Dear Auntie Seraphic:
Four years ago I dated a guy we'll call Quiet Clive. He was nice, and a good Catholic, but very reserved, and I never felt like we clicked. We'd meet up every couple of weeks, or he'd come over to my house when I came home from college, but he never even held my hand, or said anything "romantic," or asked me to be his girlfriend.
It was my first dating relationship, and the only rules I knew were to Let The Man Lead. But I was never sure whether we were "just dating" or "boyfriend and girlfriend," or if he was just lonely, or trying to take things slow, or what. I knew he liked me, and I wanted to give him a chance. He was a quiet guy, so I figured this might take a little longer than normal to heat up. After about 5 months of seeing him on a weekend here and there (in between college stuff, it went by really fast) I was starting to fall for someone else. So I told him I enjoyed hanging out with him, but wanted to be clear that I wanted to see him just as a friend. Within a very short time of having this conversation, I heard that he was moving far away. It happened that we said goodbye with my family around, and I felt like maybe he was tearing up, but I couldn't be sure.
When I saw Clive about a year and a half later at a concert, he hid from me. Literally. (He was not there with another girl.) Again, I kind of tried to follow his lead, so I didn't push it. I had been the one to break it off, so I figured I would respect his boundaries.
Over the years, I haven't thought of Clive much, but for some reason he came up in my prayer the other day. I'm kind of discerning my career path right now, and I've been thinking a lot about my own character and relationships, particularly the relationships that have gone sour. It's always sucky to have the "I just want to be friends" talk, but I wonder if I hurt him really badly, more than I realized at the time, and if he felt like I was leading him on. I was self-centered and inexperienced, and I didn't understand or appreciate his personality very much. I still think I did the right thing by breaking it off, but I wonder if maybe I should write him an email or letter and apologize, just in case I hurt him unduly in the process.
There are a couple people in my life who have hurt me, but I know I will never get an apology from them. I don't want to be that person for him. Sometimes I think, "hey, if I'm right I've helped to heal the wound, but if I'm wrong I just look like an idiot, and he can shrug it off." But then again, I don't want to be some neurotic girl showing up in his inbox. Maybe this is just coming out of my own existential crisis and I should ignore it.
In matters of the heart, when does one apologize, even conditionally? Is there a statute of limitations? On the flip side, when should one ask for an apology? What do your readers think?
"Should I Apologize?"
Hold the phone. This was four years ago? I'm assuming wildly that you and Clive were not 12 or 14 at the time although that is how Clive is coming across. I am also assuming that since you say the relationship never heated up Clive never suddenly seized you in his Clively arms, which is the one-and-only non-verbal way these decadent days to know that a man is really attracted to you. (On second thought, he could take your hand.)
You do not owe Clive any kind of apology whatsoever. You gave Clive some quality time (off-and-on) for a whole five months, five months in which Clive could have seized you in his Clively arms (thus showing his intentions), and then you very wisely got interested in someone else, and told Clive. It doesn't sound like Clive put up much of a fight, and hiding from you at the concert was utterly lame.
I vote 100% against sending Clive an "I'm sorry if I hurt you email" especially considering that Clive might not have thought of you in 2 years and would be offended to think that you thought he was that hurt. I had a guy apologize to me in front of his then-wife, and what I said was, "Well, So-and-so, it was NINE YEARS AGO, you know." Frankly, I thought he was horribly conceited, and his poor (now ex) wife's face.... Eeee!
What you might like to do is look up old Clive on Facebook and try to Facebook befriend him. That way your curiosity about Clive will be slaked, without you making either of you feel bad.
Meawhile, it is perfectly normal to have an existential crisis and wonder about all your old flames. You should have seen me at 29 or so. I was calling them up on the phone. The horror. Try not to succumb to this common temptation, and don't read anything into it when your old flames do. Meanwhile, only offer and expect apologies to and from your family and current friends, that's what I say.
Grace and peace,
P.S. to Men of the World: Please. We beg you. If you're that into us, ask us out for dinner. Take our little hand in yours. Ask, after a month or two of dating, "Can I call you my girlfriend?" That way we'll know what is going on. (Unless we're married or nuns. In that case leave our little hands alone!)