He’s turned into a pen pal

Dear Meredith,

This fall, I met a guy who was incredible – kind, thoughtful, smart, ambitious – and I was extremely attracted to him. We had a great month together and agreed quite early on that what we both wanted was something exclusive, with an eye toward something pretty serious in the future. I hadn't felt this way about someone in a long time, and felt pretty confident about him because we were explicitly on the same page.

Then the holidays came and (my best guess) the student part of his life got overwhelming, so he started dropping the ball more often – more distant with communication, flakier with plans, etc. We re-evaluated briefly, but it became clear that he (just out of a serious relationship) had gone looking for a rebound in the fall, had found something that was naturally more serious, and had gotten cold feet. We ended things on OK terms and agreed that timing was the problem, with the idea that we'd meet up and try to figure out a way to be maybe-friends after some time apart.

The thing is, technology let us go from a short-term but emotionally intense near-relationship to pretending to be "friends" who text and email overnight. We've been essentially pen-pals, maintaining an unbroken conversation that conveniently skirts around our emotional lives, for two months now. I keep wondering if someday he's going to ghost (and maybe he thinks the same), but neither of us has – at least on my end because his presence in my life has served as a constant, low-level reminder of how much potential I thought we had. We're planning to meet in person pretty soon, but I'm not entirely sure how to approach this when we do. I do not need/want a pen pal, especially not one who is so far from an emotionally neutral presence, and I don't think that being friends who casually hang out makes sense. I have a lot on my plate these days (as does he) and am not interested in replicating the intense version of a relationship we tried this fall, but is it silly to suggest that we get to know each other as more-than-friends without making an assumptions about the speed of commitment or where we go in the future?

– Pen pals


"... is it silly to suggest that we get to know each other as more-than-friends ..."

It's not silly. But I'm not sure how easy it would be for you to accept less of him. You experienced what it was like to be enamored and serious – and you liked it. You're responding to all of his messages now because even though you don't want a pen pal, you want him in your life - a lot. If he were open to this slower arrangement, do you think you'd be able to set boundaries and limit his place in your world? If you start seeing each other romantically again, how would you dial back what you had?

These are all things you can discuss with him when you see him in person. You can tell him that this constant stream of messages is confusing – and maybe misleading. Then you can explain what you want from him. Don't be afraid to get specific. As in, "In a dream world, for me, our relationship would look like this." You have nothing to lose by sharing your wishes. He can meet you where you are – or not. And if he can't, it's really best to know.

Understand that if he can't give you what you want, you should tell him that you must stop the messaging so you have space to let go. You do have a lot on your plate. That means you should be spending your free time on people who are ready for all you can offer.

– Meredith

Readers? Thoughts on the more-than-friends idea?