We like each other but she's got a man abroad.
July 10, 2011 5:39 PM   Subscribe

A friend and I have just discovered we've both harboured a mutual, long term attraction for each other. Perfect! Only problem is she's in a long time, very long distance, online relationship. How is it appropriate to approach this, or not?

I'm male, she's female, we're both in our mid 20's.
We've known each other since high school and were immediately very close friends, but due to university and moving around we only ever saw each other once or twice a year.
So after reconnecting yet again things finally felt like they were headed for the relationship I'd always hoped it would become.

She noticed it too and after a while decided it was time to tell me about her boyfriend of three years who lives on the other side of the globe. In that conversation I told her about my feelings for her, but that I was very happy for her and still content to remain close friends just the same. She revealed she'd felt the same way all along and we both regretted never having said something in the past.

Now normally I'd suck it up, lament my poor timing and resolve not to make the same mistakes again, but there are some details that make me think I haven't yet lost the girl of my dreams.

In light of this revelation I think she might be second guessing herself, and her LDR, for the reasons below. In addition both before and after she told me about her boyfriend we haven't exactly been acting platonic together. While nothing that would constitute cheating has happened, if I were this guy I would be pretty upset about some of the time we've spent together. It has not been appropriate behaviour for someone in a relationship.

Her relationship is still almost entirely virtual. They met online, and have each visited each other once, although only brief visits of a few days. She plans to move to his country when she's done school but that's still at least another year away. I know online relationships can and do work out but you can't know until you're actually physically together whether you're compatible. She and I are crazy compatible, we always end up on wild adventures, and just get along famously.

This is her first relationship, and on the flip side he's 7 years older and more experienced dating.

Her family is also extremely opposed to it, refused to meet him, and have effectively threatened to disown her if she moves away to be with him.

All of that together makes me think that she's probably confused and maybe weighing her options. As a result when we're together she definitely doesn't act like she has a boyfriend. I very, very much want to be with her, but I don't want my feelings to cloud my judgement and end up doing something that might be wrong, or taking advantage of someone I care about when they're in a difficult spot.

TL;DR She's not unhappy with him, but the relationship is difficult and he's very far away. I'm right here, serious, and offer no complications. If my sudden arrival does have her questioning her LDR are any advances on my part taking unfair advantage of her emotions? We've already done enough to hurt him if he ever found out. Or should I give her the space to figure it out on her own, and probably regret that decision forever?

Thanks for you help.

throwaway email: rightgirlwrongtime@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
With all the family stuff, it sounds like a lot of drama that it'd be better to not be associated with.

If I were you, I'd tell her:

"Hey, it sounds like stuff between you and Russell are pretty complicated and that you aren't entirely satisfied with the situation.

But I think that it'd be best for us to wait to pursue anything until you and Russell sort things out. If you are interested in pursuing something, I'd feel much more comfortable waiting until you're resolved with that previous relationship.

I can't wait forever, but I'm willing to wait for X (weeks/months/years?)."
posted by k8t at 5:46 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

In addition both before and after she told me about her boyfriend we haven't exactly been acting platonic together.

Hate to break it to ya, but you've already crossed into wrong territory.

If she really wants to make a go of it, she needs to disentangle herself from her current partner and free herself up for a relationship with you. Is she likely to do so? That's up to her, but I would focus on myself for now and look for a woman who is not in a relationship (of any kind) to pursue.
posted by mynameisluka at 5:46 PM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

PS, sounds like her family kinda sucks though.
posted by k8t at 5:47 PM on July 10, 2011

I have very important advice for you. I hope you listen.


DO NOT spend anymore time with her. DO NOT be that guy. Here is why...

You don't want to sully the beautiful thing you have with this girl by being That Guy. You just don't.


Others here may disagree, but she is not really in a relationship with this fellow thus far, and she has to figure that out on her own somehow. Whether that means she goes to live with him, or dumps him now - this is her choice to make.


Frankly, she is a fool if she doesn't pursue what she has with you, but that is not your problem.

Your problem is that you are dating someone who believes she is already committed to someone else.

Don't be that guy. Give her space. DON'T BE HER FRIEND IN THE MEANTIME. That option has passed you by.

I speak from experience. Do what is honorably here. You won't regret it. I promise!!
posted by jbenben at 5:49 PM on July 10, 2011 [10 favorites]

Is it at all possible that she finds you just interesting enough to hang with and fool around with, but is inventing a boyfriend because she can't figure out how to slow you down otherwise? There's something about a 20-something woman willing to settle for a guy, across the world, whom she's spent a few days with over the course of years that is setting off my "non-existent boyfriend" alert.
posted by sageleaf at 6:05 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to let her know that you are moving on because she is unavailable.

That gives her a choice. Either break if off with Mr. Longdistance or cease the flirty fun with you. Right now, she has a really nice cop-out deal. She has a long-term relationship and lots of ego satisfying attention from you.

That's fine for her, but you're getting the bad end of the deal. You are wasting your romantic time and energy on someone who's unavailable. Either she can make herself available or you've got your own choice to make.

Tell her you're going to start seeing other women. And then start seeing other women.
posted by 26.2 at 6:11 PM on July 10, 2011 [16 favorites]

She picked up on your feelings and told you about her boyfriend. You then told her you like like her but respect her relationship and are content to be just friends.

Look, she's in a relationship and she knows how you feel. The fact that her relationship is a joke is irrelevant. At this point, the onus is on her to make some sort of move, because she knows you want her and her explicit statement to you has been that she's in a relationship. It sounds like she's not all that into you romantically, but regardless, the ball is clearly in her court.

I agree strongly with jbenben that you shouldn't be her friend in the meantime. She's approaching this from it's not fair to the girl, which I agree with, but I want to add that it's also not fair to you because it sets you up for needless suffering and will not satisfy your needs.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:17 PM on July 10, 2011


Chances are, this thing with her long-distance boyfriend is not going to work out.

Be there when it doesn't.

Don't do anything in the meanwhile that you might regret (or that SHE might regret) later.
posted by lollusc at 6:58 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay. She's in a virtual relationship with another guy thousands of miles away, by choice. She's still with him. You are right there. She's still not with you. She knows you like her. She's still with this other guy. You say it all in your question. Don't think about how you are taking advantage of her emotions - consider YOUR emotions. Be kind to yourself.

Also - not to be mean, but the "I've had feelings for you, but ooh my boyfriend..." could have been a gentle lie to spare your feelings when you told her you liked her. Perhaps it wasn't. But the fact remains that she has had the option to be with you and is instead staying with Mr. Around the World. That does say something.

If you cannot hang out with her as a friend without wanting something more, you should not be hanging out with her. This is for your sake, not hers. And it will be tough. But easier than having your heart go through the wringer a thousand times over.
posted by amicamentis at 6:58 PM on July 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

I kind of know what you want to hear, and therefore I'm tempted to go further to say it to you, in some fashion, and so I tried to imagine a case where it is ok to actively Do Something to break up a couple (which is the obvious 'other option'; hanging around meekly while she dithers is Not An Option for reasons previously addressed). So....

There is only one case where that's ok: if the guy was in striking distance to win her back. Say this is like, 1950, and you're both 'courting' this young lady. You'd be within your rights, seeing as they're not engaged/etc, to try to 'win' her. He'd be within his rights to do everything he could to beat your ass (outside challenging you to a duel, probably), and so on.

Unfortunately-- aside from the fact it's 2011 (though no one told her parents)-- he's not there to beat your ass even if he wanted to. This presents a problem for you, because there's no honorable way for you to be a suitor rather than That Guy, as mentioned above. The only real exception would be when you're both very certain of one another; that is, you could prod someone to leave their SO when you're 95% sure the only one they want is you, and only some unrelated issues hold them back. But if she was that certain, you probably wouldn't need to push anyway.

Regardless, you aren't Richard Burton, she isn't Liz Taylor, and even if she was, that didn't work out well anyway. In other words, even the best, most star-crossed relationships often don't do well when they start off on the wrong foot. It sounds as if her relationship with the boyfriend is on shaky ground, so it may not be hopeless to simply wait for it to self-destruct. Your waiting period may take longer than a year, but it's actually unlikely. Just follow everyone's advice and the advice I suspect you could also give yourself if you didn't hate to hear it. As of now, all you can do is 'hands off'.
posted by reenka at 7:14 PM on July 10, 2011

It looks like she has a very important choice to make, and you should back off and let her make it. Tell her that you are ready and willing to pursue your feelings if she becomes available, and then hold to that.
posted by hermitosis at 7:31 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

What you want to establish is that:
1. you'd like to be with her
2. you go after what you want
3. you'd be a great bf (as you say, you're here and serious)
4. you have a sense of honor that keeps you from getting entangled in another couple's relationship, and to assume people you have a crush on are honorable enough not to cheat
5. you respect yourself enough that you only date someone when you're their first choice; you don't hang around to be someone's backup plan

I think you have #1 and 3 taken care of. What about #2? Is it eminently clear that you want to be with her and that you wouldn't hesitate to make a move, were it appropriate? You told her your feelings already, so I'd say you've likely done so already. So then switch quickly to #4 & 5. You don't want to get in the muck here. Breaking up is messy. She's going to have to slog through this mess. You want to stay clean. Back way off (in a no-hard-feelings way) and give her all the space she needs to decide she prefers you, break up with him, get over that, and then call you up.
posted by salvia at 7:36 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been the guy on both sides of this scenario, at various times. The long term guy is likely to hang on unless she explicitly dumps him. And if you just hang yourself out there, to be available if she wants you to be, what stops her from having the best of both worlds?

If you actually want to date this girl, you need to tell her you're interested (looks like you have done that already), then let her know you're not interested in being a backup guy. Then, if she doesn't immediately end it with the other guy, you cut ties and move on with your life. Maybe she contacts you in the future and wants to date. Maybe she doesn't.

What you shouldn't do (from personal experience): Give her an ultimatum. Then, when she says "things are complicated, I can't really cut off the other guy", let her date you. Spend the next year worrying about the other guy, and watch as she partially commits to you but won't commit to completely dropping the other guy. Eventually, she goes to see the other guy. It doesn't work out with them, but by that time, your relationship is so poisoned from playing second-fiddle, yours doesn't work out either.
posted by Happydaz at 8:06 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's something about a 20-something woman willing to settle for a guy, across the world, whom she's spent a few days with over the course of years that is setting off my "non-existent boyfriend" alert.

While I guess it could be a made up story, stuff like that does actually happen in real life. I imagine the negative response from her family might be part of the reason she wasn't more upfront about it in the beginning.

BUT - yeah, it's up to her to decide whether she wants to keep that relationship going or give it up. At least she knows how you feel now. You shouldn't let her cheat on him with you, though, because that sucks. I'm not sure what exactly you mean by "advances," but it sounds like a bad idea. Give her the space, and she will come to you if she wants to.
posted by wondermouse at 8:20 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Waiting a while to tell you about her boyfriend is a red flag. That's something a forthright person puts on the table ASAP with someone they're heavily flirting with. Even if it's within the boundaries of their relationship, she should have been up front with you about her availability.

How long will she wait to tell her LDR about you?
posted by SakuraK at 8:25 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I disagree with everyone on the thread. I would treat the situation as if there was no other guy, and I would ask her out on a series of dates. Do it now.

Why? Because you can't give her an ultimatum this early in the relationship, she has nothing invested with you. The key is to make her invested in you by dating her for a short while... then make her dump the other guy once she has solid feelings for you. Otherwise you threaten to pull away too early, which... is no big deal to her, she has a 3 year boyfriend to fall back on. The dates make her emotionally invested in you. Picking up what I'm putting down?

If she has a boyfriend half-way around the world, that says to me that she's the type of girl who is playing it safe. She's not going to ditch this guy unless she knows she has someone better lined up. Especially since A. They've been together 3 years, and B. It's her first relationship.

Lastly, huge warning about this girl. If she's mid-twenties and this is her first real relationship (which is some weird online thing), (I'm generalizing) but you might be dealing with someone who is not up to par maturity wise, is definitely not used to male attention, and might not know exactly what she wants or needs in a man. I'd tread with caution my friend. And that aspect is another reason why I say go for it now. Good luck!
posted by banished at 8:28 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, I'm actually shocked by the amount of disrespect people are showing for her relationship! She's with someone monogamously. Period. Full stop. The end.

As her friend, you have absolutely no right to go stomping in there saying you're better than him for a series of wishywashy reasons that most LDRs have to face. I'd be supremely pissed off if I found out someone I trusted as a good friend was trying to figure out how to manipulate me out of my relationship! Seriously, what the hell people?

Just because it's an LDR and it's online does not mean the connection she has with him isn't genuine. It doesn't mean anything other than you're unlikely to interact with this fellow yourself which is entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand. She's been with him for a significant amount of time despite these "issues" (which are fairly mundane) and despite the fact that you've been there the entire time. You "lost". Get over it and move on.
posted by buteo at 9:10 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was on the other side of this once, long ago. Had a long term LDR and a girl who was interested in me locally. Ended up dumping the LDR like a couple weeks after she moved out to be with me for the local girl. Shitty, I know, but it turned out the whole LDR thing was just a way for me to pretend that I was in a relationship when I wasn't really ready for one - there is really no transition from pretend online relationship to the real deal. Sounds like this might be the case here. She's probably somewhat emotionally immature, so be prepared for everything that entails. But she's also not REALLY in a relationship in all likelihood. Once she realizes that, you're going to be the impetus for ending it. You're going to be in for a wild ride as she figures out what being in an actual relationship is all about, but hey, if you like her a lot, might be worth it. Good luck.
posted by signalnine at 9:14 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

A lot of this advice makes assumptions about your relationship with her and her relationship with him. Online relationships can be weirdly intense, because you can ignore the parts that they're off on, and hey, some folks are able to make them work. I had a friend who had a 12-year online relationship with a guy that was 10 years her senior (starting in her mid teens) before moving in with him and marrying him. They're still together, as far as I know.

The online guy could just as easily be a Canadian girlfriend, or a weird chatsex partner, or she might just not have any idea what she's doing and may be blundering along without any clue on how normal relationships work.

You can either have a conversation with her about that, which could go horribly wrong, or you could be a bit more polite and wait, or hey, you could keep going after her because what the hell, he's far away and you don't know him.

I will say that in any situation aside from not hanging out with her until she can date you, you are setting up the potential for huge drama. Might not be realized, and you might be happier in the long run if you brave it, but it's at least there and any informed decision on your part should acknowledge it.
posted by klangklangston at 9:24 PM on July 10, 2011

in any situation aside from not hanging out with her until she can date you, you are setting up the potential for huge drama.

QFT. Example: she sends him a breakup email and rushes to be with you. Two days later she's at your place when her cell phone rings: some unknown local number, is it her dry cleaning ready? No! It's him at the pay phone next to her house! He has abandoned his Peace Corps assignment and travelled all the way from rural Pakistan to save their true love and longstanding relationship! She says she can't just leave him standing there when he's come all this way, quickly puts her shoes and earrings back on, and leaves. Well, wow. You sit there waiting for a call and wondering wtf is happening... for two days. You can't think, can't work. You go running. You lift weights. You play Playstation. You leave her two voice mails... then a third... then mentally rehearse a thousand more. You are kind of going crazy here. She finally sends you an ambiguous text message. You start wondering if you should go by her house, so you take a roundabout route to the store, but this obnoxious rental car is parked outside her place...??

This is what I meant by "Breaking up is messy. She's going to have to slog through this mess. You want to stay clean. Back way off..." Let the breakup happen; let the dude make his international flight without you even being aware; let him camp at her house for eight days before she finally and definitively tells him it's over and sends him away; let her wallow for two weeks with ice cream and movies and her doubts about whether she made a mistake; let her go out dancing, flirting, and getting too drunk with her newfound freedom; let her wake up thinking "those guys at the bar were all really boring... hmm, you know who's not boring? anonymous."

Until the day when she sheepishly asks you to some innocuous afternoon coffee date, you could go on being happy, productive, and blissfully unaware.

Of course, that's just one scenario. If she's decisive and great at boundaries; if you're chill and not prone to jealousy; if neither of you is prone to guilt; if the other dude doesn't care that much; if...; if...; if... then this might all go quite smoothly. But it's hard to be at your most chill and secure when just starting a relationship with someone you really like. So just go in knowing you're taking a chance that this could turn out to be a bit much to handle.
posted by salvia at 10:35 PM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think you need to take charge here, which paradoxically means backing off and leaving it up to her to decide. Explain graciously that you don't want to interfere with her relationship with the penguin in Antarctica, or whoever, and you are stepping away to give them some space.

It's her move, she is the one in the relationship, if she wants to end it she has to decide that herself. Trying to get her to change her mind is like volunteering to become a spaniel on a short leash.
posted by tel3path at 2:09 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

If she's not married with kids she's fair game. Go for it.

All this moralizing about Monogamy is rubbish. She's barely even in a relationship. And even if we was just around the corner I think its perfectly ok to suggest someone leave their lover. Just dont' make any promises you can't keep.
posted by mary8nne at 6:25 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Apologies to those who've had genuine, meaningful long distance relationships, but I don't consider this a real relationship. Seeing someone twice over three years is not "a relationship." Because a relationship generally means negotiating a shared life to some extent and they have never done this. What she has is more like a romantic penpal.

It's possibly to care deeply for a penpal and long for more with them, but she has never had more with him... she has never really explored this connection in "real life." She probably has a lot of feeling invested in longing for this person over three years, so I can see why she's confused and not sure what to do.

I don't think you're just a convenient back-up boyfriend. I think she's probably struggling to resolve the contrast between longing for someone romantically without fulfillment, and actually being with someone in the flesh and enjoying that chemistry and companionship. What you're offering is probably more appealing, but three years is a long time and it's not easy to walk away from something you've invested in emotionally.

Anyways, look at her pros & cons: LDR offers the investment of three years of desire, you offer a real-life relationship. Yes it's complicated and difficult, yes it could blow up in your face, but I say go for it. Accept that the LDR is someone who is dear to her, but you can offer something he can't, or won't -- your presence in her life.

But only if you're really serious about this whole thing and aren't going to back out if it gets tough.
posted by crackingdes at 2:30 PM on July 11, 2011

She's obviously into you and enjoying the chance to flirt and be "not quite platonic" with someone other than her online boyfriend. Ditto on everyone who has said that this long-term long-distance is only working because it's been easy and safe for a young girl in her first relationship. It's fun to play "i'm in serious relationship" and makes it easier for her to explore relationships with actual, in-person, men her age at her own pace since she can always fly her "taken" flag if things get too heavy. It's also probably a fun way for her to say "suck it, parents, i can be in a serious relationship no matter if you treat me like an adult or not."

Anway, I think this is all good news for you: she likes you and her need for the other boyfriend is wearing off. What you need to do now is cut her off from her supply of no-consequences fooling around you've been doing so far so she realizes she can't have it both ways. The upside for you is that this classic "seduction technique" (creating distance to stoke desire) actually coincides with taking the moral high ground in this situation. The next time you hang out and things are starting to get "not exactly platonic," stop things and let her know that, despite how much you desire her right now, you want to do the honorable thing and let her deal with her current relationship. You don't think you can be around her because you like her too much and don't trust yourself not to make a move. Emphasize how you think being with her could really work and you don't want to jinx things by starting on the wrong foot ie. by cheating. Give her ample avenues to get in touch with you but then give her space, don't promise to hang out but just not fool around (if you hang out with her anyway, she has no reason to dump the other guy.) My guess is she'll be getting in touch with you very very soon.
posted by dahliachewswell at 7:36 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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