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Handyman For All Seasons

My girlfriend and I broke up last month, after a year together, and agreed to be “friends.” Last week, we planned to go hiking. She told me to pick her up at 7 a.m. When I arrived, she wasn’t there. She pulled up five minutes later in pajamas, claiming she’d gone to the store. Okay, but no bags? I’ve heard she’s seeing someone new. (I have no idea if she knew him when we broke up, and whether he’s the reason.) Two days ago, she went on a trip, and asked me to watch her dog and drive her to and from the airport. I did, but when I picked her up, she was all distant. So, when she wants something, she’s friendly and flirty; after I do it, she’s cold. I do care for her, but I want to move on, and when she pays attention to me, it makes me feel like she still wants me. When she’s distant, I feel empty and I end up missing her. Do you think she’s using me as a “comfort zone”?

--Standby Guy

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line -- unless you’re an ex-boyfriend or a commercial airline. Fly enough, and you’ll learn that an airline ticket is merely an expensive suggestion of where you’ll be traveling, and a “nonstop” flight from Point A to Point B may leave you stranded squarely between them -- probably on an orange plastic airport bench with molded one-size-fits-none butt cheek indentations. Go ahead, try to sleep a little -- that is, if you’re willing to chance living the rest of your life paralyzed from the waist down.

Relationship departures work much the same way. It seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal, flying direct from boyfriend to friend. And it isn’t -- providing inclement feelings don’t reroute your itinerary. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between moving on after a relationship and having every intention of moving on. That’s what bumped you off the nonstop from “I love you” to “I’m loving being friends with you,” leaving you on indefinite layover in “I’d love to repaint your house, snake your drain, and rotate your tires.”

Your detour couldn’t come at a better time for your ex, who probably has only limited use of the guy replacing you, since he’s too new in her life to have all his boyfriend-type functions fully enabled. While she might have fond feelings for you, she also knows a good thing when she sees it: an ex who’s forgotten that he used to get something for all the helpful boyfriend-type stuff he did; namely, treated like a boyfriend.

“Post-girlfriend” is like “post-modern”: two really easy words that come together into a term you can’t, for the life of you, understand. You know what a post is -- a big wooden thing. And you know what a girlfriend is -- a girl you’re trying not to love. So, maybe it’s as simple as beating yourself over the head with a big wooden post until you no longer love this girl.

Of course, in lieu of giving yourself massive head injuries, you could just set up a no ex-girlfriend zone: time off from her company so you can reprocess where she fits in your head and your life -- if at all. This should give her time to think, too, perhaps about the meaning of friendship -- which, as far as I’ve heard, isn’t supposed to involve one person always expecting the other person to answer the phone, “How can I provide you with excellent customer service today?”

Copyright ©2003, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.