A former student of mine is in love with a girl in Japan, where he is teaching English. He behaved badly with the girl and she ran away from him. Then he asked my advice. I may be unable of helping myself on these matters but it looks like I already helped him a bit. The girl just sent him a message asking him if he still wants to be friends with her. What would I answer, he asks. He had an idea: Of course I do, I think about you all the time. I didn't like it. He needs to rebuild his reputation at her eyes (she stopped to see him because she understood that he is a womanizer). He needs to behave more formally, he can't be so fast and direct after a break. I suggested this instead:
Anna dear, thank you so much for your message. Your friendship is for me a precious gift of the gods. Yes, let's be good friends.
He doesn't like it, he says that it's too poetic and ridiculous and he would not be sincere, he can't talk like that. I tease him: you know nothing about girls and about love, boy. He protests, he knows a lot about girls and love, I am the one who talks about gods as if we were still in old Greece, it's ridiculous. I agree. But he goes on: for example, girls keep 4 or 5 guys on the line until they meet the right guy, maybe she was evaluating other offers before she wrote to me again. I say: probably. Meanwhile he kept thinking about my suggestion. We may use it if we make some changes: Ok, take out the gift from the gods part and replace it with something a little more modern and less cliche. More modern and no cliché? OK. To make fun of him I had already find something better:
Please stay on the line. Your business is important to me.
Gosh! He almost took it as a serious alternative! But no, in the end he doesn't like it either. She would not understand the joke. But I already had a third, more convincing, text message ready to go:
Anna dear, thank you so much for your message. There is nothing I want more than to be good friends with you. I am happy to see that you trust me.
I avoided using "again" at the end of the message so she would not be reminded of his former erratic behavior. Even so he doesn't like it either. He is not sure, he comments, that she trusts him. I say: she wrote to you and asked you if you want to be friends with her, isn't that trusting you? Yes, maybe, he says. But anyway he doesn't want to look humble, he refuses to write "thank you" in his message. As you like, I say. And he wants to talk about the great love he feels for her immediately (last week he was already thinking about dating other girls), when in fact she just talked about being friends. She means it, he says, she loves me. She didn't say it, I answer, she just asked you if you want to be her friend. That's the way girls are made, he says, they talk in code. I answer, a bit tired of this too long debate: I would rather stay for the moment as close to literal meaning as possible, the situation is far from being clear, you didn't arrive at any destination for the moment. He is not convinced.
We discuss other possibilities but he doesn't want her to think that being friends with him again is a favor she is doing him. A week or two ago he was the most unhappy boy because she was not even answering his messages, she was ignoring him and making him feel miserable. Now because she asked him if he wants to be friends with her again he resuscitated as the king of a magnificent kingdom - and he needs her to understand his royal "grandeur" without ambiguity. I try to explain better: when you express your gratitude you are only being a great guy, you are not renouncing your pride. He doesn't get it and after a while I just abandoned him to his own fate. We cannot teach love to other people anyway. They will learn (or not) making the mistakes they enjoy so much making.
But why does he think that he needs my help? I can't even help myself in difficult situations.