinking what we had was anything more than something casual. At the time, I pretended that this news didn't upset me, and denied having any serious feelings for him. Over the next few months, he called sporadically, but it was clear that we were just friends. He and I both dated other people. This fall, we saw each other several times. He would constantly tell me how happy he was that we were buddies. He would talk about his girl problems, I'd complain about my crush of the moment. Deep down, however, it was apparent to me that I really wasn't giving him objective advice on his love life. I hoped, of course, that it would all fall apart and he would think of me as a potential girlfriend.

This all came to a head a few weeks ago, when we were invited for a long weekend at a mutual friend's house. We were there with several other couples (real couples, not like us), and it was all very surreal. We stayed in the same room, but I denied him sex, hoping that this would teach him something (I myself wasn't 100 percent convinced of this strategy, but my gut told me that sleeping with him would be like rewarding him for something he didn't deserve). He didn't seem surprised that I said no. We then had one of those drunk conversations in which I told him I still like him, he said something along the same lines, but emphasized that it "bothers" him that he likes me -- he is attracted to me but doesn't want to be. Not very reassuring. By the end of the weekend, we ignored the topic and played along -- just like a real couple, minus the sex -- which left me feeling very confused.

I now face a dilemma -- do I maintain a friendship of some kind with him, or do I give up? Cary, I realize you are probably going to say get on with your life. Believe me, I know how pathetic this all must sound. But let me say, for the record, that I rarely meet people who share as many common interests as he and I do and our professional paths are very likely to cross at some point in the future. This, combined with the fact that I am still very much attracted to him, makes it that much harder to walk away.

In fact, to be totally honest, part of my rationale for walking away "cold turkey" is a secret hope that this will make him realize he has a real chance of losing me -- he still enjoys being friends with me quite a bit, from what I can tell. But more than that, I am simply tired of having my heart jump every time he calls. On my good days, I want to stand tall and proud and tell him that he can't have me as a friend if he doesn't want to date me, period. It just seems like in our relationship he gets to have his cake (my emotional support, knowing that I am there for him, career advice, etc.) and eat it too (date other people and tell me about it).

Is it worth staying friends, or should I walk away with or without an explanation?

Hopelessly Undecided

Dear Hopelessly Undecided,

I think you should tell him that you can't see him for a while. It sounds like this friendship is too painful for you. The possibility that it will turn into what you want is not hopeless, but it is faint indeed.

Sometimes a situation is not black-and-white. It would be nice if the solution were clear, and if we could see the future. But we can't be certain. So we have to play the odds. We have to take action based on probability, our best guess. We might be wrong. But we have to act on what we believe is most likely. What is most likely in this case is that if you distance yourself from him, you will be less tormented, and you can turn your attention to finding a man who is right for you.

It's probably time to walk away. But you might not be ready. It might take some time to get ready to do that. Or, perhaps, if you can get up the courage to tell him about your quandary, perhaps you don't need to completely walk away.

If you are hoping to shock him into recognition, that is an understandable wish, but probably not very realistic. People don't often realize what they should feel and then feel it. They feel it, and then think about whether they should feel it or not. He doesn't feel this thing for you. It's not likely that he will.

So eventually you are probably going to have to distance yourself. I would suggest that you do it as soon as you feel able.

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