Q. 'I've been dumped by an amazing woman who, on reflection, I treated so selfishly she had no choice. Any tips on how to set off on the right footing next time so I don't make the same mistake?' P.
Step 1: It is always salutary to be finished with, especially when we realise the value of what we have lost. Take time to reflect rather than recriminate. Ask yourself what you could have done differently. Kant's imperative to treat everyone as you wish to be treated reminds us to be compassionate. Without kindness, society becomes self-serving and, if lacking in a relationship, there is little hope of success.
Step 2: Some basic rules of engagement are: do not say things you do not mean; be clear in your mind what it is that you really want and if it is not her, gently let her go; and if you ardently pursue her, making explicit statements about wanting to be with her, then suddenly become distant, you will create confusion, making her feel vulnerable, which is unkind.
Step 3: Be very careful about taking the relationship to a physical level. Think about what sex really means for a woman: you penetrate and possess her body. The symbolism of the sexual act means that for many women they must feel themselves to be in love to be able to give themselves completely. If she has feelings for you, don't make it physical if you do not reciprocate emotionally. If you do make love, make the effort to accompany her home, however independent she may appear. Show her that you value her and appreciate the risk she has taken by giving herself intimately to you. Being "too busy" to meet or talk on the phone is inauthentic. If you care about someone there is always time to connect emotionally.
Step 4: If your ardour dies, do not pretend otherwise. Ambiguity, ambivalence and romantic amnesia (pretending to minimise your original feelings) are unnecessary gambits to save your face, forcing her to take the responsibility of ending it all. Be a man about it, but be a gentleman. It is always feeble not to say goodbye in person, however difficult the feelings, and you will diminish what you have both shared. Finally, never use someone to break up with or get over someone else. People are not objects, so to treat them as such is callous.
Cecilia is Mind journalist of the year. If you would like her to answer your problems email her at firstname.lastname@example.org