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June 8

Rules of Engagement

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 9:29 am

The Predicament of the Week from October 19, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl:

I’m a longtime reader of your page, and your advice has always helped me to figure out what’s going on in my own life. Many thanks. But now I am in a state of complete and total perplexity (which I gather is not that unusual for grad students). Here’s the situation (if it can be accurately depicted in text):

I’m in my mid-20s. I’ve been friends with K. for nearly two years, and we’ve become very close. She’s a few years older than me. A couple months after we first met she started dating this other guy, younger than I am, who for the last year has lived in another city. (Also a grad student, and yes, we are all in the same field. Note to ANSBGS[“Professor Rebound”] it seems it’s always in the same field.) Six months ago, they got engaged. But K. never really seemed comfortable with the idea of being engaged; in fact, the more I learned about her, the less she seemed like the marrying-and-settling-down type. (And he seems way too eager to settle down. K. herself has said this to me).

I’m very much attracted to her, and it seems mutual, but of course we never explicitly admitted it. Until a certain point in April, when we went out one night and ended up pretty much revealing our feelings for each other.

She was away for the summer; once when we were out for dinner again shortly before she left, she said she thought us being apart for the summer would be good; in not seeing each other every day we’d realize we can survive apart, it would give her a chance to accept her decision, and things between us would seem less desperate by the end of it. But (as I see it) she did not quite get around to breaking my heart before she left. We were not in contact all summer. Actually, I was doubting that she’d return at all.

By summer’s end, I was FINALLY thinking that I could or should move on. At least, I wasn’t letting this situation worry me. Maybe what she said before she left would turn out to be true after all. But she did come back, and last week the two of us went out to dinner. I felt very comfortable around her and it was just like old times and all the reasons why I care about her and had been so upset when she left were back. It was as if the little bit of mental space I’d gradually and cautiously put between us over the summer had collapsed and disintegrated. It felt like it was still April. She is still engaged, by the way.

So, I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid I am already too much of an interference in her life. But I’d thought that when she came back maybe our status would become clear, and at the very least she’d say clearly that she wasn’t interested in having anything more between us than we have now, and I’d least I’d know that much. (As I said, I was getting ready to move on). But that didn’t happen.

And there are a few other things to mention, reasons I think she is hesitant about the engagement: It was a surprise to her, but he had already talked to her mother. His parents do not like her at all, and are violently opposed to the marriage. It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to live in the same city anytime soon. But the immediate reason the ambiguity is getting to me is that the other day, I heard something really strange. When K. and I were out last week, I asked her when the wedding was going to be. She said “eventually,” or something else which gave me the impression that they have not set a date yet. But then last night I was talking to G., a mutual friend (whom I hadn’t seen in months), who said — while discussing another topic — that the wedding was going to be in May. When I told her I’d heard differently, G. said that it’s possible they’ve changed plans since they’d spoken last. But it was going to be in May, and in a location that would be inconvenient for his family. Now I don’t know what’s going on, and am not sure what to believe. (It is of course possible to believe everything, but that wouldn’t eliminate any of the issues, either.)

One other thing: K and I happened to attend the same social event last week (before the dinner). There, I introduced her to A., another female friend of friend of mine (whom I have never dated). K. shook her hand and all, but other than that I got the impression that she was jealous of A. (Especially when she later asked, didn’t I date A. for a while?). I know I can’t make the entire world seem rational, but this reaction just made no sense to me.

I guess what I’m asking is, do I have any valid reason to be concerned? Or is whatever happened between the two of us totally in the past and her life and her decisions none of my business? I still don’t know why she’s going through with this (if that is what she’s doing); should I even want to know? Am I being arrogant in wanting to know why she’s engaged? Am I just on the Breakup List?

Thanks for reading BG. Keep up the great work!

–Perplexed and Indecisive

P.S. Full disclosure: I’ll confess, I did bake scones. I know, I know, I know.

Dear Scone Boy,

Nah, you’re not on the Breakup List. And you’re not really in trouble for the scones, either. As you well know, making scones for a gal is baking cookies is building a loft — and none of the above is making a move; it’s making darn sure she thinks of you as dough boy/handyman, not a boyfriend. But getting promoted from Scone Boy to Boyfriend was not really your focus in the first place. Your challenge was — and may still be — upgrading from The One Who Got Away to The One Who Got Her (or at least The One Who at Least Got Closure).

First let’s hear from the raspy voice of caution (which should answer some of your questions in the last paragraph):

1. “We ended up pretty much revealing our feelings for each other.” Pretty much? Was this revelation, on her part, a sober, solid, lucid statement of fact/lust? Or, perhaps, did you make the first confession, and then go on to inflate her Chianti-enhanced, engagement-jittery being-nice rejoinder (“Oooh, um, me too. You’ve really been there for me … I may always wonder … <meaningful look, brief hand touch> what might have been…)? Replay the tape, frame by frame (not like you haven’t); quintuple-check the audio track. Just in case. (Oh, and I’m also not convinced that her asking about A. is anything more than conversation.)

2. “Reasons I think she is hesitant about the engagement.” Your “reasons,” as you describe them, might indeed make the town gossip wonder. But you are doing a very, very close reading of the text. You should take into account that no matter what’s really going on — like maybe she was just in a crappy “WEDDING PLANNING SUCKS!” (“…especially when his parents hate me and we’ll, like, never see each other again!”) mood when you asked — your sense of competition with the nutty professor will no doubt heighten your suspicion. Your whole “concerned” exercise, in a twisted subconscious way, makes the whole “Why that no-hope-for-tenure charlatan and not me?” thing a bit less harsh for you to bear. And it’s also a way for you to be in her life, even if she doesn’t know you’re there.

3. And. As the voice of caution once told G., she has not — as far as you know — clearly traced the letters “HELP ME” in the condensation on the window of the speeding car that is her impending marriage. She very well might be in trouble — and rescuing her may very well be a job for Scone Boy. But again, all you actually have to go on is the grapevine in #2 and the blurry sense that, as you say, she’s not “the marrying-and-settling-down type.” Whatever that means.

So.Her business is not entirely clear, nor is it entirely yours.


YOUR business is yours. That’s why I think we should also hear from the raspy voice of The Guy at the End of the Bar, who, if you remember, also weighed in — on the side of passion — with our man G. Here’s what he wants to know: “Do you want this girl — or are you just jealous? Seriously, kid, do you love her? If you do, then say so. Yes, to her. Don’t pretend you’re just ‘concerned.’ If she says she’s dead set on her hombre, you leave her be. You see a flicker of doubt — or love — do what you can do fan those flames. You don’t want to live with regret the rest of your life, like I do, son!”

Sound advice, yes. And if you go for it, be sure to let us know.

The voice of caution, however, would like to note that BG does not hear from you anywhere near the level of love-or-die urgency she did from G. It’s not even at the level of publish or perish. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard what TGATEOFB has to say and realized, “Well geez, I don’t love her that much!” In which case, yes, her deal now is even less your business. Sorry. But you seem to have been an excellent friend so far — I’m sure you can keep her within a scone’s throw.

Breakup Girl


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