I’m 20 years old and I recently moved to Germany for a year-long work term. Before finding permanent housing, I crashed on someone’s couch for a few days and he helped to show me around the area. The man who hosted me is a 32-year-old local who I immediately hit it off with. He’s smart, good looking and has the same humour as me. At first, I was keen to have a friend and confidant in the area and I knew he was in a long-term relationship so I felt immune to any kind of advances.
The bad news is that his relationship is ‘open’.
About 18 months ago his girlfriend’s father passed away and since then their relationship had been strained, but neither wanted to end things given how long they had been together. She moved to Sweden to study, but he stayed here to finish his Master’s degree.
I’ve managed to keep things relatively platonic up to this point, however it’s starting to feel like a relationship (we go on ‘friend dates’, I’ve already met his family and friends and we’re going to a wedding together in a few weeks) and he has made it very clear that he’s interested in me. He’s still probably my closest friend in the area, and if the circumstances were different I would be keen to see where things go.
A few of my friends back home have expressed their concerns with the age difference and his open relationship, but since I’m moving home soon I know it wouldn’t be permanent anyways.
Do you think I should try to stay friends with him or see where things go and risk losing the friendship?
— Clueless Canadian
Before doing a cost-benefit analysis on whether it is better to ‘risk’ the ‘friendship’ and pursue a sexual/romantic relationship, you need to really understand the question, so let me help you break it down.
Do you want a relationship with this man?
Consider his personality, your rapport and compatibility, your chemistry, and whether he would make a good relationship (or sexual) partner (depending on the kind of relationship you seek). He is more than a decade older: what values do you share? Are you at very different stages in your lives? Will this be an issue for you longer-term? (Are you prepared to cross that bridge if/when you come to it)?
Do you want a relationship of this nature?
He is already in a committed, non-exclusive relationship. Do you want this kind of relationship for yourself? Are you prepared to negotiate relationship boundaries that suit both you and any other partners? Does your answer change if he wants to continue to be non-exclusive with you and his current primary partner? Will this relationship meet your needs?
Do you want a relationship of this duration?
You mention this relationship has an end date. This has pros and cons. Longer-term potential issues become less important, and it lessens the degree of risk, however, you also face the inevitable conclusion or transformation of your relationship when one or both of you moves on. (Are you prepared to cross that bridge if/when you come to it)?
More than friends?
Platonic friendships are important and valuable; however, I would ask how ‘platonic’ your ‘friendship’ is now. How much of his interest in your company is actually interest in pursuing a romantic/sexual relationship? Given there is interest in being more than friends on one (both) sides, hasn’t the ‘friendship’ shifted already? What do you actually risk ‘losing’? If you don’t reciprocate, how likely is he to remain your ‘friend’?
Why this friendship?
This dilemma highlights a gap in your friendship needs. No one person should be your life support. It’s time to put yourself out there and cultivate additional friendships. Join clubs, sign up for classes, whatever you need to do to meet and connect with people. Give yourself the best chance at happiness and fulfilment by reaching out to others. Make your life well rounded, connected and supported, whether you are in or out of a relationship.
What should you decide?
I tend to err on the side of giving things a go. Nothing is forever, there are no guarantees in life, and relationships naturally evolve (and ultimately end), so why not give it a go and see? I would rather regret trying to make something succeed, than fail because I avoided trying.
However, I don’t have to live your life — you do. If you want a relationship of this nature and of this duration with this man, then ask yourself, does your fear of letting an opportunity pass outweigh the fear of giving it a go and having it not work out? Only you can decide what feels right, but answering these questions may help you evaluate the true risks, potential costs and benefits of whatever you decide.
Best of luck CC, and let me know how you go.