Q: A good friend and I had strong feelings for each other but I (foolishly) would not break up my long-term relationship for him. He ended up engaged to someone else, and when my relationship ended, my biggest regret was missing my chance with my friend.
His engagement has now been called off. He’s reached out, and we’ve gone out a few times, which has been wonderful. However, he still seems bitter about the fiancée calling things off, and I suspect he wants to sow his wild oats a bit. Any recommendations on how to give him his space without missing my chance again? I don’t want him to think I’m not choosing him again. I’m terrified of screwing this up.
A: Just say it — all of it. That you want him, that turning him down before is something you regret to this day, that you sense he needs room to get over his fiancée, that you want to give him that space, but don’t want him to think you’re turning him down again. Losing him might be inevitable, but losing him over a misunderstanding isn’t. That would be an unforced error and a potentially lifelong regret.
Plus, if you’re ever going to be a happy couple, then you need to be able to trust each other anyway, at the height of intimacy and honesty. So no “suspecting,” no game-playing. Lay it all out there and see for yourself what you get.
Q: I have a cousin who lives three hours from me, someone I can only take in small doses. A 24-hour visit is more than enough; she’s judgmental and rigid, and it drives me nuts. (I took her out for sushi once because she wanted to try it; she took one bite, decided she hated it, and — years later — still talks about not liking it.)
She wants to visit for three days before school starts, staying with me in my one-bedroom apartment. I don’t want to hurt her by saying, “Don’t come,” yet the idea of hosting her is causing a lot of anxiety. Help!
A: You can’t please both of you, so what’s your priority — her feelings or your boundaries? I’m not favoring either one, nor should you. Just look at who you are (or want to be) and choose what that person would do.
If your boundaries win, then express a gentler, truth-based version of, “Don’t come.” Do you already have plans for the dates she suggested? Then tell her it’s not a good time. Are the quarters too close? Then say so. People manage disappointment all the time, because life insists that we do.
If her feelings win, then figure out terms you can bear — say, a shorter visit at a pleasant and neutral location between you, or visit at your home with some clear limits that give you room to regroup. Or, a careful effort to understand and plan around her limitations? Rigidity, after all, is often just anxiety dressed up in its wolf suit.
In fact, please consider compassion-within-reason no matter what you decide, especially if it will soften your opinion of her. Difficult personalities can be difficult for the people who have them, too; imagine hanging on for years to a single bad bite of food.
Washington Post Writers Group