‘How Do I Get the Love of My Life to Take a Leap With Me?’

By
Photo: Stevie Remsberg; photos: Getty Images

Get Ask Polly delivered weekly.

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Dear Polly,

I’ve loved this particular man for 32 years. We are not together now and have not been since 1997. Since the time we met, I have not stopped wanting him. We are now friends who email each other every day, sometimes all day. We met up at a restaurant a year ago to celebrate my 63rd birthday and my freedom from cancer. He showered gifts on me including a beautiful handmade sterling-silver and black leather belt. He’s a 68-year-old metalsmith as well as an artist and contractor.

We’ve always been good company for each other. I make him think and laugh, and we can talk for hours. We almost moved in together back in the beginning, but it fell through. Frankly, neither one of us had a clue how to love and care for a partner. We had “ideas” and fantasies culled from popular culture, untruths and misinformation. And I had been married before to a narcissistic immature musician who made off with my daughter.

I know my friend was often mistrustful of women; I think he still is. Some of the phrases he uses, like how he “falls for it every time,” indicates he thinks women, me, are out for some nefarious purpose.

I was also on many medications for fibromyalgia. At the time, it was a new disease and drugs were just thrown at it. So I was pretty much out of my mind for years with the pain and the oblivion of the drugs. He stuck through it. We finally split up in 1997 when I moved out of town. I never stopped thinking about him.

We stayed in touch when I relocated back east for four years and reconnected again when I came back. I think he enjoyed being contacted by me each time we renewed our relationship. It was flattering, after all.

Anyway, I always knew where he was. When I was going through my cancer, I joined a dating site, went out on a few dates, and decided it was just stupid. I found myself comparing how well my date knew me (so much to learn!) versus how well I was known by my old friend. I quit the site after the last guy showed up in cut-offs, a windbreaker, flip-flops, and riding a bike and wondered why I said it just wasn’t going to work out.

I can’t imagine anyone knowing me as well as this man knows me. Although after our discussion last night, perhaps he doesn’t. We spent hours emailing last night (he lives two hours away), fighting actually, after I sent off a letter to him telling him to hurry up and make up his mind where he wants to live when he retires. Because I’m planning on being his neighbor and want to get to it.

We reached this decision after months of emails from me about living together. I figured that after the first few months of communication, when we reconnected in 2016, that our meeting in February was actually us starting our love relationship again. Apparently not. He doesn’t want to live with anyone. He likes living and sleeping alone. He really does. I don’t understand it myself. All I’ve ever wanted was a family and home. People to take care of. To love. To celebrate with. To share with.

He has given up on love. He says that it causes too much pain. But I don’t want him to miss out on the connection we could have if we started actually trying to make this work as lovers. All through the stuff he was throwing at me last night, I was able to keep my head and sense of humor. He got 30 years of grief off his chest and was finally able to throw out an old file full of receipts from when I maxed out one of his credit cards 30 years ago. Talk about holding onto anger! He is the strong, silent type, which never sat well with me, and I called him on it last night. If he wants his way, he has to speak up. The point of all this is that I backed off the talk about living together, getting back together as lovers, or wanting anything from him other than friendship. I finally convinced him I don’t want anything from him at all.

But of course I do. I want ultimately to be back in the same bed again. To be in love together. I just don’t know if I’m kidding myself. Over the last year, I’ve been showing him how supportive I can be. How much I’ve changed from the days of overmedication and treating him poorly. I don’t want anyone else. I don’t like dating, it makes me nervous. I don’t participate in anything. I’m pretty solitary, which means I’m only communicating with him as my only friend.

My oldest girlfriend died last year, so he has become my go-to for pretty much everything. Which I know isn’t good. I’ve put my life on hold waiting for him to decide to move so I can use his help to move up next to him. I have never waited for anything! I’m big on adventures. So, am I settling? Am I making progress? He’s feeling affection toward me (which he said last night), which is good. It’s a huge step.

He told me in his first email that I shouldn’t wait for him, to go on with my life. But by the end of hours of discussion he had forgiven the old crap that I didn’t know was a problem and sent me a gift. I can’t move until I have someone up there to help with logistics. And I want to settle somewhere finally. I’m done moving around. I keep hoping he’ll soften up in his attitude about sex because I know once that happens he’s in. Who said seniors don’t have great sex?

I’m asking what to do. I still want the man! I’m afraid if I move first, he could move somewhere not near me. He doesn’t know when he’s going, so I can save until then, which is good. But how do I move us along? He’s very gun-shy and says he’s “moving on.” How do I prove I’ve changed for the best? I just want the chance to make him happy. To show him he can have that relationship I know he still wants.

Thanks for plowing through this.

Gettin’ Older and Better

Dear GOAB,

This man will disappoint you as long as you focus all of your energy on him. You’re charismatic and fun and engaged, so it’s hard for him to resist your constant attention and devotion, but the only way you’re going to have the real, true romance that you want is by building a full, balanced life for yourself.

I admire how you’re pushing for what you want. It’s also good that he’s finally admitting his reservations and long-held resentments. The level of honesty you’ve reached with each other could be promising. But I suspect that he’s wary of entering a completely intertwined existence with you, whether you sleep together, live together, or live next door to each other. And frankly, he’s right to be wary, because your entire focus in life is on him. You want to know where he’s moving. You want him to move soon. You’re saving money for when you move. You need his help to move. You have no other friends. You don’t mention any hobbies or activities or routines of yours that would have to change if you moved. You drop everything to email with him all day long. And you’re willing to uproot everything to be with him. It’s almost like you’re paring down your life right now, just to make it easier to relocate wherever he wants.

You say that this man you love doesn’t trust women, and suspects that you’re “out for some nefarious purpose.” But honestly, I wouldn’t trust you either. Because it’s smart not to trust someone who’s waiting around for you, hanging on your every word, and depending on you for salvation.

Has anyone ever told you that you’re an escapist? Escapists tend to focus on one thing that takes up their entire world, whether it’s love, money, status, alcohol, or even travel. It can be a good thing or a bad thing. The point is to avoid living in reality and weathering the ups and downs of everyday life. The point is to have a goal and keep pushing for that goal. “This will fix everything,” you say. “This is the answer to all of my prayers.”

Two decades ago, you ended your relationship with this man by moving away. You also say that you like adventure. You say “I’m done moving around,” as if you have a pattern of quitting town when things get disappointing. You don’t just want to live next door to him, even though you’re telling him you’d be content with that. The truth is, you want everything or nothing at all.

Escapists are usually absolutists. They say things like “If I can’t do x, then y and z are pointless” and “Once x happened, y and z were out of the question.” They prefer black-and-white thinking. They dislike compromise. They have extremely high expectations of other people. Once they’re disappointed, there’s no going back. Someone is a saint until he reveals himself to be the devil. Everything is perfect until it’s unbearable.

You say you don’t want to take the time to get to know new people. You just want to be with someone who really, truly knows you already. I know that feeling. But that’s the feeling you have when you’re a little bit stuck, when you’ve narrowed your horizons, when you’ve actively chosen to romanticize and focus on one single thing at the expense of everything else. Somehow, the fact that the one thing you’re focusing on feels a little resistant and evasive only feeds your enthusiasm for it.

People often narrow their horizons like that because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of being rejected by new people. They’re also afraid of being disappointed by new people (a real possibility; escapists tend to decide people are bad quickly instead of staying patient and allowing people to show themselves over the course of several weeks or months or years). At least with this man, you know that he loved you once. You can imagine yourself when you believed yourself to be lovable. You are afraid that you aren’t lovable right now, that no one new could possibly love you, and even if they could, they can’t be trusted. You want to make a plan to move close together before you even try to spend more time together or test out a romantic relationship. You’re willing to pretend that you want nothing from him, just so you can live next door to wherever he chooses to retire. You’re trying very hard to control reality and bend the future into the shape you want.

The fear you feel doesn’t spring from the inherent danger of new people. It springs from the fact that you had a great loss — you lost your good friend, and you also lost your daughter, somehow, to your former husband. There are other losses you won’t even mention to anyone, I’m guessing. All of these losses are at the center of your story, but you don’t want to talk about them. You want to solve the problem of this one man instead. How will you get him to do what you want him to do? How will you get him to agree to fix everything? Doesn’t he understand that the second you two start sleeping together, the whole world will melt into a magical kaleidoscope of love and togetherness?

But I don’t feel sure that this is what will happen for you two, as long as you aren’t addressing the bigger picture of your life and seeking happiness and growth and balance in all things. In order to do that, you have to face your fears. Your escapism springs from your fear that you are too broken to be loved, that you deserve to suffer. Your escapism springs from your guilt over having screwed up many of your most important relationships. Your escapism springs from your self-hatred. You tried your best, but there were so many mitigating circumstances, like poor health and bad medications and no one who took care of you when you really needed it. Everyone’s love was conditional. No one lived up to your expectations. Everyone was a disappointment. These things are real, and you carry them around with you. This is pain that weighs you down and keeps you from feeling happy on your own. This blocks you from feeling excited about the promise of each new day.

You’ve always wanted someone to save you, but no one ever did. It wasn’t fair. The injustice began a long time ago. It wasn’t your fault. And then it was.

Find a therapist and talk about the things you’ve been avoiding. That’s the only way to break the pattern of living a life that’s obsessive and out of balance. You are a passionate person who has felt disappointed a lot. You have to face that if you want to get your passion for life back. This man will not bring your passion back, magically. He will make you very angry instead, because he will always be half in, as long as you haven’t learned to be balanced and independent on your own. He has his work. Yes, he wants to be generous to you. He’s grateful for your friendship. But he doesn’t want to merge his life with yours right now.

I know you feel tired. I know you want an easy answer. But right now, you have to do some hard things. You have to make new friends. You have to balance your life and invest in your interests. You have to solve your problems on your own. When you learn to care for yourself and treat yourself well, you’ll no longer need escapism and magical thinking to make it through the day.

You have a lot of focus and energy. Don’t use it to uproot your life and move into the middle of someone else’s life. Use it to make yourself stronger. Use it to make your life so good and make yourself so happy that almost anyone would move worlds just to be closer to you. You don’t have to push and chase. You can stay right where you are, and plant seeds, and enjoy watching them grow.

I’ll bet that sounds like torture to you, doesn’t it? You want to go somewhere new, where things are different, where everything will finally feel right. Sit with that feeling. Just sit and notice how impossible it seems, to stay in one place. Ask yourself why your one chance at happiness always requires you to move far away from where you are right now.

Polly

Order the Ask Polly book, How to Be a Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

Get Ask Polly delivered weekly.

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

All letters to askpolly@nymag.com become the property of Ask Polly and New York Media LLC and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

‘How Do I Get the Love of My Life to Take a Leap With Me?’