Propose! If He Won't, You Should

Dear Dategirl: For the past four years I've been in an e-mail/pen-pal relationship with a woman on the East Coast. We have become, in many ways, very intimate. For example, she confided that she was sexually abused by a family member as a child. Needless to say, this is very painful for her, and I may have been the first person she told. Recently I've started to worry about her. While at college, she told me she had fallen in love with one of her teachers. We've had hundreds of conversations about how much she loves this man. Once she graduated, I encouraged her to ask him out for a coffee. (There's no big age difference between them.) She won't do it—yet she continues to say she's in love and keeps asking how she can make him love her. I don't think this is healthy. I told her that if I loved someone, I would tell them and find out how they felt about me. Now I feel guilty, like I overstepped my role. I also told her she needs to get help for her past. I haven't gotten any response from her, and I'm pretty sure she's really hurt and angry. I do care about her. Any ideas?—Straight Talker

This woman does need help—a lot more than a virtual friend can offer. Maybe she's angry with you for saying so, but what kind of pal would you be if you just kept nodding and agreeing? Her ideas about love are extremely stunted and, yes, probably a result of her past. Plenty of healthy, well-adjusted people were sexually molested as children, but most of them had a little help dealing with it. If she's going to become a functioning adult, she needs to confront and deal with what happened. Take a few steps back. Just as she fixates on unattainable men (and while this teacher dude is possibly attainable, she doesn't realize it), one of her closest friends is someone she's never laid eyes on. See the connection? All her relationships exist in her head. And while I believe you can be friends with someone you've met online (hi, Suzanne!), it sounds as though she likes her relationships to have this disconnected component. I don't doubt you said what you did in a caring way. And if she can't deal with someone being straight, then what are you really getting out of the friendship? Give it some time and write her another note. Do not apologize, because you're on the money. There's no shame in suggesting therapy—some utterly fabulous people (ahem) have done time at the shrinky-dink's. I think that Tom Petty has pretty much summed up my problem: The waiting is the hardest part. I've been with my man for four-plus years, and I'm kinda dying to get married. He is my end-all/be-all; I couldn't be surer. We're making a big move soon. I'd really like to be engaged before we do. We've talked about marriage, very peripherally, and I never seem to know where we stand. Am I being impatient?—Lady in Waiting

You've been with this guy for four years and you've only discussed something vitally important to you peripherally? That's like hanging out at the deli counter until the sandwich man psychically divines what you want for lunch. Here's my advice: propose. Why give the guy all the power? He's obviously committed to you, but if you want to make it formal, you need to open your mouth. Don't be apologetic—marriage doesn't make you less of a feminist. Although sitting around patiently waiting very well might.

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