What to Do When The Relationship’s Slipping Away

woman sitting on the couch thinking deeply

Hey Evan,

Wondering if you could share some of your wisdom with me. Things are still going okay, but there has been a bit of a change in Mr. Wonderful. James has been a bit distant and distracted. I have tried to give him as much space as possible but he mentioned last night that he does not feel “free” due to the fact he is not yet divorced.

The challenge I am having is that he is pulling back. He still calls everyday… just not as often. Usually when he has been out of town he says he has missed me… but he just came back from a 10 day trip and said nothing. And this usually throws me into a bit of a panic because my past experience indicates either a breakup is coming or they are cheating on me. I don’t think he’s cheating, but my question is how to handle it in my own head. The fact is we are only 3 months into this, so it is still new, but I have to admit I was hoping he’d do something special for Valentine’s Day! LOL.

I want to be “the Cool Girl” that Christian Carter talks about, but I feel I’m not doing a very good job. I am letting him call me… trying to stay light and humorous in our conversations…acting like everything is fine on my end. Although this past week I did ask a few times “Hey what’s up? Is everything ok?” because he kinda shut down. I have let him know if he wants to talk I am willing to listen, etc.

One of thing things I have fought is whether I should be with him. My goal is finding someone to get married. Obviously he is not in that position and will not be for a while. I am feeling the “clock ticking” a bit and have wondered would I go find someone else who is more on the same page. Then I say “Well, Sarah, start with anyone else and you will still be investing a year+ before you get to marriage and there is no guarantee with a new man either.” So I come back to taking that risk with James because he really is a great guy. Plus it was a lot of hard work finding him and I think if I walked away, I would wonder “Hmmm, what if?”

Sorry for being so long… it has been a frustrating week for me as I usually don’t handle it when I feel like I am going to ruin the relationship.


Dear Sarah,

Thanks for sharing all that with me. You are definitely in a tough predicament — a relatively predictable one, alas, because of his marriage status. Another client had the same thing happen and she dated her guy for 8 months before he called it quits. He needed time alone before transitioning to a new relationship. It’s normal for men to do this, unfortunately. It’s also normal for them to be selfish — to tell you that they want to be with you long term if it means they can have you in the short term. I’m not saying that’s what’s happening; I’m saying that self preservation is one of the most powerful forces on earth. People take care of themselves and hope that they don’t hurt you in the process.

People take care of themselves and hope that they don’t hurt you in the process.

I would agree that Christian Carter’s advice on this arena is pretty sound. The more you make a big deal of stuff, the more likely it is to go awry. That said, you have other considerations — you’re 40 and want kids, and do not want to invest in someone who won’t pay off. And I understand that your guy is a rare catch who’s worth investing in. The best I can tell you is to try to let go and have him sort his things out at his own pace. And if you feel that you’re not getting what you need, it may be wise to take some sort of action.

Action, in this instance, isn’t an ultimatum, per se, but rather an open acknowledgement that you’re not feeling the security you need to feel about your future. If James is in no position to give you that kind of security, politely let him know that you’re going to have to move on. If he fights for you, he’s into you. If he lets you go, he’s done you a favor. Just don’t make your conversation accusatory as if he’s doing anything wrong — frame it that you don’t want to pressure him, but you do have to take care of yourself.

Action, in this instance, isn’t an ultimatum, per se, but rather an open acknowledgement that you’re not feeling the security you need to feel about your future.

Keep in mind that there’s no rush on having this conversation. Wait until things seem good, like an employee waiting for the optimal day to request a raise. If you bring things up when he’s still feeling distant, he’ll be more likely to give up on the whole thing without thinking it through.

Either way, you need to take care of yourself first. It’s one thing to play it “cool” so as not to scare him off. It’s another thing to fear breaking up so much that you never gauge the long term viability of your relationship. I hope you find peace and clarity on this issue.

Please keep me posted.

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  1. 1

    For what it’s worth, I doubt that you need to be with someone for over a year at 40 to commit to mariage. That’s just me.

  2. 2

    I honestly believe that ANY and EVERY person should learn how to be alone again after a divorce. Just so that they realize that when they find someone special again they cherish that person more than they normally would. I’ve tried dating the whole “I’m in the process of a divorce” man and you need to ask yourself and him how long the divorce process has really been going on? That will say a lot. There are too many of us that want to help everyone and we need to start taking care and looking out for ourselves first instead of second, third, or even further down the line. Just remember to put your feelings first since no one else is.

  3. 3

    I don’t date the separated period. And I rarely date the divorced – they usually have too many kids, issues with the ex, etc etc. It’s boring and cramps my single-never-married style. I am 38 so my options are proverbially limited, but I try to make up for it by dating ever younger and younger men. I haven’t yet got up the nerve to pay for a subscription to AgeMatch (I’ve read mixed reviews of it, so I don’t know if it is worth the fee), but I have adjusted down my acceptable age range to include all the twentysomethings. They have fewer issues.

    1. 3.1

      I am SO with you on that. I just don’t know if most men are capable of managing being a single dad with being a good boyfriend. Work is always first, kids second, I will always come third if that!! Dating younger guys is indeed a lot more simple and in some ways I can relate to them more   (if only they would stop asking me if I have Snapchat)

  4. 4

    “If he fights for you, he’s into you. If he lets you go, he’s done you a favor.” So true, but difficult to see when you’re in the middle of a divorce. I dated someone for 4 months who’s divorce just came through and had to let him go because he wasn’t in any state to give me what I needed.

    He came back after a six months but I had moved on. Maybe time on his own will give him perspective. The pulling away and changes you are experiencing must be painful to you. I’m sorry you are going through this.

  5. 5

    I sympathise with the OP’s position. It’s a very tough situation to be in. Unfortunately after being let down very badly by two different guys who jumped in to a relationship with me with two feet and then developed superhuman powers to jump out (LOL) I steer clear of any guy who is not legally divorced (or since de facto partnerships are so common where I live, that all of the legal and custody arrangements are done and ticking along ok for a couple of years).

    My latest boyfriend revealed that he was still legally married after 3 years (it takes two years of separation where I live for a divorce to be final) and it didn’t sound like he was planning on doing it any time soon! Fortunately he pulled away and dumped me after 10 weeks so I no longer had to deal with that mess – he was clearly still hung up on his ex and their life together. Never again.

    Being a strong and independent woman I can’t muster up much respect for a guy who can’t wait until he’s legally divorced to get into a new committed relationship. They clearly can’t have much to give when they should be focused on their own healing and figuring out who they are as an individual. Sadly I’m more freaked out than ever about getting hurt by one of these guys.


  6. 6

    Was just in this unfortunate scenario with a separated man so this is very timely, luckily only a month in but it was rather intense and of course he told me how ready he was which was absolutely not the case. He did a 180 and dumped me saying he wasn’t ready for anything right after we agreed to be exclusive.   Yep, I’ll never date someone separated or recently divorced again. Lesson learned.

  7. 7

    From my perspective,   the op should consider dating and having fun with other people while continuing to date her current guy and let the situation sort itself out naturally.   If she keeps her options open, it takes pressure off of him (which he’s likely feeling whether he realizes it or not) and increases the possibility that she WILL meet the right guy with whom something more serious could develop.

  8. 8

    Let him go.. .. give him time to think yet you explore your options. And if it comes back together months down the way and if not it is meant to be.. sometimes one needs to leave it up to fate but don’t wait for him


  9. 9

    Your BF is not really all yours since he is still married. So go date others in the meantime. This will also help with your neediness. Not to mention you may find a better catch. Also grab the book “Attached” by Levine, Heller. Evan mentioned it few times. It is obvious you have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style and you will learn so much about how to manage your own head by reading that book.

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