Q: I met a woman online a couple of months ago and we met up for coffee. Sparks flew, lightning struck, and the angels wept. From my side anyway. Since then we have been not dating. I say "not dating" because she has set up some boundaries that she says have to do with a previous relationship, an on-and-off sort of deal with a guy who was emotionally abusive and an alcoholic. She says she is not yet ready to date. That said, we see each other almost every weekend for a benign brunch or walk in the park. We email and text each other almost every day. To me this feels a lot like dating except without the physical part. I'm in no rush to get to that part, but am in a rush to get to know her. That said, most of our non-dates end with some smooching. The last time we met, the kissing was a bit more intense than before. Yes, I feel like a 9-year-old even putting it this way, but there's a reason why I bring it up. I'm not 9, by the way. We're both in our 40s, both divorced and with children.
This last weekend we had a picnic that I carefully organized, complete with flowers and caviar. At the end of the afternoon we talked about where we are in our non-relationship, what we're doing, and what we should expect from each other. She may have even warmed up to the idea of going out at night (dare to dream).
My problem is this: It feels like I'm getting a lot of ambivalence from her. The "I'm interested" signals are there, with some texts and emails telling me how excited she is to see me. But the "stay away" signals seem equally strong, with all of the boundaries, and occasional gaps in the communication.
I am so intensely drawn to this woman that I can't sleep at night. It's not that I want to move in with her or anything. I just want to have a chance to play this out and see what could develop between us. But it's not clear to me whether her ambivalence is solely because of bad history or because of reservations about me. A big part of me feels that if she were really interested, we would be having much different dates, and we'd be having some of them in the bathtub, rather than squeezing in a couple of hours every week to have coffee and a danish. That part tells me that I just can't come to terms with the fact that she's not interested, and that the wise thing would be to move on. There are other women out there after all.
Based on those tiny shreds of information, what do you think?
– Basking in the Glow of her Ambivalence, Massachusetts
A: You have to tell her that you're at a breaking point, BITGOHA. She has to take some steps forward -- like in the next week or two-- or it's over. You've gone out of her way not to rush her. You've been respectful of her schedule. I understand that you've already had a talk about where she is with all of this, but what about where you are?
My advice is to be very specific about what you want. If you want a dinner date, tell her you need one soon. If you want to be making out horizontally, please ask. You're human. You're in your 40s. You want to move this to the next level. It's understandable. You're allowed to say, "I feel like you're ambivalent about me. If you're not, I really need more."
I have to admit that when I first read this letter I thought, "She's enjoying the attention but not that interested." Then I remembered that I was once in a similar situation. I was like your woman, trying to delay the inevitable so that I could remain safe. When I was finally confronted with a "make out or else" conversation (he said it much more sensitively than that) and I realized that my self-protecting behavior had turned into selfishness, I cut it out. I pounced. Rather literally. I didn't want to lose him, and the pouncing was not as scary as I thought it would be.
I can't promise you that she'll pounce. But she might plan or accept a dinner date. And dinner dates lead to bathtubs.
If she continues to move at this pace and remains all talk and no action, you must bail. Soon. Because you're right -- there are other women out there, and you sound fantastic. Your needs are just as important as hers. Start asking some very specific questions.
Readers? Is it possible she's interested and just holding back? What should he tell her? Is her lack of availability attractive to him? What should he do? Help.
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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.