I’m a woman in my 50s, waiting on divorce papers after years of separation (mutually stayed for economic reasons and kid with special needs). Kids now launched. Divorce is very amicable. Soon-to-be-ex is in another relationship, and I wish them well. It’s not the reason for the divorce. This isn’t the drama, just mentioning for context. I’ve had many years to process my divorce. Therapy has helped. I’m doing the work and I’m ready to move on with my life.
I met a man 5 years ago at a work conference. He’s late 50s. Not married. Lives in another country. The day we met, he stared and smiled at me for an hour in a meeting and when we were later introduced, we really clicked. We then ended up working closely for a few years, so we were professional and only saw each other annually for work. We always hug—he puts his arms out for me from 3m away and apparently smiles for me unlike for others (colleagues have commented).
He knows I am divorcing and that it’s amicable, but he doesn’t know I am leaving our field of work as soon as the divorce is done, so I can move to a new city. I believe my divorce is a hard line for this man and I utterly respect this. I’ve interpreted it as one of the reasons the relationship never launched romantically, so I’ve been fine waiting. I could be wrong and maybe he’s just lost interest; he gives mixed signals (hugs and flirty smiles, but then cancels on drinks, saying meetings came up). We only see each other at work meetings, usually around the globe. Those have stopped now with COVID. We don’t have the kind of relationship where I can just call him up with no pretext, and he doesn’t do that either. We are both a bit restrained culturally. But if it was for work, I could absolutely call, and after we would chat quite amiably about our many shared interests. He’d totally help me with a problem.
I am stuck with all the feelings that have grown over these years of getting to know him of what could be if we could only discover if the attraction is real. I want to tell this man how I feel, since when I will leave this work, I will probably not ever see him again. I’ve been thinking of sending him a letter when I do to say how I feel and what meeting him meant to me, but don’t want to seem aggressive or worse, needy. I know my divorce has taken a long time but now that it’s almost done, I want this man to know when I am free.
I do not expect to add water and mix to the relationship for instant love; I want to open the door and hope he walks through. There is catharsis in letting the feelings out regardless of the outcome, but obviously I hope for a chance at love with him.
Is there a better way to open the door for this relationship?
As a general rule, TT, I’m not a huge fan of confessing one’s feelings. It’s one of those tropes that makes for great drama in rom-coms and shoujo manga, but in reality… well, honestly, I don’t think it’s the smart move. Not because I think people need to keep their feelings to themselves or never let someone know how they feel, but because I don’t think that’s the best way to go about it.
The reason why I’m not the world’s biggest fan of just confessing is because it’s inherently passive. In a way, it’s basically just unloading your feelings and putting them in someone else’s hands and saying “here, you do something with this.” It makes him (or her, or them) responsible for how you feel and it makes managing your feelings an inherent part of his response. And as an additional level of pressure, there’s a certain amount of expectation that not only does he need to respond but that part of his response is an unspoken “So how about a relationship with me?” And in this case, there’s the added wrinkle of the fact that you’re leaving your job and town for another city. That’s… a lot to deal with all at once, especially if he may not be sure how he feels about things.
All of that can lead to a knee-jerk “no”, even if he doesn’t necessarily feel that way. All of this represents the potential for a lot of change happening almost all at once, and all that change can be scary or intimidating. A “no” in this case is often a way of holding onto the status quo. It means that things (hopefully) don’t change, which at the very least, buys some time for him to figure things out.
That’s, of course, assuming that he feels the same way that you do about things.
But looking over your letter, there’s something I’ve noticed: there doesn’t seem to be any indication that you’ve given him indications about how you feel. Maybe there’re things you didn’t include in your letter, but what you’ve described sounds to me like a friendship. Maybe there’s a flirty vibe to it and some mutual attraction, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much to indicate that you sent him any signals that you were interested or that you’d be open to more. And honestly it’s not unreasonable for him to assume that, considering that you’re in the middle of getting a divorce, that dating and relationships was the last thing on your mind. A lot of people would be justified in thinking that maybe hitting on the person ending a marriage isn’t the classiest move. Even if the divorce was amicable.
Or it could well be that he’s interested but is trying to keep things professional. God knows right now there’re plenty of people who’ve been jerks and creepers with their co-workers or peers. His not making a move might well be an indicator of him trying to respect you as a peer in your industry.
But ultimately, there’s only one way to find out. Especially now that there’s a ticking clock counting down the minutes until you leave town. If there is mutual but unspoken attraction and everybody’s unsure, then someone has to make the first move.
Might as well be you.
However, instead of sending him a letter telling him how you feel, I’d suggest being a little more proactive. Ask him on a date. Not a possibly-a-date-possibly-work-related Schrodinger’s Date, but an unmistakable, this-could-end-in-a-goodnight-kiss date. Tell him “hey, I’ve always felt like we might have something beyond just friends, and I’d like to take you on a date. But hey, it’s totally cool if you’re not interested.” Not only is your romantic interest implied — people rarely ask folks they don’t like on dates — but it’s lower investment on everyone’s part than a love confession. A date is a much more reasonable ask, but it still comes with the possibility of a relationship developing out of it built into its very nature. It’s easier to say “yes” to a date and see where things go than it is to be handed someone’s heart and told “ok now do something about this.”
So skip the letter, give him a call or a text and ask him out. You’ll get your answer, and improve the odds that you’ll have a more satisfying response.
Hello Doctor NerdLove,
Thank you for the awesome work that you do. So many of us don’t have people in our corner that truly understand family dynamics.
Here is my issue I need feedback on: I grew up in a poor family. Neither my mother or father were there for me growing up. If it weren’t for my grandparents, I don’t know what would have happen to me.
I remember as a child I would ask my mother why she refused to get a job and her response was downright ridiculous. As I grew up and remained in school, I managed to get odd jobs starting at age 15. Every dime I made was saved for college. I put myself through college. Now in my late thirties, my birth mother only calls when she wants money. I never had a relationship with her because I despised her laziness and condescending ways.
In my early twenties and through my thirties, I use to have nightmares about her (in every dream I was bickering with her). These nightmarish dreams caused sadness during my waking hours. Since my teenage years, my birth mother always tried to pen her responsibilities on me, and this infuriated me. After I moved away for college, got married a few years later and had a child, not once has my birth mother offered to visit to help with my baby nor has she been a sounding board just to talk. I realized who she was years ago, which prevented me from seeing her face in over 14 years. And, no I don’t miss her (she is now 70 years old).
However, she still calls and ask for money, as if I owe her for giving me life. The last time she called, I told her to stop calling me and that I owed her nothing. I felt bad after the phone call, but I still feel resentment towards her. However, not talking to her somehow brings me peace.
Unfortunately, I think about her everyday, my thoughts range from ‘how can a mother not support her children…or ’why she thinks its ok to not do anything to enhance her life or her children lives years prior……or ‘why she thinks its ok to think someone owe her something.’ I am 37 years old and honestly, I am tired of thinking about my birth mother. Over the years I have consulted with several psychologists because of the anxiety and resentment I have towards my birth mother. Now, I just want to stop my brain from thinking about her.
I know I need to forgive and let the pain go. Am I wrong for walking away, never to have anything to do with my birth mother? Am I wrong for feeling the way I feel? Your thoughts and opinions are welcome with gratitude.
I (Don’t Wanna) Remember Mama
There was a movie that came out a few years ago about a young man coming to terms with his relationship with his biological father. Over the course of the film, he goes from having a fantasy of who his father was, being thrilled to find his real birth father, to realizing that his birth father was a legitimate monster… and that while the two had a contentious relationship, the man who actually raised him was far more of a parent than his biological father ever was.
Like the man said: “He may have been your father, boy, but he weren’t your daddy.”
Family isn’t just about blood. The fact that someone gave birth to you may make them your mother, but that doesn’t make them family. You can have a family of origin and a family of choice. Sometimes they’re one and the same. Sometimes they’re not. The fact that someone is related to you by blood doesn’t obligate you to keep them in your life, especially not when they only treat you badly. You have every right to decide whether or not someone is a part of your family, just as you have every right to decide whether or not someone has access to your life. Or, for that matter, to cut someone off.
It’s entirely understandable that you feel bad about cutting her out of your life so completely, I(DW)RM. It’s also entirely understandable that you resent her and what she’s done (and hasn’t done). Those feelings are real and valid. But cutting her off was the right idea. One of the most important things you can do in your life is to establish and maintain firm boundaries, especially with people who only try to use you or to force you to take on responsibilities that aren’t yours. Denying toxic people your time, your attention or even just access to you isn’t something to feel bad about. It’s one of the kindest, most caring things you can do for yourself. You are refusing to let someone who abdicated their responsibility to you as a child have a single toehold in your life. The only thing that’s sad about it is the necessity of it.