Dear Carolyn:

I recently moved 1,800 miles away from home to attend graduate school and planned on staying single and meeting new people. Yet when I came here I met a girl who happens to be my age and grew up only five miles from my home town. We hit it off great at first, then slowly went from friends to dating and more than friends, but then it became rapidly confusing for me.

She is in my department, so if something happens with our relationship it will be really awkward.

At the same time, I like this girl, but I don't LOVE her like I have loved other girls in my past. The special butterfly feelings just are not there.

Yet when I spend time with her we get along so well that she grows on me and I really start to like her.

But after she leaves I really don't think much of her and think about asking out a girl in my economics class.

What should I do?

Confused

What I want to say: Love her! Love her! Love her! You're describing everything that will make you so happy when you see her padding around in your kitchen 10, 25, 40 years' worth of mornings from now.

Well, almost everything.

What I need to say, given that aforesaid "almost": Befriend if you want, but don't ask out, other girls -- not yet. And don't dismiss this girl-next-door girl just because you don't feel butterflies.

Not yet. Not until you give your feelings for her a chance to show you where they're going.

Being in love and being in butterflies aren't necessarily the same thing. Love based in character and compatibility and respect is slow to build because it's rooted well below the skin, and it's enduring for the same reason. And butterflies, they're special, but think -- when have they not flown away?

Maybe what you're feeling is bigger, but so new to you that you don't recognize it.

Or maybe it isn't and it's destined to thud dully and awkwardly and intradepartmentally.

Either way -- the grows-on-you process is ongoing, so let it go on, with the express understanding that any progress needs to be slow. (Blame it on your academic proximity if you must, since it does account for a substantial share of your hesitation.) And if your feelings sag, get out quickly, behave maturely, and the awkwardness won't be so bad. But when . . . okay, if, when you least expect it, you catch yourself looking for her in crowded hallways, and wanting to tell her things, and missing her as soon as she leaves the room, that's when you'll be rid of the "almost," leaving you with everything.

Hi Carolyn:

How do you know when a relationship is worth saving? Half the time we are deliriously happy and perfectly suited for each other, and the other half we make each other miserable. Is there a relationship formula, or is it all "follow your heart"?

Idaho

If your heart tells you it's okay to spend even a tenth of your life being miserable with someone, then please consider following something else. A reputable 12-step program, the nearest illuminated EXIT signs and the Yellow Brick Road are three that come quickly to mind.

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