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Reader Question 22: I’m living out the European remake of 500 Days of Summer.

People hear what they want to hear.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m just over thirty and left my home and career in the US to live in Europe a little over 6 months ago. I’m now a full time student and also involved in several groups and volunteer work. I like having a very full schedule, I’m a bit of a workaholic and really have very little experience dating. I met an expat from Italy and I’ve been dating this guy for about a month now. He’s a few years older and divorced. I went into the first date not expecting much and ended up hitting it off despite the fact that he’s a little bit shorter than me. I tried to overlook it but I still feel a little embarrassed introducing him to my friends. He has no problem with our almost 2 inch height difference. I’m afraid to be seen in my town with him and meet him in his city.

At first we agreed to keep it casual and see other people. I’ve exaggerated a relationship with a classmate and I’m actually very busy and can’t really meet him as often as he would like. Progressively he keeps telling me he keeps feeling a unique connection and that he can fall in love with me. We do get along really well and have great sexual chemistry. Knowing how commitment-phobic I am, he keeps joking about introducing me to his parents and planning a wedding. Every time he has these romantic moments I keep reminding him that I don’t want anything more than what we have now. Other than those moments, and even those moments aren’t so awkward, I feel so comfortable and relaxed with him.

He keeps trying to passively but progressively move things to another level. He wants me to keep stuff at his place or give me a spare key to his apartment. I don’t think it’s necessary. He’s less willing to come to my place, but I don’t want to make a bigger deal of it because I don’t really want to run into friends of mine with him. I’ve even been avoiding becoming facebook friends with him! I’m afraid that I’ll find that his status is “in a relationship” with me! He seems to keep baiting and switching on me. For example, he asked me if I wanted to meet his 2 male friends. So I figured it was an excuse to show off that he has a girlfriend to his geek friends. I agreed to it but when I meet him and it turns out to be a double date. All of a sudden we make plans to see a few movies and dinners together with this other couple. His friends are really very nice and I’d like to get to know them but they are his friends. It feels like some trick to accelerate things. He has also been pushing to go away for a weekend together. At first he joked that we should go to his family’s city for the weekend. When I asked if we had a chance of running into his family, he joked that there would be no way we could go there and not run into his family. It seems so weird to me that he seems to want to introduce me to his family.

I’m hoping all of the newness and glow of this will wear out soon. It seems ridiculous to break up with him because he likes me too much and I’ve been honest all along about my intentions. I like things as they are and I like feeling loved and desired, but I’m afraid of things become more serious without realizing it before it’s too late. I also feel so horrible saying this, but I feel like I can do better.
Thanks,
Awkward Abroad

Dear Awkward Abroad:
There is a lot going on in this letter.
On the one hand, I want to call him and tell him to stop dating a woman who is so hung up on a slight height difference that she’s ashamed to introduce him to her friends. I mean, we’re all attracted to what we’re attracted to.  Plenty of guys I’ve met aren’t into fat chicks.  I’m not into smokers or guys who don’t spell out the words “you” and “are” in electronic communications, plus, you must be at least as smart as me to ride this ride and it helps if you’re really competent at something.  Sometimes I like to just sit around the house watching Intern Paul assemble computers while we discuss the politics of the day.
Where was I? Okay, height difference – read the wisdom of The Manolo on this subject and/or the Vorkosigan Saga.  You’ve said the sexual chemistry is good, and all cats are gray in the dark, so if you like this guy and want to keep seeing him, this one is squarely in the category of Your Weird Issue, and you’ll probably be happier if you do some thinking about why it’s so important to you and find a way to let it go.
On the other hand, I worry about you dating someone who you are embarrassed to introduce to your friends (and are you sure it’s just the height, or are you seizing on that because you can’t articulate anything else that’s ‘wrong’ with him?).  I worry that you are dating someone who is not hearing your “no” when you talk.  No, you don’t want to meet his family right now – ONE MONTH IS WAY TOO SOON TO BE TALKING ABOUT MARRIAGE & MEETING FAMILIES.  I want you to think about what happens when you state your feelings and say no.  Does he hear you?  Or does he laugh it off and then keep bringing it up in a “joking” way again?
You told me yourself how you feel at the end of your letter:  “I feel I can do better.”
You say you are fairly inexperienced with dating, so let me tell you a few things that it took me a while to learn the hard way:
1.  European men are, in general, more comfortable being explicitly romantic and talking about romance, passion, etc. than geeky American men. If a suave and handsome man comes at me telling me I’m beautiful and that he wants to fall in love with me, I start backing away immediately. What the hell?  Is he even talking to me?  Doesn’t he realize that you need to talk about books and movies and what is the best videogame controller and how there was way too much slo-mo in the Watchmen adaptation but the scenes with Dr. Manhattan fighting in Vietnam made one of the central metaphors about how the rest of the world feels about American military power and exceptionalism come to life, and then kind of work in the romance part later?  It’s just a different style, and he could also be performing to what the thinks that women want, and you guys will work it out by really listening to each other.  You mention that he is also an expat in the country you are living in – Is it possible that he’s just really, really lonely and trying too hard to forge a connection? Edited to Add: Whatever his reasons, that doesn’t mean that you need to put up with behavior that’s making you uncomfortable.  In a healthy relationship you can bring up concerns, like, “When you talk about marriage it makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t see this going there, and even if it were, it’s way too early to tell.  When you keep bringing it up or pushing me to meet your family before the time is right, I question your ability to just date and enjoy what we have.
2.  Sometimes you will meet someone nice and sexy who likes you a lot, and you will not be able to think of a reason to break up with him, but he is still not the guy for you.

When I first moved to Chicago and started dating around here, I met a man we will nickname the Lutheran Corporate Tax Accountant.  He was cute, funny, smart, nice, polite, employed, and emotionally stable.  He took me on great dates to eat Cuban food and drive around in his car listening to the Appetite for Destruction album and also came with me to see foreign documentaries, and we stayed up late one night watching MST3K and laughing like dorks because everything in his house came from Ikea and he knew all of the stupid Ikea names of all his furniture and kitchen appliances and would put on little plays for me doing weird Swedish voices.  He liked me a lot and wasn’t afraid to show it, and he knew I was gunshy like a timid deer and he moved at my pace and didn’t push me.  I think we kissed only once, on a CTA platform, and the kiss lit me up like a Christmas tree – it was in the top 5 kisses of my life – and right after that I dumped him.
I’m sorry, Lutheran Corporate Tax Accountant, if you’re reading this.  You were perfect, and I was a total mess trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I could see the way you were looking at me and I knew I didn’t deserve it and wouldn’t live up to it, so I bailed.  But you were perfect.
Um, so, Awkward Abroad, what I mean to say is – you don’t need a reason to break up.  I hate to break it to all the Twilight Readers in the audience, but soulmates aren’t real, and you don’t have one. There are a lot of people in the world that you might click with, and just because you found one doesn’t mean there aren’t more and that you’ll be alone if you let him go.  In fact, the fact that you found one person means that all this moving abroad and following your dreams mojo is strong and you are more likely to meet others who will curl your toes.
Which is why I reference the movie 500 Days of Summer, which I love some things about (It’s gorgeous and fearless in experimenting) and hate some things about (Female character is idealized, and also, she’s almost the only woman in the story which just fucking bores me at this point, though I guess it’s not surprising that the main character has no female friends from how he behaves towards her).
If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a dweeby guy who sees a beautiful girl who he assumes won’t go out with him, so he says all these mean things about how she’s a bitch, but then she goes out with him, and he falls crazy in love and she becomes the most perfect human who ever lived, but then she dumps him, and she goes back to being a bitch and also she’s ruined his life.  The movie never quite makes her a real person, as in, we know that the main character wants to be an architect and Summer inspires him in that direction, but we never find out what she wants to be.  I guess beautiful girls are just here to inspire men to become who they really are, and men shall judge them by how fuckable they are and how willing they are to fuck and if they won’t fuck?  BITCHES, MAN.  To which I’m like, GOD I HATE YOU, YOU STUPID MOVIE.
Anyway, from the beginning, Summer is honest with our dweeb:  “I like you a lot, but I won’t fall in love with you, and this right now is what we have, so enjoy it.”  And he jumps into the relationship with both feet and just assumes she was lying about that as he gets deeper in, and then he pushes her too hard to nail down her feelings and define the relationship, so she bails, and it’s pretty messy.
This is a very long way of saying:
  • If you’ve been honest with him, and you’re enjoying dating, then keep dating, but know that the time is coming when he will push you for some kind of commitment and you will say “No, I told you I didn’t want that” and he might feel betrayed and angry, because even though you were honest he only heard what he wanted to hear.
  • Maybe also start seriously limiting how often you see him, no more than 2-3 times/month, because the way to make your “no” stick is to enforce your no, and make an effort to meet other people.
  • If you’re really embarrassed to be seen with him, ashamed to introduce him to your friends, feeling annoyed and crowded, and sure you can do better – these are all things you said in your letter – then the kind thing is to put a stop to it now.  It won’t get any easier.

I hope this helps – there was a lot going on in your letter, and you’re obviously of two minds about things. Enjoy your time abroad whatever you decide.

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8 comments
  1. Sid said:

    Oh, Awkward Abroad! The Captain has laid down the truthbombs, but if I may, I have been in the shoes of the dating inexperienced, and have a brief coda to add to #2.

    You aren’t feeling it. You’ve only been seeing him for a month. Dump him. No one’s world will end, I promise. If you don’t dump him now, you’re going to have to scrape him off your face like a barnacle in six months. Dump him.

    You’re in a city! It is filled with more guys you can date!

    My approach to dating was similar to my approach to buying pants: try ‘em on. If it doesn’t fit, neither I nor the pants are at fault, we’re just a bad match. These pants will look FLAWLESS on someone else, and some other pants will be SUPERB for me.

    He is Ill-fitting-on-you Pants.

    • JenniferP said:

      Brilliant observation, Commander Logic! Ill-fitting pants.

      • Sid said:

        Terrible confession: Now I can’t stop casting past Bad Dates as different types of ill-fitting pants.

        Thrift store cords that are too short.

        Too tight, white, fancy designer pants that my friends never told me gave me muffintop.

        Dress slacks that looked charming on the rack but had a definite Chaplin-esque balloon effect on me. Plus, smelled like dancer crotch.

    • JenniferP said:

      *snerk* Now I’m trying to put the ones I know about into the categories. I will never forget the words “He lives in the artist’s co-op in Edgewater. It smells like feet.”

  2. my mother, when things got vry srs bidness with theLeon whipped out her “i know he’s a nice guy, but is he the right nice guy?” question. that was a stumper. turns out he was, which means lots of nice nice guys out there weren’t.

    • JenniferP said:

      Obviously The Leon rocks, but good for your mom!

      My mom gave me some advice years ago that I thought was mean but now I think was true and meant that she knows me better than I think she does: “Don’t wait too long or grow up so much that you can’t accept another person into your life.” She said the best marriages were ones where the people grew up together, and she was worried that if I left it too long I’d become so ornery and set in my ways that I wouldn’t be able to form a real partnership with someone.

      I really am, as it turns out, a giant introvert and kind of a loner. Intern Paul is out of town, there are all kinds of social party things I could be doing this weekend, but I’m like “A weekend with nothing to do but read and write!”

      • i don’t think this was a slam, actually. i think she didn’t want me thinking i had to date him – that there wouldn’t be any other nice guys out there. love is much more fun when it’s a choice – not a threat.

        my niece just happens to be dating a very nice guy right now. everyone loves him. she’s got doubts, though, and damned if i didn’t channel my mother for that conversation…

  3. I dated a Really Great Guy for a year and a half in college. He was really sweet, treated me right, and took me out on fabulous dates and wouldn’t let me pay for a bit of them. We shared a lot of interests, were on the same page politically, and he was totally taken with me. My family LOVED him. We got on great, but I finally broke up with him. Why? We didn’t click sexually, and as time went on the more I thought about this other guy who I was absolutely smitten with and had Great (friends with benefits) Sex with. I felt like total shit, a terrible person, but it wasn’t fair to him.

    Turns out, there were some issues we just hadn’t talked about (like the Sex Issue). Over time, he got over the hurt, and now we still talk. Sometimes he visits, and while he’s here we act like a Couple. I don’t know if we’ll ever get back together, but we needed the time apart. I know that, should we, he needs to date other women first (even though I’ll be jealous like whoa).

    Sometimes you have to Dump Great Guys. Not gonna say you’ll not feel like shit, but sometimes something small turns into something big, even if petty-seeming, and you need to let go, even if you don’t think it’s A Thing Worth Breaking Up Over.

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