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She has cancer and I want out

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  October 27, 2009 09:18 AM

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This letter is similar to a few others we’ve seen. Someone gets sick, someone wants to leave.

The letter writer was nice enough to write a headline for me. Although, I hate it when people don't tell me where they live ...

Q: This is a tough one to write. But the headline, if you will, is "she has cancer and I want out."

Both she and I came out of long-term relationships last winter. We met over the summer and hit it off. We did a few weekend trips, had some nights out with friends, and had plenty of alone time together, and the sex was great.

This went on for about the first six to eight weeks -- then I started to feel that maybe she wasn't the one for me. When I say “the one," I should say I am 33 and she is 31. We are both looking for a future. We never really talked about it in detail, but from the things that we have said, it was clear we were sort of both past dating different people each month.

As I said, after about eight weeks I started thinking she wasn't even in the same ballpark of a person I would consider marrying. She is very nice, treats me well and is very attractive, but she just didn't have "it" -- that thing that is indiscernible that would make me know without a doubt she was the one.

For her side, I don't think I am the one either, so I figured what the hell. I did like her, we have fun, so just ride it out for what it is, enjoy the sex and fun, and like all things in life, it will end on its own volition sometime soon.

Before going on, I need to rewind a bit. Two years ago, my 52-year-old father was suddenly diagnosed with cancer and the odds were not good for survival. It was a tough, tough fight he had -- my sister and two brothers and I were there with him side-by-side for the operations, the visits to countless clinics, etc. We watched him have some real bad days, then some real good days. As time went along, the bad days started to out number the good days, and toward the end, a good day was when he could hold food down. We lost my dad, cancer beat him. We have not been the same since. It’s so not fair -- he had so much to live for. Anyone who has been though this knows exactly what I am saying.

But now move back ahead to present day. Last week, she tells me she just got diagnosed with cancer. It is treatable and the survival rate is high, but it involves treatments, clinic visits, and hospital stays.

I can't do it. Call me weak, but last year I went though all this with my dad and it broke me. I am not in the mind-set to have to go through this again so soon -- it will be all too familiar.

I need to end the relationship with her and it is because she is sick and I feel terrible, but I need to be selfish. I would be a lousy support person for her. I know I would. I just need to end it. I don't know how though. Should I just walk away and completely shut her out of my life and give no reason? Or do I explain myself to her? For even thinking about this I feel like the worlds worst person. She is a wonderful girl and I know she will be OK, but I can't do this all over again so soon.

– Running From a Wonderful Girl Because Without Me She Will Be Much Better


A: RFAWGBWMSWBMB, I’m not so sure the issue here is the cancer. It is, of course, but you were pretty clear about the fact that you had plans to ditch this woman at some point anyway. Your mistake is not telling her at the eight-week mark that you didn’t see this working out in the long run. You assumed she felt the same way, but maybe she didn’t. As you put it, “For her side, I don't think I am the one either so I figured what the hell.”

Perhaps if you had told her how you felt (and didn’t feel) at eight weeks, this would be an easier conversation.

My advice is to tell her all of this, but to focus less on the cancer than the other stuff. Nursing someone and watching them die is – well, there are no words. It’s life-changing. But if this woman were “the one,” as you put it, you might be up for going through this process with her. Your desire to bail is about your lack of feelings for her, which have been the problem all along.

You’re going to have to end this, and you’ll feel like a bad guy. I know you want to avoid feeling like a jerk, but I’m not sure that’s possible. The way you signed your letter – as if you’ll be doing her a favor by leaving her – well, it’s bad form to phrase it that way. Without her you’ll be much better.

You stayed too long in a casual relationship and now you’re ditching someone who’s sick. You didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it has gone down. The best thing to do is to be honest and accountable. Tell her that you started planning your exit weeks ago, but you enjoyed her company so you hung on. Tell her it would be misleading and confusing to stay on as her significant other during this process. Tell her you feel like a jerk and apologize. Then see how she responds. If you’re right about her lack of feelings for you, maybe she’ll take it well.

Let this be a lesson – if you’re really looking for something serious and you no longer want to date casually, behave that way. Let someone know when you’re sure they’re not “the one.”

And don’t beat yourself up too much. This is bad, but you couldn’t have anticipated any of it. Just try to learn from this experience. And ... so sorry about your dad.

Readers? Is this about the reader's dad or the blah feelings about this woman? How should the letter writer do this break-up? Share here.

– Meredith



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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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