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I want to take our friendship to the next level

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: I am 45, never married, no kids, a successful and generally happy single introvert. The challenge? I have a seven-year "friendship" with a woman with whom I've spent more fun and meaningful times than many happily married couples do. But when I move toward taking it to another level, she generally gets involved with someone else and I retreat. Inevitably, we start talking again and the process starts anew. That's where we are now. I don't want to move forward, only to have to cool it. Should I give her an ultimatum, back away or continue to play the game?

Don't be a chump

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You're kidding! Seven-year relationship; whenever you get serious she moves over to another relationship and you're left out in the cold? Move on, bud. She's just not that into you.

- Don Edwards, Osoyoos, B.C.

Tell her how you feel

Does the half-baked hope of a happy ending impede you from leading the life and dating the way you would if she didn't exist, or would you have not had your past with her any other way? Either way, it's decision time. Tell her you value your platonic relationship, then tell her how you really feel. If telling the truth makes her run, she wasn't worth wasting any more of your time on.

- Christopher Lackey, Waterloo, Ont.

Woo her to win her

Why not ask her out on a first date? Woo her as though you haven't been in a quasi-relationship for seven years. Ask her questions you haven't ever asked her before. Let her know you are interested in pursuing a relationship with her, instead of being the soft place to fall in between relationships. Be clear that once you open this door, however, that it is a point of no return.

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- Randa Doche, Oromocto, N.B.

The final word

Your question puts me in mind of a quote from the Charles Portis novel True Grit. Badass federal marshal Rooster Cogburn is being cross-examined concerning a typically overzealous arrest attempt - one that ended in a dead outlaw. The lawyer asks whether he had advanced upon or retreated from the desperado before the shootout. Cogburn maintains he was "backing away." The lawyer then demands: "Which direction were you going?" To which Cogburn deadpans: "I always go backwards when I am backing up."

You use the expressions "retreat" and "back away" in relation to yourself, but what's obvious to me is that it's you who've been doing all the advancing, and she who's been enacting strategic retreats. In short, those occasions when she seems to be moving away from you? She's going backward because she is, in fact, backing up.

Don references a more up-to-date work of literature with his remark that she's "just not that into you." But you know this, right? You don't stay friends for seven years with a woman you're attracted to and not come to this realization at some point. Should you continue to play the game? I ask: Are you enjoying the game?

Randa suggests an "official" date, but it seems to me you considered those "fun and meaningful" times as such, which is why you live in the hope of this relationship blossoming into something more. And I suspect you've also already made your feelings known, as Christopher recommends. So what does that leave? It would be great if this woman spoke with the frontier candour of Rooster Cogburn, but she's already conveyed a pretty unambiguous message. She wants to be friends, full stop.

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Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.

Next week's question

For the past several months, my girlfriend Jeanine has been feeling cast aside by her former best friend, who works in the same office. Jeanine tells me that Angie's abuse ranges from yelling at her and leaving her out of lunch plans to inviting her on vacation, then excluding her. But Jeanine won't confront her, and I want to tell Angie (whom I've known slightly longer and who actually introduced us), how hard this has been on Jeanine. Advice?

Let's hear from you

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About the Author
Relationship Columnist

Lynn Coady writes the Group Therapy column for The Globe and Mail's Life section. She is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven, Saints of Big Harbour and Mean Boy. Her most recent novel, The Antagonist, will be released this September. She lives in Edmonton, where she is Senior Editor of Eighteen Bridges magazine. More

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