My girlfriend and my ‘special friend’

Chat at 1.

Hi Meredith,

This is about two women in my life -- complete with unhappy ending. But it wasn't always so.

Times were great when I had both Cindy and Karen. I have known Karen for many years; we live together and are a couple. Cindy is a relative newcomer in my life. Only a couple of years have passed since I met her.

Karen and I have what most consider a good life together: pleasant, efficient, and without major issues. Cindy and I had a good relationship together: fun and interesting, full of banter and laughs and joy and jokes and intimacy and flirty, curious stares. The kind of thing that makes time sneak behind your back and surprise your tired eyes when you look at your watch. Funny that a guy could be happy without anything more than sporadic hand holding, I used to tell myself.

I was happy, I had all my needs met. I had the physical, stable relationship with Karen and the rejuvenating, energizing {friendship} with Cindy. My lizard brain was too drunk in feel-good chemicals to notice the brewing storm.

Cindy thought otherwise. The arrangement was just candy to her and she was looking for a full meal. So it ended, very painfully but peacefully. I swallowed the bitter pill and quietly continued with Karen.

Heartbreak #2 has been slower in the making: Karen is either unwilling or unable to provide the things Cindy had. Karen is not a woman who understands about expressing positive emotions, creating intimacy, or injecting adventure or common interests into a relationship. Home is impeccable and peaceful, but it is dreadfully boring and sometimes impersonal. And somehow this is enough for Karen. She is content with this life.

I have tried with Karen to explain the things I need and even lead by example. Communication breaks down into her tears and self-recriminations of inadequacy. I pull back and forget my needs, but in time discontent gets me again. Her reluctance and fear get in the way of us trying new things. And our conversations are all about the mundane and logistics -- nothing too personal. What do I feel for Karen? Tenderness and an unwillingness to see her suffer. But it is not the full range of adult emotions Cindy helped me experience.

I also miss Cindy. I feel like I made a terrible mistake.

How can I recreate some of the Cindy experience with Karen? Has time really ground this relationship into the ground? Would time have destroyed things with Cindy the same way if we were together? Is it healthy, or even possible, to have a special friend to pick up the slack from your relationship?

– Demoralized Under My Blanket, Providence

I don't want to kick you while you're under your sad blanket, but ... ugh.

You turned Karen into an insecure mess. You spent years using Cindy for attention before she finally set a boundary and let you go. Your lizard brain should have known better.

You're certainly allowed to have friends while you're in a relationship, but Cindy was a special friend. You had two girlfriends. That's not OK.

It's time to break up with Karen. You can't turn her into a different person, and if anyone is demoralized under a blanket right now, it's probably her. Please explain to her that she's created a lovely home but that it's not the home for you.

As for Cindy, well, I have no idea whether that relationship had any potential. I've been the Cindy, so part of me is tempted to tell you to show up on Cindy's doorstep with a bottle of Riesling and an ice cream cake (this is my fantasy, right?), but I know in my heart that she's moved on for all the right reasons. If you were content to keep her at a distance for years, she was just candy for you, too.

You need to be alone under that blanket. You also need to learn from this experience. Cindy (and Karen) taught you that you'd rather fall in love with a best friend than live with someone who's good at playing house. Give yourself some space and then start over with that in mind.

Readers? Why did Cindy stick around for so long? What's Karen's role in this? How do you know whether you're using your friends to make up for problems in your relationship? Is that so wrong? Should he contact Cindy? Help.

– Meredith