Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a 27-year-old guy who has been dating a 25-year-old woman named Michelle for past year. We attend the same university where we are working toward our PhDs.

She was married for three years and had been going through hard times until her husband one night decided to break it off and leave. I helped her with her school work, cooked for her, made her laugh, and basically we had lot of fun together.

I think my mistake is that I treated her like a princess.

Now she says that I am a great guy and I will make a great husband, but she does not think that we should be dating seriously. She wants some space and wants to date other people. She says that she has a lot going on in her life including the fact that she has been trying to buy a new house, taking care of loans, etc.

I am devastated. I know that she is the perfect one for me. Now I cannot just let her go. What should I do? Should I be just friends and try to ask her after a few weeks for a date? Or should I just let her go and move on? I told her I want to wait for her and that I believe that she will come back. Please help.

George

Dear George,

What has taken place between you and Michelle is confusing and painful. We hope to give you some insight that will shed light on what happened and can help you move forward.

You've described how your friendship with Michelle evolved into a deeper friendship after her marriage dissolved. This was a very vulnerable point in her life, and your friendship and emotional support undoubtedly helped her in a number of ways. However, during this time the two of you were at different "places" emotionally. Michelle was adjusting to the end of her marriage, as rocky as it was, sorting through a lot of emotions and thoughts. You helped her get through school and enjoy life in spite of the feelings she was dealing with on both a conscious and unconscious level. At the same time, you experienced a friendship without the underlying need to work through these feelings. It was a lot easier for you to fall in love with Michelle than it was for her to fall in love with you.

Sherry saw this phenomenon a number of times during her 20-plus years of work as a divorce attorney. A number of her clients developed a close relationship with another person as their marriages were dissolving, or soon after their break-up with their spouse. Most of those relationships did not last, for the very same reasons we just described. The relationship, whether it began as a friendship or as a romantic involvement, was part of the process that helped the divorcing person deal with the turmoil of their situation, heal, and move forward.

Often the divorcing partner needs time to work things through and isn't ready for the emotional investment.

However, most of these "courtships" ended after six or eight months, often because the divorcing partner still needed time to work things through and wasn't ready for the emotional investment the other party had come to expect. These people didn't realize the process that was taking place, and never had any intention of causing emotional pain to the other party.

From what you describe, it appears to us that Michelle still has a way to go before she is ready to become involved in the enduring relationship that you want to have with a woman. We don't know when that will be, but we wouldn't recommend that you wait around, ready to welcome her with open arms. She may still only think of you as a dear friend and not be able to think of you in a romantic sense. Or, you may each have grown in different directions, so that it won't be as easy to relate to each other as it was in the past. In our experience, waiting a few weeks, or a few months, will not change things and will essentially prolong the pain you experience.

Because your feelings for Michelle are so intense, you have to let her go completely. We know that it is difficult to give up the hope that you can be together, but you'll need to do so in order for you to be able to mourn, heal, and move forward. You will never find the woman you are really meant to be with if you "bring" Michelle with you on your future dates and compare the women you go out with to her.

But that might happen unless you let her go completely.

When you are ready to date again, we recommend that you date with a purpose. You seem to be ready to find the woman you can build a life with, and that should be the purpose of your dating. Try to look for someone who wants the same thing and is as ready as you are to enter this stage of life. We know that sometimes platonic friendships such as the one between you and Michelle evolve into something more, but when they do it's serendipitous, and someone who is ready to get serious should not be relying on serendipity.

We also gave some thought to your comment that you "treated her too well." While we don't think that Michelle took advantage of your friendship, it is entirely possible that you were too accommodating to her. Sometimes, a person can be overly accommodating to the other, either because they are trying to endear themselves and are afraid that this is the only way they can do so, or they want to hold onto a relationship they know is in trouble.

However, this over-accommodating doesn't help things. If you act as a doormat, or make your wishes subservient to those of another person, they will lose respect for you. One of the cornerstones of any healthy relationship is mutual respect, and when it isn't present the relationship isn't viable. We suggest that you work on identifying the fine line between being self-assertive, while being considerate of your partner's interests and wishes -- without being overly accommodating.

We hope this helps you navigate the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry