How Do I Let Him Down Gently Without Breaking His Heart?

I am newly single, and have just started playing the online dating game. So far, I’ve been having a blast. I love dating in my 40s, as I am older and wiser, and can weed out the drama so much better than when I was in my 20s.

I’ve been talking to several guys, and I’m actually making connections with some of them. Overall, it’s been a great experience. But I have one guy that I’m just not sure what to do with, and I’m looking for feedback.

Puppylove (my nickname for him) is completely infatuated with me. He’s 46, military, and from what I can tell, is the sweetest guy in the world. There is nothing that he says that I don’t think is genuine. But, he feels a chemistry that I don’t.He’s only had one sexual partner, who died from cancer a few years ago. I’m the only girl from the dating site he’s talked to. He flat out told me he’s never been hurt before, and asked me not to hurt his feelings. I know this isn’t my responsibility, but I really don’t want to be the first one to hurt him. On the second day of conversation (mostly me just answering his questions, which I answered honestly but in no way suggestively or affectionately), he asked me to let him give me his heart and delete my profile. I sent him a long, nice message saying that I was flattered, but I need to take things slowly, develop a friendship, that I’m enjoying dating and not ready for a commitment. I keep telling him that this is too much, too soon, but he just keeps asking what have I done to him, why does he feel this way.

The advice I’m looking for is how do I let him down gently without breaking his heart? Perhaps I should have tried shutting him down sooner, but I’m a) new enough to dating that I don’t have that experience behind me, b) a soft touch and don’t want to feel like I’m kicking a puppy (hence the nickname). I know it’s not my responsibility, and in looking through our conversations, I honestly can’t see anything that indicates there’s anything more than just back and forth conversation. I don’t want to lead him on, which may mean completely cutting him off, but I’m wondering if there are other ways before I have to resort to that?

– Hates Being a Puppy Kicker

Dear Hates Being a Puppy Kicker,

First of all: he is not a puppy. He’s a man.

A manipulative, manipulative, MANIPULATIVE man.

The line “what have you done to me; why do I feel this way?” Sounds like a romantic over-the-top bit of hyperbole, but it is blaming you (you, by your very nature, or by your words, or by your femaleness, have cast a SPELL on him. He is not responsible for his feelings. YOU have done something to HIM) for his totally inappropriate communication.

He’s blaming you for his deeply creepy infatuation. And make no mistake: this is creepy as FUCK. He hasn’t even met you in person, yet. He wants a person who has never met him to forgo all others for him. He has turned your non-sexual and non-romantic communication into luuuuuurve. He has no interest whatsoever in how you are feeling. All he cares about is how HE is feeling.

It is a very very short step from thinking someone else has controlled his feelings and actions to thinking that it’s YOUR fault he is driving across the country to your house. YOUR fault he’s pounding on the door in the middle of the night. YOUR fault he’s sobbing on your doorstep. YOUR fault he’s smashed through the window with a brick. What have you done to him?

Maybe, in addition to being a manipulative, manipulative, MANIPULATIVE man, he is also naive and honest and all that stuff. Maybe he truly doesn’t get how completely out-of-bounds his request is and how over-the-top his communication is and how DEEPLY non-consensual and disrespectful of your feelings and preferences this is.

But anyone who has reached 46 years old without learning these lessons is  NOT RELATIONSHIP MATERIAL. I don’t even mean romantic relationship material. I mean FRIEND material. I mean fleeting online flirting/chatting material. You need to back away from this person with such bad boundaries and who makes such bad decisions as fast as you can.

I think, to be honest, that YOU are a bit of a puppy. When you haven’t been on the dating scene in a while and you are so obviously open and kind and concerned about others, this makes you a huge target for guys like this who either think their intense feelings trump all of your words saying no (rape culture rape culture RED FLAG RED FLAG) or who are just lying assholes (again, RED FLAG RED FLAG).

I think whether this guy is honestly as naive and selfish as a 12-year-old or whether he’s a lying cheater who wants to manipulate and control you, the way to deal with him is the same: don’t worry about HIS feelings. Worry about YOUR safety. Do not give him your real name. Do not give him any information. Block that fucker and run run run.

This letter originally appeared in on August 25, 2016.

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