Q. Recently a lovely woman of 21 came to live at the residence hotel where I am staying. She has a considerable reserve of charm and intelligence and is very self-possessed for her age -- admittedly 10 years younger than myself. I rapidly -- and rashly -- fell in love with her. After a few casual dates, I resolved to tell her what I felt, however precipitous it seemed. She had a boyfriend in France and was surprised and apologetic.
In the spirit of self-sabotage, I told her that I would rather not be just friends, feeling very much what the French call a jeune premier. In polite society, this is known as "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face." In the real world, I believe the appropriate descriptive phrase would be "dumb."
In any case, she is still here and so am I (however battered), and if my feeling for her isn't to be completely in vain, it would be nice to know a bit more of her as a friend, through the veil of self-deceptive ardor. Is there a way to do this without becoming a complete nuisance?
A. It was self-protection, not sabotage, that made you refuse friendship where you craved love. It is not possible, as you could find out with a great deal more agony, to be friends with someone whom you currently love.
However, the question here is whether hanging around in the pretended position of friend might be a strategic way to insinuate yourself into the warmer feelings of this young lady, in which case the emotional risk would be outweighed by the possible advantage.
Miss Manners thinks it probably worthwhile. She is bearing in mind the fact that you are in close proximity anyway, and your pretended indifference or hurt feelings are not much good to either of you.
A 21-year-old whose beau is across the ocean is likely to be in need of some comfort. It is possible that they are only separated by cruel circumstances, that they exchange passionate letters daily and have no temptations to consider others, and that they will soon be reunited and live happily ever after. The chances are about one in 6,000. It is much more likely that there will be trouble. And that is when the lady will be happy to have a friend.
Not a rival claimant for her affections: When one romance is going bad, replacing it prematurely with another is a particularly poor deal for the person who plays the other.
Present yourself, instead, as a friend whose ardor has turned into kindly interest. Take her out, encourage her to talk about herself, sympathize with her difficulties, and make something of a mystery of your own life, with the heavy insinuation that such a casual friendship as you enjoy is by no means the central part of it.
When -- and if -- (Miss Manners hates to be a ghoul, but she feels that you, not the young lady, are her client) things go wrong, assure her vaguely that "They'll work out, don't worry." When she probes you about your life, sigh happily and admit that things are too complicated for you to explain.
Miss Manners does not promise you that the lady will go from taking your ardor for granted to worrying about whether she can inspire continuing love in anyone, to rising to the challenge of re-taking your heart. But she promises that both of you will find this a more interesting pastime than moping separately.