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Dear Dating Coach,
I met my girlfriend six months ago, when she was engaged to someone else. One evening last month, we went out with a group of friends, except for her fiance, who did not come along. She and I ended up dancing, talking for hours, and then spending the night together--after which she decided she was not ready for marriage and broke off her engagement. A week later, we decided to be an exclusive couple. Now after only one month together, she has decided that we rushed things and need to step back. She would like to "start over" and date me and other people too. My first thought was that she was reconsidering her breakup with her fiance, however, that does not seem to be the case and we are presently in an "open" dating arrangement.
I want to let this girl know how much I like her, but fear I will come across as jealous and possessive. I do ask her about her dates, because I can't seem to help myself. I feel like I must be doing something wrong if she wants/needs to see other guys. I also had this same thing happen in a past relationship, and it is bringing up a lot of feelings for me.
Should I take a step back, stop dating her, and then let things run their course? Should I continue seeing her but play it cool and not mention other guys/dates? Should I just walk away? What do you think she wants from dating other people? I just would like to know what happened to change her mind.
--Wants to be Only Suitor
Why do I get the sense you already know the answers to your questions but hope I will offer a more optimistic view? Your girlfriend was engaged to someone else the night she danced, talked for hours and spent the night with you. Then she broke off that relationship, asked you to be her next exclusive guy, and after only one month decided you two had rushed things and should step back and date other people. There are more red flags showing up in this relationship then during 4th quarter at the Super Bowl, when the teams are tied and there are two minutes left on the clock.
This is a young lady who is clearly not ready for commitment and a long-term relationship. In fact, she appears to be trying to get to know and understand herself better, which is a very positive thing. Unfortunately, her lack of readiness and maturity are showing in the way she is going about renegotiating her relationship with you. She wants to be free, have fun, date other people, explore her relationship needs, and wants, and taste what is out there before she makes the most important decision of her life. Yes, she likes you, but can live without you and this relationship, at least for now. She just doesn't know how to tell you this, or is trying not to hurt your feelings-- especially since she was the one who broke off her engagement, pursued you and asked for an exclusive arrangement.
A great way to test this probable truth is to have a sit down with her and tell her you understand she rushed things with you, doesn't know what she wants from a relationship right now, does know she wants her freedom to explore what is out there and figure some things out, etc. Then pause and listen for/watch her response. If I'm right, you will see relief in her eyes, hear renewed energy and a lightness in her voice, and may even get a big thank you for understanding and helping her put it into words. Then you must decide what the next step for you will be. If you are looking to be more than one of the guys, you may want to tell her you need to move on and look for a woman who wants what you want--or you may decide you are OK with the arrangement as it stands now and take a wait and see stance that will allow you to explore other relationships in the meantime as well. Perhaps you will decide you need to walk away from this girl altogether, bringing your well-earned experience with you.
Whatever you decide, make sure your choice is made with eyes wide open to the truth, because anything else will only prolong your emotional hurt and leave you with yet another ex who needed to "take a break" from your relationship.
(from December 2006)
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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