Dr. Tracy's Advice Column

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Just Wants To Be Friends
Is She Too Young?
When To Tell About the Past

Just Wants To Be Friends

Dear Dr. Tracy,

Age: 42 Marital History: Never married, several long-term relationships. Searching for a serious partner.

Question: Dear Dr. Tracy, this is probably a really stupid question but your library doesnt seem to answer it, so here goes.. I met a very kind-hearted, interesting, handsome man who seemed interested in me, and we started going out for about a month now. Although I found him a bit possessive, I took this and the fact he sees me often and calls as a sign he really has some long-term potential. Anyway, soon after we started seeing each other he told me he discovered he still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend, but doesnt want to go back to her (they broke up and got back together several times, unsuccessfully). It got to the point that every time I was at his place she called constantly (he never picked up when I was there) and he confessed he talks to her often to ‘settle their affairs’ and that she is determined to get back together with him. He told me when he told her about me, she called me a hooker. He just got a new apartment away across town from her and spent 5000 dollars on new furniture for himself, so I know hes not thinking of moving back in with her immediately. But, he kept talking about her and I got a bit sick of it, so I told him he needs to resolve this situation with his ex before I can feel safe in getting more involved with him. Well, you guessed it. While first assuring me he had no feelings for her, he went off on an extended vacation and, when he came back, informed me that, while he loved me, he was ‘in love’ with her, but that he still wanted to stay friends with me and continue meeting up several times a week but just as friends! ! !

Dr. Tracy, what shall I do ? This situation tears me up, I like the guy a lot more than I probably should but I’m afraid being his ‘friend’ will really mean nursing false hopes and being thought of as a patsy. Also if he loves his ex, it doesnt seem right for me to stay in the picture even as a friend, seeing as I havent gotten over him myself.

Dear Afraid,

Every one of your concerns is right. This guy is not ready for prime time relating. He needs time to get over his ex. Maybe a long time. Or maybe he will get back together with her and take his new furniture with him.

Don't abandon your goal of securing a serious partner because of this waffler. You need to forge ahead, following the steps I outlined in my book, "Marrying Later, Marrying Smarter."

Step 1: Look for a quantity of eligible men. That means looking on line. Checking a dating service. Setting yourself up to choose from a quantity of men instead of just waiting to meet someone by chance.

Step 2: Find men who are eligible, able and willing to make a commitment, and available. A man who is still hung up on an ex is not ready to make a commitment, at least not to you at this time.

Step 3: Don't waste your time on someone who doesn't really want you. Right now, you are the best you're going to be. Don't waste precious years being some guy's friend. Keep looking and dating until you find a man who adores you and is totally "in love" with you.

You've only invested a month with Mr. Hung Up. Move on. Since you've only known him a month, you won't have a lot of trouble getting over him. But if you let him stay in your life, draining you of time and love that you should be giving to someone who is really a "possible" for you, you will eventually have to get over him and then it will be a lot harder.

Quit now. Cold turkey. Tell him no friendship. No meeting several times a week. No phone calls. No e-mail. Let him know you're out of there. You're right, being his friend will nurture false hopes. Not only that, it will affect your self-esteem. You'll begin to feel bad about yourself for not being "good enough" to be more than a friend.

When someone says, "Let's just be friends," that's usually the kiss of death for any romantic relationship. When someone says, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you," that's just more nails in the romantic relationship coffin. Also, they're trying to get what you have to give, such as friendship, nurturing, companionship and who knows what else, without giving you what you want. It's a lousy deal and nobody should agree to it.

People who agree to be "just friends," when they really want more, are putting themselves in a one-down position, accepting crumbs when they want a cake with icing.

Get busy and find yourself someone who will be in love with you.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Is She Too Young?

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm not really asking for an answer, more of an opinion about age issues (your library doesn't cover this) in a relationship that is quite healthy. I am in my upper twenties and my girlfriend is about to turn twenty later this year. She is in college doing well and has my support as I am stable in my own life. Both of our families see something wrong in this relationship but have never expressed their true feelings. It's like a "hush-hush" topic. I am divorced and have two children although they live with their mother. My children do not have a problem with my girlfriend although my ex-wife does. Even though my girlfriend and I are happy together we have to constantly endure dirty looks or whispers whenever we are around family members.

We don't believe we are doing anything wrong or breaking any "moral laws" but it is causing stress in our relationship. We met over a year and a half ago and have been dating for about six months now. Up until this point we have had no arguments or fights over anything. We don't want to part ways to make others happy but we don't want to stray from our families either. We are frustrated on which direction we should take with this so any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank You, Two love birds that lost their way.

Dear Lost Love Birds,

You and your girlfriend are not that far apart in age, but you are far apart in life experience, and that's probably what's got everyone upset.

Her parents must feel as if she hasn't had a chance to live her life and she's about to get herself saddled with a divorced man who has two children. If you and she were 45 and 35, nobody would think twice about your being together. But since she's still in school, her parents are probably worried that you will interfere with her education and her chance to find a man her own age who has never been married.

It's important that you get beyond the hush-hush and get your family's objections out in the open. Think about "facilitating." Ask them exactly what bothers them. Let them tell you, and don't defend yourself. Instead, keep asking them what else bothers them about your relationship, until you have all their objections on the table. Then don't argue; just tell them that you will think about their objections, and meanwhile, you won't rush into anything with this girl. That may not stop all the whispers, but everyone will be more comfortable.

I don't believe you are doing anything terrible or breaking any moral laws, but you really don't want to alienate your families, especially if you hope to stay together and marry one day. You may not be able to make your ex-wife and your families totally happy about your relationship, but you can get them to accept you.

The best way to begin to convince your families that you belong together is to pass the test of time. When you've been together six years instead of six months, they'll get used to you. If your girlfriend's education proceeds on schedule and she seems happy, eventually her family will give in - they usually do, especially when grandchildren are involved. So if you're truly serious about your relationship, you'll focus on the long haul, and show her family by your actions that you are really good for her.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

When To Tell About the Past

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm wondering at what point in the dating process, and how, do more mature people (in their 30s 40s), who already have "some history," start to talk about their past relationships, lessons learned, what level of commitment their looking for, etc. While obviously this is crucial to learn, shouldn't the beginning of a relationship be about "lighter" matters, finding out common interests, having fun, doing things together. Also, how should I handle it when a potential partner starts to delve into these issues early on? Thank you for your wonderful column!

Dear Wondering,

It's always best to be upfront regarding what level of commitment you're looking for. Why waste your time, or the other person's time, if you're looking for totally different things? (See Q&A #1 above.)

The same is true about your "history." You don't have to go into details, but the earlier the better with regard to old baggage. In fact, the worse the story is, the better it is to tell it sooner. Early on, telling about a misspent youth doesn't seem as big a deal. Telling later is like you were ashamed and didn't want the person to know. So tell about your three ex-wives or husbands before you get too deeply involved, even on the first date. After all, if they're going to leave because of something in your past, it's better to find that out early.

Try to put a good spin on it. "I've learned a lot from my three failed marriages. I know what I want and don't want, and I understand the importance of communication and resolving problems before they can ruin a relationship."

Yes, the beginning of a relationship should be fun, happy and light. But if you get close to someone and then they learn about your checkered past, they'll feel as if they just stumbled upon some horrible secret, and you hid the truth from them.

Again, do not get into the gory details. Your date is not your shrink. Don't wallow in the story or badmouth your ex's or tell how they abused you. Any of that is very off-putting. Just give a brief, factual overview -- in effect, "hey, here's my past in a nutshell, take it or leave it" -- and get on with having fun.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Submitting a Question to this column

Dr. Tracy regrets that it is simply impossible for her to answer all of the hundreds of questions submitted to this column each week. However, she does read every question, and tries to select the three which are of the most general interest to the visitors here.

Dr. Tracy says, "Is your question urgent? Many of the most beseeching, desperate messages I get are not answered in this column because the answer is just a couple of clicks away in my Love Library. Have you tried my Love Library? I know that nobody goes to libraries anymore, but check this one out -- it's so easily searchable that it's fun and easy to use!"

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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