The help desk: My 'casual' girlfriend wants more. How do I get out of the relationship?


Q. A year ago, I broke up with my girlfriend of two years. Since then, I've had a few dates, but nothing serious. Recently, there's a woman I've been out with a few times. We saw each other perhaps a dozen times over a few months, but it was fairly casual.

As we got to know each other, it became obvious that we didn't have much in common and I told her I didn't feel ready for a serious relationship (which is true) and that I didn't really see our relationship going anywhere. She seemed fine with this.

The problem is that she now keeps texting me, often asking me when we're meeting. She gets upset when I don't reply instantly. She pressures me to meet, but last time we did, though she seemed happy at first, she soon became upset and seemed angry with me. She also keeps trying to befriend my friends online. I feel guilty, but surely I've done nothing wrong. How did I get into this – and how do I get out of it?

A. I'm so used to hearing this problem from the opposite point of view – that of the lovelorn sender of texts, wretched and furious about being "toyed with" – that it's actually rather instructive to hear it from the other side. I agree that you shouldn't have to feel guilty. You believed you were having a casual relationship, a bit of sex and company but nothing serious. She, meanwhile, was possibly steeling herself to meet the parents and mentally lining up a relaxing fortnight in Turkey for the two of you next summer.

There is a large cohort of people – many of them female people – for whom the phrase casual relationship would seem tautological. But I think most women who have fairly regular sex with the same person for a period of months believe themselves to be in a relationship. They might not feel confident it will last, but they would consider it to be ongoing unless informed otherwise. You'd do well to remember this in future.

The befriending of your friends does sound a bit creepy and I wonder if she's the sort who becomes slightly obsessive as men become more distant. I know some people who do this repeatedly. They tend to say they only fall for "bad guys", but often it's that they fall hardest for those who just aren't that into them – or they frighten off lovers with their intensity before things have had a chance to get going.

What it comes down to is that there are some who need to know exactly where a romance is going and how to define it, and others who are happier to see which way the wind blows. The former are often perfectionist types, inclined to interpret the outcome as a judgement of their all-round worthiness, so feelings run high.

So where did you go wrong? Your mistakes were, first, not to acknowledge that you were in a relationship; and second, not to say clearly that you wanted to end it. That's what you need to do now. This will hurt her, so treat it as an important task. Then stop seeing her, as any meeting between you will muddy the waters, and you can never give her what she wants and vice versa.

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