Reading the texts between the lines

Carolyn Hax
Columnist October 13, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I did the unthinkable. I read text messages on my boyfriend’s phone — I know it was wrong, but I did it and now I’m living with the consequences.

He had inappropriate text exchanges with another woman. I confronted him, he explained that for this and that reason, she is off-limits — different religion, lives at home with strict parents, etc.

So I find myself asking, if she’s off-limits, what are the inappropriate, “Let’s hang out,” and, “Hey babe,” and other texts for? Unless I go to drastic measures, it’s impossible for me to know if they are actually hanging out or fooling around or doing nothing. Am I missing the forest for the trees?


( Nick Galifianakis /For The Washington Post)

Anonymous

Apparently, since he’s all but saying that if she were within limits, he’d be with her.

And while the idea of The One Person On Earth Who Is Meant To Be With You is a bunch of horse biscuits, I do think that at pairing-off time, it’s advisable to be better than second place among people he currently texts on a regular basis.

Plus, you “did the unthinkable” not because you were possessed by a demon or innocently mistook his cellphone for your copy of “War and Peace.” Nope — you knew you didn’t have his attention, which created the temptation you failed to resist.

But that knowledge was actually a solid reason not to look. That his attention was elsewhere was all you needed to know, and snooping was both wrong and moot. Academic at this point, but worth filing away for next time.

This time, now that you do have the ill-gotten proof, you might as well heed what it proves.

Dear Carolyn:

I’ve fallen hard for a guy at work. I think he might be interested in me. The rub, of course, is that he is married and has kids. Even though he seems unhappy with his wife, I don’t think I could do anything that would influence him to leave her. But it kinda breaks my heart because we see each other every day and have a good friendship. Is there any way to bow out gracefully? I fear if I tell him that I have feelings I would never act on, it will create a very awkward situation. I have tried to pull away but he always (jokingly) asks if we’re not friends anymore.

Unsure in NYC

He “seems unhappy with his wife,” sure, but presumably he was once as happy with her as he now appears to be with you. Don’t compartmentalize her away; it’s too easy and too detached from a far more complicated truth about long relationships.

You are new and exciting for each other, and who doesn’t love that? That’s another don’t: Don’t glorify what you have. It’s just a cold drink for two thirsty people. That’s what a sparky connection can feel like after a boring spell, and, yes, it’s tempting.

All of which is to say, find the will and stop the flirting. To his, “We’re not friends anymore?” respond, “Sure we are.” If he presses: “Please don’t press” says enough.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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