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posted: 12/31/2013 9:03 AM

Relationship won't work if you make girlfriend your project

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Q. After a few weeks of really hitting it off with a girl (late-20s, I'm mid-30s), our dating came to a sudden halt after she discovered I had a piece of furniture she had bought for her ex-husband (which I promptly got rid of). Further, I had mentioned that the man who sold it to me might have been flirting with me when I bought it. As it turns out, she left him 18 months ago due to her suspicions about his preferences.

I realize the weirdness of the coincidence, and that it stoked up hurtful memories of her (only) relationship. But this was her chance to make new amazing memories to replace the old bad ones, and it was she who was all over me during our dates.

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I've given her a few weeks of space, but now I want to reach out to her, even just to get to know her better. She's very inexperienced at dating, rushes through life without allowing herself to really "feel" things anymore, and states that she is "broken in terms of men."

So there are a lot of underlying issues, but beneath them I see a gold mine of an amazing woman. How should I approach this?

Furniture

A. As a bullet dodged?

If she's a gold mine, then that makes you the miner of her gold, and I'm fundamentally uncomfortable with that. People can encourage us, inspire us, bring out our best, teach us by example along with a bunch of these things in the negative, but our gifts are our own to mine, or ignore, as we see fit. We're no one's project but our own.

Just survey people who chose partners based on their "potential" on how that worked out for them.

She is who she is. Right now, that happens to be someone who was "all over me," and who spun quite the tragic yarn to someone she'd known less than a month. Broken, numb, lashed by painful memories? It sounds to me as if she sucked you in, but good, by working your levers of attraction.

Google "love bombing" and pity. Combine the two and here's what you've got: a bad idea in treating any love interest as a project, and a worse idea in mistaking this woman's flashy lures for gold.

If I'm wrong and she's in fact "amazing," then she will identify her own chaos and work hard to get herself well. When she's stronger, and if she's as impressed by you as you were by her, she'll know where to find you.

In the meantime, was that furniture a particularly nice piece? You might want to see about buying it back.

Q. When someone I know shares something unfortunate, "I have a cold," or "My car broke down," I will say, "I'm sorry." More often than not, the person will look a little flustered and say, "Oh, it's not your fault!"

Obviously it's not my fault, unless I passed along germs or broke their car which, for the record, I'm pretty sure I haven't done.

Should people not say "I'm sorry" in these situations?

I'm Beginning to Develop a Complex

A. I'm sorry to hear that.

I mean, that's what you say to them: affixing "... to hear that" helps bridge little cultural gaps.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2013 The Washington Post

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