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Backstory

I'm going through a difficult separation from my alcohol-abusing abusive wife and I've got custody of the children.

Through the Q&A forum I met a woman who is in a similar situation, but a year in advance from where I am. She has faced similar issues and problems with her ex and children, who are a couple of years older than mine.

We strayed into emotional affairs territory. It started with me telling her I liked her a lot and if I could think of anything flirty then I'd like to flirt with her. She came back with carrying on with what you're doing and when I'm ready for a relationship this is the right thing for me.

The following day the first message, I got from her was saying she'd like to back off. I agreed with that because we both have too much baggage at this moment in time: I'm dealing with a nasty separation and have two pre-teens who need loads of emotional support and who are pretty much my focus.

But I don't want to lose the friendship advice and sounding board and general nice chit-chatting because we have an awfully lot in common outside of our general common situation.

Question

I'd like to keep the chat going just the way it has been, and for that I guess I should ask her to define her boundaries so that I can respect them. How can I ask her to continue our friendship after we accidentally took it to a romantic level?

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Divorcing is a difficult step in life, and it's even harder when the partner has addiction issues. You both went to difficult breakups, and you want to remain available for your young children. Fortunately you'll be able to conciliate romance and parenthood later on, but as you feel you're not ready for it now, I think you should address the topic with her, should the conversation become awkward between you.

Keeping on with the friendship

You tried to take your relationship to the next level, and then felt you're not ready for it. It happens. It doesn't necessarily mean that you won't try again later. For now, I'd suggest you see how the discussion goes. If it goes back to the relaxed chatting habits you had before, then you got what you wanted and nothing more is needed.
However, should you feel that the situation has become a bit awkward, that things changed between the two of you and that the discussion is different from before and it feels uncomfortable, then I suggest you try to address the issue with her, using the nonviolent communication tenets. It could go like this:

Hey Anna, there's something I'd like to talk to you about. Since we discussed the eventuality of going further, I feel like things seem a bit awkward between us, a bit uncomfortable. I'd be glad that our relationship goes back to the way it was before, as your friendship is important to me, and I'd not want to lose that. If I can do anything to make the situation more comfortable, please let me know, I'd be happy to do it.

The key is to express your feelings without sounding accusatory. Doubting of the possibility of taking a friendship to the next level happens, and it doesn't necessarily means that it's someone's fault. With saying this, you express your will to remain friends and that you won't try something she doesn't want to do. Now, maybe she won't be able to go back to how it was before, and again, it's nobody's fault. But expressing your feelings and wants without sounding accusatory, to me, seems to be the best way to defuse the situation, plus it's likely that she appreciates your honesty and thoughtfulness.

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