How to be friends

I met a woman a little over two years ago online. We started talking. I was separated from my wife at the time but not divorced and was not looking for a relationship, just a friendship. She had more serious things in mind and perused me strongly. We live 1,200 miles apart and decided to meet. We fell in love.

Over the last couple years we have talked every day. We have only had a couple of months to be together due to the distance, and it's been hard on both of us. She has a wonderful job, and it's not even a consideration for her to move. I was in a bad job and then unemployed for a time. I now have a decent job, and it has been my intention to move to be with her. Unfortunately, I've been delayed. My parents are in poor health, and I want to stay around till they are in a better place to take care of themselves. I also am in the process of getting a divorce from my estranged wife, which is something that is past due, and needs to be done regardless of the love in my life.

A few days ago I was talking with her and she told me it's not working out. The distance and the small amount of time we get to actually spend with each other has been too much for her to continue. What can I say? I'm devastated. I can't stop loving her. I think she even still loves me, but she's trying to get past it and move on. She says she still wants to talk to me and I guess be friends. I'm not sure how I can handle that. I'm trying. I want to make it easy on her and for her sake not be a whiny man who just cries about wanting her back. But that's all I feel like doing. She doesn't deserve that. We've talked over the last few days, dancing around the subject, and trying to find other things to talk about, but I feel I'm just making things worse.

I'm 38 and I'm mature enough to understand all the cliches such as "You'll find somebody else," and "Time heals wounds." None of that matters to me right now. I want to be her friend but need to get past this feeling that it's not over yet. I think my best hope is that we continue to talk, and some day, after my parents are well and I have some money saved up, she may still be open to me moving to be with her. I know in the meantime she may very well find somebody else, and although that would hurt me immensely, it would give me closure as well.

I guess the place I'm in right now is wondering how I can take that next step, even if it is a huge step backwards to just be a friend to her now.

I have a lot of things I have to work on myself before I can even consider asking for her love back. Many things can change in that time, and that scares me. I guess if I have to sum it up in a question, it'd be something like: Where do I start? How do I approach talking to her when I know all I do is frustrate her? If I do talk to her, do I just keep it to discussions about the weather? Or our favorite sports teams?

She is amazing. I know it's possible I may meet someone else in the future, but I know if I just let this go without trying every avenue, it will be a regret for the rest of my life.

– Backtracking, Louisiana

You're all over the place, Backtracking. You say that you want to try a friendship, but you also want to keep her on the back burner for later. You admit that if you lose her you'll regret it forever, but you also acknowledge that she'll probably meet someone new while you get yourself together.

My advice? Make the move to be with her right now (provided she's still interested) or stop talking to her and trying to be her friend. No small talk. No uncomfortable, sad banter. If you're not going to be together right now, you shouldn't be putting each other through painful conversations.

I understand your issue with your parents, but here's a question: If the divorce wasn't an issue and you had moved to be with this woman a year ago, how would you have handled your parents now? Would you have flown home for a few weeks at a time? Would you have asked other family members for help? What if you moved next year but your parents needed your help again? Have you really considered the logistics?

I don't know whether it's possible for you to move at all, but I do know that after two years, you're in or you're out with this woman. You can't regress to being pen pals or phone friends. You can't have a pretend breakup that's really about waiting around for another two years.

Either pack your bags for the move of your life, or tell this woman you wish her the best. Those are your only options.

Readers? Is there an in-between? Should they keep talking? Did he ever really plan to move? Should he? Help.

– Meredith