Dear Rosie & Sherry,

A man and I both belong to the same professional organization that has a conference once a year where we had enjoyed some friendly conversations in past. Then, after last year's convention, wanting to "continue our conversation" and hopefully develop our acquaintance, I asked a mutual friend for his email address. I wrote to him, he wrote back, and this started us e-mailing back and forth. Though he usually wrote short replies from his Blackberry, we shared a good deal of background information and I felt like I was really getting to know him on a deeper level. Sometimes, we wrote as often as three times per day. I had hoped he'd ask me out, or offer to meet for something simple like coffee, but he didn't. And since I'm a traditionalist, I didn't ask him -- I felt that he should make the first move.

Finally, after four months of regular communication (with me initiating almost every exchange), I decided that if he was interested in something more significant with me, he would have pursued something already. So I stopped emailing him.

Fast-forward to this year. As the date of the annual event approached, I realized I was thinking about him romantically. I hoped that surely our face-to-face relationship would be changed after we had emailed for so long. When we met, there were people milling about, and we had some casual conversations. At the end of the weekend, I gave him my card and he said something really sweet: "I'm going to put it in my inside pocket, rather than the outside, so I don't lose it."

I didn't hear from him, but last week, as part of a mass email, I sent him an announcement about a performance I would be in. To my great surprise, I received a reply from him: "Unfortunately, I'm unable to make it, but I know you'll bring down the house." He signed it with a smiley face. Needless to say, my heart was singing. I didn't know what had perhaps gone wrong in the previous month that he hadn't emailed me, but at least we were in contact again. And he had a way of being so sweet.

I replied, "Thanks. What have you been up to since we last met?"

Then came the shocker: "My wife and I have been so busy with work that we haven't had time for anything."

Wife??!! I reread it a few times, since it was late at night and I had to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me. I was fuming at him: How could you let this go on under the circumstances? If you were so committed to her, how did you possibly email me so frequently last year? How could you have possibly let me go on thinking you were still single? I felt so fooled, it was unbelievable.

When we'd met one month earlier, there was no ring on his hand, nor mention of any engagement, marriage or wife. I know that if I were his wife, I would certainly not want my husband sending non-business emails so frequently to any unrelated female. In retrospect, this is extremely confusing and misleading.

I just can't believe how he could do that. To not have told me ages ago that he was in a serious relationship and that we could only be friends -- it makes me so angry and feeling like I was so used. At least, if he had been forthright and honest from the start, I could have let my thoughts of building something a relationship with him just fizzle out naturally while perhaps accepting his offer of friendship.

I feel totally used and deceived, like I've been the "other woman" in this situation and most of all, feel like I've lost someone whom I had trusted significantly. I am really steaming, and don't want to do anything stupid now to compound things. What advice can you offer?


Dear Mindy,

Your letter expresses a lot of pain and a pervasive feeling that your trust has been betrayed. This is a normal reaction to the disappointment of unmet expectations, the realization that a relationship you hoped would develop was not meant to be, and the belief that a person you cared about led you on. It's going to take you time to process what happened and to heal from this experience.

Hindsight is always 20-20 -- we have a lot more clarity when we look back at a situation than when we're in the middle of it. That's because when we're caught up in the moment, our vision can be blurred by our emotions, dreams and hopes. When we look back at what happened using a less emotional perspective, we can often see a different interpretation.

Let's look at the events you described to us. A few years ago, you met a colleague at a long weekend and spent some time talking to each other. Even though he was a pleasant man, neither of you thought of the other as someone you'd be interested in dating, and once the weekend was over you had no contact with each other at all. Last year at the same weekend event, you again spent time talking. Nothing about your conversation was out of the ordinary. When the weekend ended, you both went your separate ways. He never asked you for your telephone number nor made any effort to get it from a third party.

It appears you were far more invested in this correspondence than he was.

However, you obtained his e-mail address from a friend and contacted him. He responded to your e-mails and kept up the correspondence for four months, often sending short replies to your much longer letters. During this time, he never asked you out or even indicated there was something more to your correspondence than a friendship. It seems that your pattern of communication was "girl initiates, boy responds." In fact, when you decided to stop writing because he hadn't taken the hint and asked you out, he also stopped writing. He never wrote back to ask why you stopped and didn't encourage you to resume the correspondence. It appears that you were far more invested in this correspondence than he was.

That sometimes happens when two people have a virtual friendship. Each one can interpret the interactions differently. You used it as a way to tell him you were interested in dating. He might have seen himself as someone who enjoyed corresponding with a colleague he saw once a year. Or he might have understood the reason you were writing, and responded in short and polite replies because he wasn't interested in dating you but didn't want to hurt your feelings. Or he may have been flattered by the attention he received and his ego kept getting fed. Or may even have contemplated asking you out and ultimately chose not to. Or he might have been a creep who was leading you on. We simply don't know what he was thinking.

However, it is clear to us that after four months of correspondence, he wasn't interested in asking you out. Since you often received short replies to your longer e-mails, that indicates he put a lot less energy into the correspondence than you did. You came to the same realization, gave up your efforts, and let go of the idea of dating him. So your instincts at this point were entirely correct.

The turning point for you seems to have been the annual event that took place this year. You realized that you'd "developed a crush on him" and looked for an opportunity to talk to him again. Although you didn't have a long conversation, when you exchanged information about what was new in your lives, it was the right opportunity for him to say that he's married. Because he didn't, you were able to begin to fantasize about a possible relationship between you.

This sort of fantasy isn't uncommon.

This sort of fantasy isn't uncommon. When a person who feels ready for marriage meets someone who appeals to them, they may project their own desire to develop a relationship onto the other person, and this colors how they interpret what they experience. You liked this man, thought of him as a potential dating partner, and began to read a positive message into what he said and did. For example, his telling you he'll make an effort not to lose your card could just have been a polite way to handle the fact that you gave him your card without him asking for it.

We don't know why this man didn't mention his marriage to you when he had a good opportunity to do so. Perhaps he was recently married and thought you had heard about it through the grapevine, or perhaps since he didn't view you as a dating partner he didn't feel it was necessary to tell you that he was married. We also can interpret his actions very differently than you have: Notice that he didn't have a long, private conversation with you -- there were "other people milling around." He didn't initiate contact after the weekend was over. And when he sent you an e-mail, he was responding to your initiative by politely declining your invitation to see your performance. The smiley face he inserted at the end of his message seems innocuous, but because you were interested in dating him, you read meaning into it.

We re-read your letter several times before we wrote this reply to you. And although it is possible, we genuinely don't believe that this man intended to mislead you. Instead, we believe that because you had become interested in him, you read more into the situation than was really there.

His Mistakes

At the same time, we would like to say something about the fact that this man never gave you any indication of his marital status, so much so that you were completely floored to find out he has a wife. Should a married person who doesn't wear a wedding ring nor otherwise appear to be married let others know they're attached? In day-to-day interactions, most people don't feel that they should talk about their personal lives, and they might not bring up the fact that they have a spouse, are engaged, or are a parent. However, we think it's important to mention one's marital status in social settings, precisely because so many people are marriage-minded and constantly thinking that someone they meet (and who appears to be single) might be a potential match for themselves or for someone else.

By connecting on an emotional level, he crossed the line.

We would also like to address the fact that this man was a willing participant in your email exchange (even though he rarely initiated it) and especially that he was sharing enough private information to give you the feeling of knowing him on a "deep level." Men and women need to know that the concept of a "purely platonic relationship" is extremely rare (because often, one of the parties eventually hopes for more than a platonic friendship). So by connecting on an emotional level, he crossed a line from being more than just a "casual friend" or "polite colleague." Particularly if he was already married or engaged at the time, this would be a violation of the exclusive emotional attachment that he should be sharing with his beloved alone.

Modern society does not necessarily agree with our perspective on this, but we think that for any couple who values fidelity, this is a critical guideline to follow. The high rate of infidelity in our society is undoubtedly related to the breakdown of boundaries between men and women in social and emotional connectivity. For married people, a bit of cautious distance with the opposite sex is highly advised.

Moving Forward

We have a suggestion that might be helpful the next time you meet someone who appeals to you and seems promising. A man who is interested in going out with a woman may ask for her telephone number or her card, get her information from a third party and call or e-mail her, or ask a friend to find out if she'd be interested in dating him. Sometimes, he might hold off doing so because he's shy, nervous about being rejected, or not really sure that he wants to ask the woman out. Such a person may need a little encouragement to get the process started.

That's when the following advice can be helpful: If the man you're interested in hasn't yet expressed an interest in you, ask a trusted third party to approach him. If he responds favorably, then your proactivity was worthwhile. If he doesn't act on the suggestion, then you'll know he's not interested, and you can accept this disappointment and move on.

We understand that this experience has been very difficult and disappointing for you. It will take some time to process, but your writing this letter was a good first step. We wish you success in navigating the dating maze, and we hope that in the not-too-distant future you will find the man who is right for you.

Rosie & Sherry