Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Being next to date guy who's not good at it may not be so bad
Mass: In my social web, there is a guy I'll call Stuart. Stuart is well-liked — intelligent, funny in a cranky, irascible way, and genuinely kindhearted.
He's also, somehow, something of a player. Two friends had brief flings with him, both had strong feelings, before he had identical epiphanies about being unready for a relationship. He had this wounded, tortured-soul thing going on. Each was quite upset for a little while but then got over it, and everyone remains friends. The fact that this happens every time he starts a relationship has become accepted as an eye-roll-inducing aspect of an otherwise good guy.
So now Stuart and I have been really hitting it off. He has asked me on a date, and I intend to go. I have no illusions about him, but I feel this is something I would really enjoy for as long as it lasts.
I'm wondering, though, whether I have any responsibilities toward my two friends. I mean, I've commiserated with them. They're well-adjusted girls with better things to do than get hung up on a guy, but I realized I would probably be unhappy if a guy I once liked had hit it off better with my friend (because although I don't have any illusions, I do have a tiny suspicion he may finally have matured to the point where this could go somewhere).
Basically I'm wondering whether the legends should influence me beyond my simply knowing that Stuart is terrible at dating.
Carolyn: I don't think so, but putting yourself in your friends' shoes adds an interesting twist. By seeing Stuart, you would be doing something to others, knowingly, that would hurt if done to you.
However, others might not care as much as you would. Maybe I'm not a representative case, but if I were one of these friends, and you asked how I felt about your dating Stuart, you would get my blessing. Maybe I would be torn up about it, or not, but either way I would believe I had no right to stand in your way. I also would be tempted to buy popcorn and pull up a chair.
In a way, you need the 24k golden rule, and not just the 14k — you can't decide based on what's right for this or that individual, but on what serves a larger idea of Right.
So, what is that? Certainly you can turn Stuart down to guarantee no one suffers anything more intense than disappointment. But if we all approached life that way, we would all have our faces glued to screens for most of our waking hours. (Oh, wait . . . ) You don't need group permission here.
I also won't encourage any illusions that Stuart has grown up. People fly into Stuart-ish webs exactly because Stuarts charm them into believing they're the super-special exception. They then persuade themselves that "although I don't have any illusions, I do have a tiny suspicion he may finally have matured to the point where this could go somewhere."
It comes down to the basic question: Are you deluding yourself about the possibility of more-painful-than-necessary consequences — for your friends, for you, for Stuart? Talk to these friends, even. If it turns out your eyes are really wide open, then, bon voyage.
Tomorrow, readers weigh in.