Forget the Hollywood ending

Joey Garcia

I was dating this girl, everything was good, I even went on vacation with her family. She went on a trip with friends and told me that she would probably see her old boyfriend. He broke up with her, she was over it, but they hung out in the same friend group, and she knew she would see him. Long story short, she came back, broke up with me and is back with him. She said she wants to be friends with me. But whenever I talk to her, she gives really short answers and acts like I’m bugging her. I said I thought we were going to be friends. She said we are friends, and then kept being really difficult, so I gave up. Any advice?

Keep waving the white flag. Giving up is a smart choice, and will save you a lot of heartache. Here’s the hard truth: Your ex-girlfriend doesn’t really want to be your friend. She dangled the promise of friendship in front of you to soften the blow of the breakup. You bought it because you care for her. And, because you care for her, your brain translated the promise of an ongoing connection as evidence of her deep and unshakeable feelings for you. The part of the brain that can’t let go (even when we should) smiles as it imagines the sweetness of two hearts sharing that not-quite-romantic but not-quite-platonic fuzziness that could blur into a happily ever-after ending. Or maybe your brain fantasizes about a sudden, unexpected and electric sensation that draws you both into such amazing sex that waiting until she notices you again seems worthwhile. But you do know those are scripts for a Hollywood romantic comedy, right? There’s a reason rom-coms are a dying genre.

What your ex-girlfriend really wants is to be friendly. Friendly is a cheerful wave from across the street before you continue on your way. Friendly is a short, superficial chat about pets and vacations if you accidentally run into each other. She definitely does not want you to thoughtfully inquire about her family or her plans for the weekend. She has no desire to hear about your life, either. It’s not rude; it’s a boundary.

One last thing, don’t try to be friends with an ex immediately after a breakup. Always allow three months to one year to air out your interior life, rearrange your emotions and wash away every shred of sexual attraction. Most people fail to do this, so they re-engage with their former partners like pound puppies. Don’t bide your time caged in by your ex-girlfriend’s confusing behavior. You’re a free man. Behave accordingly.

All of your advice for the 44-year-old single mother who can’t get a date (“Unlock the mystery,” SN&R Ask Joey, May 8) was good for anyone who is dating. But her statement “I try to dress attractively and keep myself up, but nothing works to attract a man” is a schoolgirl’s expectation that her only contribution to the process is looking good. The female assumption that males should risk rejection just for the pleasure of basking in an attractive presence is a wonder to me. Forty-something men might be looking for something more out of a woman.

That’s an interesting take on her dilemma. Thank you. I read that sliver of her letter as a paradoxical blend of self-care (she invests time to look her best) and insecurity (she feels attractive but isn’t attracting men). But you’re right that a well-rounded personality can trump appearance for the right person. I don’t agree that it has anything to do with chronological age, though. I’ve met mature 20-year-old men and highly immature 50-year-old men. But for anyone, risking rejection is a wonderful exercise in nonattachment that has extraordinary evolutionary power.

Meditation of the week
“I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be,” wrote musician Bob Dylan. How free is your mind?

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