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January 12, 2009 2:48 PM   Subscribe

What should I do about a long-term attraction? Also, my mother recently died.

My mother died recently. I came home for the funeral services, etc. and that's been going ok. This is not the main focus of my question, but it is relevant.

I received email condolences from an old friend - a woman, who I've been attracted to for a very long time, but we've never been a relationship. She was married to a guy that was a perfectly fine person, but not a good fit for her.

She always knew that it was a bad fit, and she's now separated from the guy. This happened a few weeks before my mother died, but I didn't find out until after. In any case, we made plans for me to stay at her house before my trip home, and I'm there now. The husband is out of the house.

Our conversations have been really therapeutic, her discussing her impending divorce and me discussing the death of my mother. It's been really nice. I'm not sure exactly when I'm returning to my regular life, but it's probably sometime within the next week but there's no rush.

So now she's separated from her husband, which is something I've been wanting to happen for a few years now. I am relatively certain that she will not go back to him.

She's mentioned to me that she is interested in another man (not me), but that this man was not the explicit cause of her separation - it's more like the man expressed an interest in her, and that made her realize that she didn't have to be with the husband. Apparently she's been hanging out with this new guy, but I don't think they've really fooled around or anything - she seems to want to get the divorce finalized before she does anything like that. I can't know any of this for sure, though. She could be screwing his brains out and just not telling me. I met the guy, and he seems like kind of a toolbox, but then again, I think all of her ex-boyfriends have been toolboxes.

Lastly, I have mentioned to her in the past that I have romantic feelings for her. She said she did for me as well, but at the time, she was "happily" married and I felt like it would be bad to pursue anything. It's possible that she doesn't feel that way about me any more, it's not something that we've talked about recently. And it seems to mysteriously have not come up since I've been staying at her house.

So what do I do? The way I see it, I have a few options:

1. Jump in her bed now and, well, you know.
2. Wait until her divorce is finalized.
3. Remain platonic. This seems like the "right" thing to do, and I feel like she's been mentioning this other guy primarily to get me to not try anything. She has said she just has a "crush" on him, and that she doesn't think it will amount to anything serious. As long as I have been waiting for this girl to become available, I could wait until this fling is over. I am pretty sure it won't be anything, but you never know. Also I still don't know if this girl is really interested in me. I think I may have been permanently put in the "friend zone."

Some of my friends have been telling me to pull the "wah, my mom just died, how about some pity sex" card, but I think that's rather crass.

What's the classy thing to do? Feel free to email me at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The classy thing is #2 - wait until her divorce is finalized, and then if she's not seeing anyone seriously, pursue her. Anything else is going to produce drama, something you don't really need after a death in the family/during a divorce. Or ever, really.
posted by desjardins at 3:11 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some of my friends have been telling me to pull the "wah, my mom just died, how about some pity sex" card, but I think that's rather crass.

Also, you need classier friends.
posted by desjardins at 3:12 PM on January 12, 2009 [13 favorites]

Ignore your friends, listen to your instincts. Playing the pity sex card could easily scotch the whole thing, including the friendship. Between her recent separation and your mother's recent death, the timing seems awful to try and launch anything.
posted by *s at 3:13 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd say that given both her & your fairly emotional states right now, you should back off romantically and just be there for each other. It sounds like the last thing that she needs right now is an old friend that she had complicated feelings for swooping in, declaring amorous intentions, and making things even more of a mess. Keep being supportive, keep talking, and don't give up on your romantic feelings... just push them to the back burner until everything settles down for the both of you. Even if you want to take cynical "goal oriented" approach, it's a better to be "the guy who was there for me through a tough time & with whom I now feel an emotional connection" as opposed to "the guy was trying to run game on me before before the divorce papers even got printed."

Could you end up in the friend zone? Sure. But if you make too strong of a move right now you'll just end up in the jerk zone.

(Also, I'm very sorry for your loss, but exploiting your mother's death for sex would make you pretty much the biggest toolbox in the shed.)
posted by Someone has just shot your horse! at 3:17 PM on January 12, 2009

Yeah, #2. I wouldn't necessarily 'back off romantically' - something pretty awesome could grow out of this situation, you know. But play it lightly, the divorce might be difficult for her.

The 'pity sex' quote is pretty disgusting. It's her life as well as yours.

[and I'm sorry for your loss]
posted by Namlit at 3:22 PM on January 12, 2009

Since you guys were open enough to speak about your romantic feelings before why not do it again?

"Hey, remember awhile ago when we talked and we both had feelings for each other...that's something I still feel for you...I'd like to see if we have something after your divorce is over and you're ready..."

I dunno, that's what I would do. I'm not a fan of waiting for things I want though.
posted by zephyr_words at 3:33 PM on January 12, 2009

4. Date other people. You can probably meet someone with less complications. This seems opportunistic and you may both be vulnerable at the moment.
posted by benzenedream at 4:02 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Neither one of you is in your right mind just now, and I would wager that almost any relationship begun under these circumstances is doomed to failure.
posted by HotToddy at 4:17 PM on January 12, 2009

I remember reading something somewhere (helpful, I know) that suggested not making any major life decisions for 6-12 months after a serious loss. Grief changes you neurochemically, which means that both of you are in an altered state right now. First off, that means that your decision-making processes are going to be skewed right now, and it also means that the two of you may become very different people (different than Before, if you will) in the next year. It's not a great recipe for a lasting relationship, if that's what you want. If you're willing to take the risk, you can talk about it, but don't be surprised if it turns out down the road to be a period in which you took comfort in each other rather than a long-haul situation. (And, hey, that may be the thing that needs to happen.)

I'd be inclined to let her have some time and space for her thing while you take time and space for yours.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:38 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ditto HotToddy - mixing the loss of your mother with your friend's not-yet-complete divorce seems very unstable. If the question of reciprocated attraction is eating away at you, you could ask her.

Ditto everyone - do not make any plays for "pity sex" - that should go nowhere, and if it does, it'd be built on some amount of pity and scheming, which could ruin the relationship you now have.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:39 PM on January 12, 2009

Yeah the pity sex thing is kinda gross but I assume OP mentioned it because he kinda wants to just have a nice NSA relationship with marriedlady and not get all emotional, the opposite of what everyone here seems to think will happen. This may be impossible. If you can you should try randomly getting freaky with someone else entirely instead. But hey, you can make the call--it's not implausible that she just needs affection right now and you can pick up on her needs and she is attracted to you without necessarily wanting to jump back into a relationship.

Here's the thing about flings, with friends or otherwise...sure they hurt when they're over, sure they are always tinged with the sadness of knowing your interactions have a shelf-life, but looking back I sure do regret the ones I passed up a lot more than those I had.

Sometimes you need a few days, a few nights, or weeks of nights, with another person, and that's enough. Sure you want more, it's natural, but two people who can recognize the shit the other is going through and suspend doubt and inevitability can be truly comforting in a dark time. We spend so much time avoiding the anticipation of pain, but can't the unsullied memory of pleasure balance it out, or even outweigh it? Maybe you both just need to roll around ignorantly. I guess I personally wouldn't recommend it, but if you find yourself kissing her, don't worry about what you might be throwing away, just enjoy it. Nothing lasts.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:04 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would go with #1.

Later in life you always regret the things that you have NOT done...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:49 PM on January 12, 2009

I'm with zephyr_words: You've already had the "romantic feelings" conversation once, and the friendship seems to have survived it. I would hazard to guess that it could survive another one.
posted by crickets at 7:00 PM on January 12, 2009

My dad died when I was a junior in college, and I was in the middle of a very long and awkward flirtation with someone that ended up not working out, so I can say from experience: let sleeping dogs lie. Right now there are too many emotional variables, and like mixing drinking with pills, the potential for horrendous side effects are too high.

I'm guessing that the two of you are both probably emotionally vulnerable, so if you start to pursue this and she starts to back away (understandable, as people are often gunshy post-divorce), then you could get very hurt - possibly deeper than you expect now, because it takes a long time to really truly realize how painful, and isolating, and lonely dealing with death can be. To add a broken romantic heart on top of that... ugh.

In my own case, I didn't have to deal with a long distance thing, or a post break up angle, or any of the other complicating factors you describe, but when I moved forward and she moved backwards, I took it a lot more personally than I would have if I'd simply made an advance on someone who wasn't interested in another context. You get emotionally clumsy and needy in grief, and then you make a wrong or insensitive move, scaring them off, and then its not just "I'm not interested" it's "I just don't want to support you", and its not just that she doesn't want sex, she doesn't want you in any way and is a terrible friend, and all of a sudden it's like nobody wants you and nobody understands you times ten, because now both your family and your friends are in turmoil, and you're in the middle of this destabilized insensitive world. Is it rational to take it that far? No, but if you're like me, you will take it that far, because that's how grieving minds work: everything is fucked up.

You have an advantage I didn't: you can get away for awhile and then clear your head. She'll still be there in a little bit. But for now, don't put this kind of pressure on her: it's inhumane. Because if you do proposition her, its going to come off as "if you don't fuck me, you're going to stick salt in my stab wound", that if she says no she will be a bad friend, just uncompassionate as hell, when in reality - she might just be a person working through her own shit, or a person who maybe doesn't want to sleep with you even if she likes you, or a person who resents being put in an awkward position by someone she actually likes - and none of those makes her a bad person.
posted by Kiablokirk at 7:46 PM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some observations: as a woman, I wouldn't be talking about my crush on another guy (and introducing you), if I wanted to encourage any possible amorous feelings from you. On the other hand, she knew you had romantic feelings for her in the past, and she invited you to stay with her post-breakup; as a woman in that situation, I wouldn't be surprised if the subject were brought up or interest was expressed... though perhaps the discussion of the crush was meant to forestall that.

I'm interested in how you ended up staying at her house. If you really had almost no other options for a place to stay, then I would say that it's probably just an act of friendly kindness and that it would be unsafe to assume more. If there were other more likely arrangements, yet she still made the offer, it might mean that she was interested in seeing about those old feelings. In any case, I don't think it would be a bad thing to say (if at some point it feels natural - I wouldn't push it), "look, everything is pretty crazy and painful for both of us right now, but I can't leave without saying that my old feelings for you never changed. I don't want to pressure you at a difficult time in your life, but I do want you to know that." This is easy enough to deflect, if she's not in that frame of mind ("yes, things really are so confusing right now, and I'm afraid of more complications...") or easy enough to postpone if she's unsure ("let's talk about this again in a few weeks/months when we're thinking more clearly"), and, of course, very easy to reciprocate if she feels the same way.

Conventional wisdom is usually correct, but not always... I got together with my husband immediately after breaking up with my first husband, and we've been happily together for nearly 20 years now. There was unexpressed attraction between us for years before that, and the breakup was apparently the dam breaking, because we were totally swept away. For us, it was an implacable, irresistible force, and while we made some weak gestures toward trying to be careful and mature, it didn't really work. In our situation, it turned out that obviously strong existing feelings were clarified rather than new feelings arising out of a sense of loss or insecurity. This kind of thing isn't a smart bet, but sometimes it can happen that way. Your situation is definitely fragile, so I'm not suggesting that you rush into anything, or develop unrealistic expectations, but it seems to me (based on not quite enough information, however) that there is some possibility that she is anticipating, perhaps even hoping for, some acknowledgment of the previous attraction.
posted by taz at 11:53 PM on January 12, 2009

I personally wouldn't like to be burdened with "What if"s later, but at the same time I do think people are right about it being some bad timing to instigate anything now.

Can you express that while you feel like now's not really the time (between everything that's going on for both of you), that if she winds up available in the future and is up for it, that you'd be interested in spending some time with her? And leave it at that? That way she's got time to think about it and decide before the divorce goes through whether she wants to pursue this other bloke or you. It's not too much of a risk of pride for you because you're not trying to usurp the other guy's first-in-line spot: she could date him and realise you're right, he's a toolbox, and wants to try something with you after that. There's also a clean "out" if she's not interested in you - the other guy *was* mentioned to you already, after all, so could be reasonably understood to have 'dibs' - so there doesn't seem to need to be any reason for discomfort of a level that could harm your friendship.
posted by springbound at 5:37 AM on January 13, 2009

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