Dear Madame Olivia:
I am a professional woman of 50 and people tell me I am cute and look way younger than my age. A month or so ago I met a very attractive guy who is I think under 40, maybe 35 or 36. I am an excellent judge of character and have no weakness for bad boys or anything. He’s from another country which adds a layer of mystery which is both attractive and maybe makes his psyche harder to understand but I got to know him a little and at the same time decided to just be myself, which felt very good but vulnerable. He was a real person, present and kind, and the more I saw the more I liked him. Then one day we had a deliriously good time together (I’m talking about physical intimacy). Then the next time we were to get together he texted and cancelled right before we were supposed to meet and just now he texted and cancelled our thing for tonight. Both times he said it was work. I know he has a very unpredictable job that requires driving around in his truck all day, but really? Really?? It is such agony trying to figure out what is going on, how to answer, and what to do with my head. To say nothing of my miserable, trampled, broken heart. I am really having chest pains over this. I am not a game-player but now I’m thinking I should have played hard-to-get. As you can see, my thoughts and feelings are all over the place. I beg you to help me.
Madame Olivia’s heart aches for you. Yours is an old, old story and yet it’s new every time.
Where to begin. This is going to be a long answer, as Madame Olivia thinks your question is of wide interest.
Step one: ASSUME NOTHING. We have no idea what is going on for him. Maybe it really is his work and you’re going to hear from him when things calm down. Though Madame Olivia does not doubt your perceptions of him, and she is especially touched by “a real person, present and kind,” multiple barriers block your complete understanding of him. First of all, you are guessing the thoughts of another person who is a universe unto himself just as you are unto yourself. In addition, numerous cultural differences loom, as attractions but just as potently, barriers: gender, age, work, and nationality. You are female, he male; you 50, he 30-something, a not inconsiderable difference; you have different spheres of work, yours more intellectual (unless Madame Olivia is wildly overinterpreting “professional” and “truck”); and you are from one country, he from another. (Different nationalities: are you kidding? Rules and expectations vary wildly and we might not even know what they are, nor might he!) These are all gigantic and you have no idea how any of these might shape him singly or in combination, to say nothing of his individual wiring. Whatever is at work, Madame Olivia would bet that when he is at work you are in a whole other part of his brain, while your relationship with him colors much more of your life, both when things are going well and when they aren’t. It’s terribly hard not to draw conclusions but honestly, just don’t, not yet.
Step two: SAY THE BARE MINIMUM. If you haven’t yet texted back, text something neutral that leaves the door open but doesn’t beg and for sure doesn’t convey anger. (This is true for anybody you are texting, btw.) Madame Olivia hates to put words in your mouth or characters on your phone but you might say something utterly matter-of fact like “OK. Text me when you want to reschedule.” No boo-hoo sad face icons. (And for God’s sake, no sobbing phone messages!) There’s even a real question as to whether it’s better to leave it at OK. Madame Olivia hates groveling yet leaving the door open is not a bad idea; as Madame Olivia has advised people in partnerships, “Make it easy for the other guy to approach you after a fight.” This is also true for a disjuncture like this. Actually Madame Olivia is wondering what a happy face icon would do. Her icon app has a range of smiley faces including a mildly happy one. She seriously doesn’t know if this is a good idea but it just might be, not to put a happy face on your misery but to suggest the welcome mat that is your essential attitude toward him, just in case for some unfathomable reason he has misread you.
Step three: GET INTO THE MISERY BUT THEN TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Madame Olivia is serious about this. You can’t disperse your feelings with a shpritz of citrus air freshener. Let yourself feel utterly miserable but put a time limit on it and then take care of yourself. Madame Olivia is borrowing here from her brilliant hair guy. She asked him once what he did when his partner drove him crazy and he said “The partner is not going to change so what I do is take care of myself.” You have no control whatsoever over what he does or says or thinks so take care of yourself. But in a health-promoting way, not with too much Cherry Amaretto Coconut Bliss or Makers Mark or something else that sets you back. Of course you know that Madame Olivia is going to suggest exercise, serious exercise, even low-tech but high-aerobic walks, lots of them. Several people of Madame Olivia’s acquaintance burrow into work or other productivity. Distraction is good, too. One thing that might provide distraction and perspective is to write an answer to your own question. This is a form of mindfulness and sometimes helps.
In the larger scheme of things, Madame Olivia is struck by a thought: given your numerous differences, the wonder is not that you two are experiencing difficulties, but that you ever hooked up at all. But this is logic, and you are in emotional brain and probably can’t hear it. Madame Olivia is now struck by an another thought: your “deliriously good time” caused you to bond with him but perhaps did not do that for him, not because of your failings (no!) but because of his wiring. (More on this in Madame Olivia’s upcoming Tiny Compendium of Enormously Important Advice.)
If you feel like it, Trampled, could you write after a while in the comments section below? If you hear from him again, fantastic, but be warned you are in for a new set of issues. If you don’t hear from him, this means that it was not in the cards and you are better off. Madame Olivia is certain of this. It will take time, but in any case, you are going to be fine.
Wishing you all the very best. May your trampled heart revive and thrive, soon.