We dated for quite a while, but it didn't work out and we've ended up as good friends. But now I'm entering a serious relationship for the first time since it ended, and the shift in my attention seems to be rattling her. How can I handle this gracefully?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, this is going to be long. But because I'm submitting anonymously and can't clarify things later, I'm trying to be complete up front.
I was emerging from the shadow of a painful divorce when I met A(nn). It was far enough behind me that I felt past the rebound stage and ready for a real relationship, but I hadn't been in one yet. We started dating and I liked Ann. I enjoyed her company, we shared interests, we had a good time together, and we were affectionate and supportive of each other. But my feelings never developed into real love. Nonetheless, we dated for almost a year.
I stayed that long because I wasn't sure I trusted that lack of stronger feeling given what I'd been through. I liked her. She was good to me and I needed that in my life. And I thought my feelings might grow if I was patient with my rebooting heart. Eventually I realized that it wasn't happening. I also knew her feelings for me were stronger, and I wasn't doing her any favors by letting her get more deeply involved when I knew it wasn't going further. So I broke up with her, saying that I thought we had a really good friendship and we should keep that even if that was all it was. This would be a little over a year ago.
And we have become really good friends since then. We talk often, do things together, grab dinner, and so on. It does sound kind of like dating, actually, but has stayed purely platonic. I'd estimate we see each other two, maybe three times a month. I value her friendship for myself, but I think part of it for me is also guilt about effectively stringing her along for a year. She's also in a sort of chronic career/financial crisis, perpetually a couple months from finally finishing a doctoral thesis that's always stressing her out, has faced family medical crises, and lives in a city where she doesn't really have that much of a support network. Basically, she needs a good friend and I want to be there for her. It's not like I can't use a good friend too.
About six months after we broke up, I dipped my toe in the dating pool again. What's followed has been a lot of first dates, and a few subsequent ones, but nothing's gotten serious. Ann is aware of this, and has been quite supportive, even taking it upon herself to overhaul my wardrobe. She herself has not been dating, though she keeps saying she's going to as soon as the thesis is done, and occasionally mentions that some guy flirted with her.
So that was the status quo, until B(eth) came along. Beth and I have been seeing each other for about a month now. Other people I was in that first date stage with sort of faded away and I haven't looked for others. It's still a new thing and I don't know where it will go, but I've hidden my online profile and we've started talking exclusivity. Basically, this looks like my first real relationship since Ann.
Ann's been generally aware of this dating ebb and flow, mainly in a "what'd you do this weekend?" "went to a show," "oh, with X?" "yeah," kind of way. I don't specifically inform her of my dating schedule. But as she's noticed that X increasingly equals Beth, she seems to be a bit rattled. She's mentioned a couple times that what I ought to be doing is keeping three dating partners in rotation. I ignored that, but then came something that was harder to ignore.
Ann called to ask if I was free for an outing on Saturday. I wouldn't mind doing something with her, but I wanted to check with Beth first and see what our weekend plans were, so my answer was that I didn't know yet. She asked if I actually had something on the calendar and I admitted I didn't. She was definitely put out by this. Her response was along the lines of "so some temporary woman is more important than me." Where we left it was that I'd get back to her within a day and let her know. But the exchange has me worried.
I'm getting the sense that Ann still has proprietary feelings toward me. She could play along with me dating other people as long as it was casual, and didn't threaten her share of my attention. But now that Beth has come along, with whom my goal is to not be "temporary," she's having issues. I'm moving into a place where I feel Beth has first claim on my time now, and that hasn't happened before.
I don't want to hurt Ann, and I do value her friendship and want to maintain it. But part of me worries that, by sticking around and being such a close friend, by effectively maintaining pretty much everything about our relationship except the romantic and physical parts, I've sort of enabled her to never quite completely break it off with me.
So my basic question is how do I handle this transition with some modicum of grace? And I guess the deeper one is, by trying to be a good friend to Ann, am I actually keeping her from moving on and ultimately hurting her more than I'm helping?