DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #21

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Dear Sugar,

My girlfriend and I broke up six months ago. We were fighting all of the time and no longer having sex. Time seemed up. We went our separate ways but maintain friendly contact through occasional emails or phone calls.

Now that tempers have died down, I don’t think we tried hard enough. We are both in our early twenties and were grappling with larger, external issues – post-graduate what now? thoughts and general malaise. We took it out on each other. I was passive-aggressive and withdrawn. She’d have emotional outbursts that I couldn’t understand, and I only made it worse with half (quarter?)-hearted attempts to console her.

We’re in a good place now that the pressure of a relationship is off our backs.  Part of me wants to give it another try. I don’t think I’m idealizing what’s gone: I know that when things were good they were amazing, but when things were bad I’ve never felt worse.

I want to discuss my lingering feelings for her, but don’t know if it’s fair. She’s in a much better place emotionally than she has been in a long time. I don’t want to impose my doubts if she’s actually better off without me. Should I tell her that I have regrets? Or am I being selfish?

Signed,
Love Ridden

 

Dear Ridden,

I’m not a big fan of “general malaise.” It’s emotionally imprecise to the point of obfuscation and, in this sense, very much like a bad short story. That you attribute the end of the relationship to such generic causes is reason one for concern. That you see these causes as “external” is reason two.

But what really worries me about this letter is the distinct scent of male bullshit wafting up from the page. It sounds to me like you were a tool the first go around and you’re now hoping to win her back, in particular because she’s moved on and sounds happier without you. Hell hath no fury like a weak male narcissist scorned. Thus, you’ve crafted a fantasy in which the very act of your expressing interest in her again rocks her world. But here’s the great thing about you, LR: you’re such a supremely sensitive dude that you know recognize your own pussy-melting power. You don’t want to selfishly confuse your poor ex. Heck, she could drive off the road or something.

If you still love the woman and want to work harder to honor that love, why not confess those feelings? Why pretend you hold so much power over her and waste your energy fretting over that? I suspect the reason is because a) you’d get rejected; or b) you’d get yourself back into the relationship, get bored, and crash the thing again.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too harsh. But I tend to smell a rat when an avowedly “passive-aggressive,” “withdrawn” man says his woman is having “emotional outbursts” he can’t understand. Really? Not even if you close your eyes and concentrate? I’d be more apt to root for you and your former if you’d written something (anything!) about what makes her so special and if you’d articulated what has changed within you since the end of the affair.

 

Dear Sugar,

I am a very happily married woman in my mid-thirties. I have many friends that are male, and it’s never been an issue. But one in particular has started making me worried.

I didn’t even notice certain quirks at first: like never referring to my husband by name, but instead as “your husband,” or currently texting me in the evenings though he knows I’m not in the habit of responding (I don’t even check my phone when I’m with my husband). And then last week, when I canceled plans with him last minute, he went from overly insistent, to invasively questioning, to nearly combative. It was unnerving.

It dawned on me that this man might think we’re having some kind of emotional affair, and possibly leading towards the more physical kind. We’ve never had so much as a tense hug goodnight and that’s never going to happen. Even if I wasn’t mad about my husband – even if I wasn’t even married in the first place! – this guy just doesn’t do it for me. So am I being naive in thinking I can somehow cool this off, and stay friends with this man? Or is my only real option to friend dump him?

Signed,
Staying Platonic

 

Dear Platonic,

Sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind. Which is fine. It makes my job easier.

A few points to consider, though.

First, canceling plans at the last minute is – barring a legitimate excuse – an asshole move. It makes people feel disregarded and pisses them off. That could be, at least in part, why he was being combative. Or maybe he’s lonely and jealous of the loving, stable relationship you have.

Second, the fact that you’re suspicious of this guy desiring you makes me a bit suspicious of you. You may not want to have physical relations, but you may (on some level) want the attention, the awareness that you’re wanted, the chance to turn him away. The lady doth protest too much and so on.

Third, and most important, I can’t tell you what to do without a better sense of what the friendship does provide you (which you neglect to mention). Do you trust this guy enough to level with him about your concerns? And if not, do you value his company enough to put up with such indirect provocations?