Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from June 27, 2003.
HI: I was interested in my best friend last year, but she wasn’t interested in me. We got that out of the way, ended up closer than before and everything’s been fine since. Now, I’m happy with a great girlfriend.
The problem is, each time my friend becomes interested in someone new, I keep asking myself, “What was wrong with me?” (since she never told me, though I asked). This is especially a problem because more recently she’s been interested in someone we both know. I’m quite happy with my girlfriend now, so I feel terrible about continuing to wonder about what my defect was/is. I chalk this up to being unable to grow up and get over not being good enough, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts.
DEAR P.C.: I chalk it up to your chalking it up to things that are beside the point. Falling for people isn’t about their being “good enough.” In fact, I think everyone has at least one friend for whom falling in love is about finding someone wretched enough … but that’s beside the point, too.
Point is, even when you have a good idea why you’re attracted to someone — she’s smart, she’s pretty, she can belch the “Ode to Joy” — there will always be the intangible something(s) that made you choose her over all the other pretty, smart music lovers. Two people with little in common meet at a cocktail party and talk for an hour straight; two who are perfect for each other on paper barely get past “hello.” Can you always explain the difference? For that matter, can you pinpoint why you chose your new girlfriend? Not really. Mostly we guess.
Your best friend’s judgment is just as subject to unknowns, intangibles and downright-inexplicables as yours is, or anyone else’s. Some people use those unknowns to keep flogging themselves, and some turn them around to flog the source of rejection (maybe she’s the “defective” one!). They work best as a kind of release: You can’t ever know, so you won’t bother to try. Especially since all you ever needed to know was “no.”
CAROLYN: This is an ages-old problem, and I’m looking for a solution. Boy and girl experience problems, and boy withdraws into his emotional cave. Girl tries to solve problem through intimate communication, which feels best to her, but boy wants to think about the problem alone, which feels best to him. Girl feels emotionally abandoned, and expresses so. Boy feels emotionally pressured, and expresses so. An impasse is created. Both parties feel misunderstood and underappreciated. What next?
Tired of These Same Old Steps
DEAR TIRED: Think Hollywood thoughts and rewrite the ending. Boy and girl both open their minds to different emotional styles. Girl agrees to give boy some private time to sort his thoughts and uses the time constructively herself instead of agitating. Boy agrees to use cave for reflection and not merely to hide from girl, reassures girl so she isn’t left to agitate and emerges from cave before girl and boy grow old. Girl and boy decide to replace the term “impasse” with “opportunity to consider how the other person functions.” Or, with “seeya,” depending on how this compromise feels.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.