Dear Dr. Love, I am 45 years old, divorced for nearly 5 years. For nearly 2 years I have been dating a woman whose husband left her for another, much younger woman 2 years ago. She was my high school girlfriend 27 years ago.She ended our relationship in college because she wanted to be single and free for a while. Within a year she married the man she was with for 22 years. We met again shortly after her separation. Things progressed to a very intimate and exclusive relationship, although she lives 80 miles from me.We spent entire weekends together, every weekend for a year. She indicated she wanted to take a leave of absence from her job and spend the next year with me. We talked often of sharing a future together.All went well until February of this year, when I sensed her pulling away from me. She began to focus on establishing a life in her town. She became too busy to see me during the week. She began spending one weekend night at ‘home’ which turned out to be nights out with single friends in singles situations, tango dancing during the week, tennis lessons, etc.I have encouraged her to do these things and was glad to see her re-establish a life and interests. But I was concerned about my diminishing role in her life and the reduced amount of time we spent together. While I know this is healthy and to be expected at this point in her life, my unhappiness with my reduced role has strained the relationship.For 2 years I had told her that I thought she should date at some point and that I would get out of the picture. She indicates now that her ‘friends’ have all told her she should date and she is beginning to do so. But she does not want me to leave the picture.She says I should have no expectations, we are no longer a couple, and has encouraged me to date as well. She says she wants to have some buffer, or experimental relationships before deciding who she wants to spend the rest of her life with.She implies I am still in the running and wants to continue to do things together when she is in my town. But she has little or no time to be here, and I am not invited or included in her life in her town.My questions are: Is this her polite way of saying ‘it’s over, I don’t want you. Let’s be friends’? Is there a future here, or should I accept what appears to be the hand writing on the wall and put this behind me?I really have a hard time being with her for a few hours for a bike ride or tennis, knowing she chose to be with someone else, or do something else the night before and after we are together for a few hours. I am willing to walk away and would prefer to do so, rather than be rejected for something or someone else each week.She says this is stupid and immature and that I should be able to stay in the picture and have fun together when we can. What do you think. I love her very much, and would not want to lose her during this period of independence, but I fell a little used and don’t wish to continue this frustrating situation.Would appreciate your advice on the future of this relationship and suggestions for dealing with this situation. Signed, Confused and Used
You have reason to feel used.She is using you like a puppet that she dangles from a string. Her telling you that your feelings are stupid and immature is cruel and insensitive. A person who wants a relationship with you, or even a friendship should be interested and concerned about how her behavior is landing with you.Why would you want to hang on to someone who treats you like a toy that she plays with when she’s in the mood, then discards when she’s done. I know she says that she is in a phase during which she wants to try out her freedom and independence. I don’t buy that this is a phase. Remember her need to play the field way back in college.In other words, her mixed feelings about attachment and commitment go way back. Yes, she did finally marry someone. But, look at the person she chose. Someone who cheated on her and dumped her. His behavior merely adds fuel to the part of her psyche that was always afraid to connect to one person.So don’t think for one minute that she’s going to grow out of this. There is a part of this woman who throws away a person who is faithful and true and clings to and even marries someone who abandons her. No wonder she fears becoming attached. And, you don’t sound like the right man for her.You are faithful and enduring, and she has little use for you. She seems to be drawn to the type of man who drops her on her head. You ask me if I think that she is letting you down easily with this let’s be friends while I play the field routine.Have you asked her this question? What does she say? Have you asked her whether she sees herself returning to you after her independence gig? Has she told you how long she wants to be free before she will reevaluate whether she will return to an exclusive relationship with you?You need far more information before you decide whether to hang out or not. It’s one thing to give her some time, but it’s yet another to be left in limbo, indefinately. If she wants this space, she needs to make a clear commitment as to how long this phase will last.You see, by putting guidelines on the process, you reclaim your power and don’t allow her to run your show. When you ask her to be accountable to you and your feelings, watch her response. Is she at all concerned about your feelings in this? Or is she the only one who matters?If she refuses to give you any dates or timetables, then you have your answer. You cannot commit to wait around for someone who isn’t willing to make the same commitment to you. Remember what happened the last time around. She married someone else!She may try to lure you into just waiting patiently with no set end date. You will need to decide whether or not continuining as you have been is harming you.If you can be her friend, enjoying her when you see her, and accepting when you don’t, then fine. But, it doesn’t sound to me like you can do this. You seem to be feeling rejected and hurt each time she sees other people.If she refuses to set a deadline and you decide that this situation is harmful to you, then you can tell her that when she’s done playing the field, she can give you a call. If you’re still available, you can see about dating then.My final thought is that this woman is gaining some pleasure out of yanking your chain. The last approach, in which you tell her to call you when she’s quite finished, removes any secret pleasure she is obtaining by dangling you. This approach puts you back in the driver’s seat, where you belong.I hope that I have helped you clarify your options. Let me know what happens.