Through some volunteer work, I’ve gotten to know Ellen, another woman quite a bit older than I am. I don’t know her sexual orientation. Because I find her interesting, I’ve invited her to dinner a few times over several months. She knows I’m in a relationship with Beth and also that Beth and I have had some problems in the last year.
After a lovely dinner recently where I felt that we had crossed over from acquaintances to actual friends, she gave me a quick but tender goodnight kiss on the lips. The most we’ve ever done before is hug. It was so unexpected that I didn’t react. When I e-mailed her the next day and asked whether we could get together again (hoping to clarify, indirectly, her intentions), she was pleasant and vaguely suggested that we meet in a few weeks, but has not contacted me since. She sounded oblivious to the fact she had introduced this intimate wrinkle into our friendship and the possible implications of her actions.
I’m confused, flattered, intrigued, but also angered that she would be so careless. I think the kiss was something an older, lonely woman might do in a spontaneous moment of affection, but she could have kissed my cheek if she didn’t want to create any misunderstanding. After all, I am a lesbian, not a stone, and she is a woman!
Am I overreacting, or is there something more going on here?
You can’t know what’s going on in Ellen’s mind unless you ask her — and even then, you may not learn the truth. She may be attracted to you; she may be interested in experimenting with a woman, if she has not been with women before; or she may want to seduce or be seduced by someone younger. Perhaps she simply wanted to show her friendly affection for you and doesn’t ascribe any sexual or romantic meaning to a kiss on the lips.
Do you know what you want with Ellen? Knowing that will help you figure out what move you want to make next. I do wonder why you approached her indirectly about her intentions. Is that how you are generally or is there something about this situation that is getting in the way of your being openly inquisitive and assertive?
The other big question is, what do you want with Beth? You say nothing about how long you have been together, the quality of your relationship or the nature of the problems you two have been having. Are you interested in continuing to date her? Do you, and Beth as well, believe that your relationship has good potential for the long term?
If you want to be with Beth, you don’t have much to gain by focusing on Ellen. Yes, it’s intriguing to fantasize about other people’s possible crushes on us, but putting your attention on other possibilities when you have a girlfriend is a great way to fan the flames of your discontent, especially when you and Beth are having problems.
Ask yourself why you are putting energy into trying to figure out what is going on in Ellen’s mind. Does your focus on her have anything to do with what’s been happening with Beth? Are things with Beth getting too close and you’re looking to create some space? Is it scary for you to talk with Beth about whatever has been going wrong? Are you hoping for something more with Ellen as a diversion from your relationship troubles?
Whatever the case, here’s an analogy to keep in mind. Being in a committed relationship is like taking a long, long trip down an unpaved scenic road in an old car. You’re likely to come across all sorts of interesting adventures, but you always need to drive carefully and do your best to maintain the car in tip-top shape if you want to avoid a wreck.
If you want to be in a vibrant relationship with Beth, focusing on Ellen is like taking your eye off the road and your hands off the steering wheel.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.