Dear Ms. Behavior:
I wasn’t interested in Rick when I first met him, and I told him so, but he convinced me to have dinner with him. He said, “You do need to eat, don’t you?”
Rick pursued me for weeks, sending me presents, pouring on the charm, and trying hard to please me. It seemed over the top, but my friends insisted that he seemed like someone who would treat me really well for a change.
For instance, when Rick noticed my taste in international beer, he sent me an expensive subscription to a beer-of-the-month club. I mentioned I liked old movies, and he shipped me a box of classic DVDs.
If I tell him something bothers me, Rick always promises not to do it again, whatever it is. He says all he wants is my happiness, and he’ll do whatever it takes.
This is great on the surface. However, Rick’s focus on me feels obsessive and addictive, and I don’t think I want to see him anymore. My friends say I don’t know how to have a good time.
What do you think? Should I give it a whirl, even though it makes me feel truly queasy?
Humans have been given the gift of queasiness to prevent them from doing unsafe or disgusting things, like standing too close to the edge of canyons, or having sex with llamas. Queasiness is a wake=up call. You can feel queasy for a lot of reasons, but unless you’re pregnant—unlikely in your case—none of them are good.
Your friends want you to be happy, believing you deserve to be with someone nice. Rick seems “nice,” but perhaps his obsequious style leaves you feeling aware of the difference between kindness and desperation. When someone focuses only on pleasing you, then you can’t always see who he is.
How can you trust someone who automatically leaps to change himself, without even a discussion?
People pleasers can be creepy, not just because they’re sometimes serial killers in the movies, but also because they have jiggly, squishy boundaries. You can spend years with them before their real personalities emerge, and often, it’s not pretty when they do.
So, trust your instincts. Step away from the llama.
Dear Ms. Behavior:
I’ve never been good at ending relationships, so I typically waste years of my life, and then regret it. I’ve been with my current girlfriend, Megan, for six months, and have begun noticing signs that we’re not right for each other.
We don’t live together, so it shouldn’t be hard to break up, but I don’t know how. I tried to end it last night. I started by saying how much I care for her, and that I don’t want to hurt her. By the time I got to the breakup part, she changed the subject, and I didn’t have the heart to follow through. But I don’t want to drag this out for eternity, and I do want to get on with my life.
Do you have breakup advice?
If breaking up were easy, no one would write Dear John letters, or Just Slip Out the Back, Jack. “One Less Bell to Answer” never would have been sung. No one would stay stuck for years or decades in failed relationships.
First, don’t start by saying how much you care. Instead, start by saying that it’s not working for you.
If you know you truly lack the fortitude to lay it out straight and leave—and you don’t want to stay stuck for another five or 20 years—you may need a more gradual breakup plan.
Begin by letting the little crises in your work life take precedence over your relationship. Spend more time with your friends. Develop a yoga practice. Spend a lot of time on your hair. This way, when Megan calls to get together, you truthfully can tell her that you’re very busy.
Ultimately, you can suggest that the two of you need “a break” from each other. You also can call it “a breather,” which sounds more athletic and less threatening. Then, you can ease from your breather into a full-blown breakup in a way that may feel more tolerable to you.
Whatever you do, don’t let it take more than a month.
If Megan asks if you’re breaking up with her, don’t lie. Assume that if she’s asking, she’s ready to hear the truth. Of course, if she wants to know why you’re ending it, you still should be kind, and not say, “You bore the crap out of me,” or, “The sound of your chewing makes me want to die.”
Be kind, be firm, and be on your way out.
© 2009 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.