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Question #124: Can I turn back the clock with Super-Intense Guy?

Joseph Gordon-Leavitt from 500 Days of Summer, looking pleased with himself.

500 Days of Summer: A movie about selective hearing by a nice guy who turns into a Nice Guy (tm).

O Captain! My Captain!

Our fearful trip is not at all done.

I’ve moved quite recently to a city I quite like.  I have a lot of casual pals but few close, trustworthy friends.  I’ve just started a new job, and am trying to balance my time between this job, a long-term creative project, taking care of myself (cooking, exercising, etc.), and of course making friends.

I also met someone who is, in some ways, really great.  (That “in some ways” may tell you all you need to know.)  He’s attractive, considerate, fascinating, and fun.  He’s also ridiculously intense. Like, RIDICULOUSLY.  I’m pretty sure that I am going to have to have an awkward conversation with him, and I’ve actually already figured out what I need to say, so that’s not the question.  (“I just moved here and am trying to put my life together, and I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed.  I really do like you and I want to be friends and hang out, but I need to get my life on track and make friends before I can even think about getting involved with anyone romantically.  I really do mean the friends part. Will you still come to my party?”)

The question is, instead, two other things.

One.  The way he’s intense reminds me of myself, like, five years ago.  I can totally understand why anyone didn’t want to date me then – I thought everyone would be the love of my life, and I was obsessed with my own perceived inability to have a normal relationship, and I took things personally that were not at all about me.  My do-gooder heart wants to find some way to be able to help him.  Can I?

Two.  A much more selfish query.  Is there any way I can go backwards in time, get rid of all the serious crap, and somehow just do silly things with him and maybe sleep together for a while?  (I didn’t sleep with him, never fear, in part because I was trying to find a way to get him to chill out.  In retrospect, maybe I should have; he’s bending over backwards trying to tell me he doesn’t just want to have sex with me, which might not actually be a bad thing.)  I suspect the answer is no, but I can keep hoping.

Love,

Too Much Too Soon

Dear Too Much:

When you mention that your new friend is “intense,” you will forgive me for immediately thinking of this guy. And this guy.

You are doing all the right stuff by figuring out your own limits and desires and being prepared to talk directly with this guy about where your head is and the energy and time you have to invest in a romantic relationship (Not much!).

Your first question is “Can I help him avoid some of the mistakes I made in my youth when I used to behave exactly the same way?”  To which I say:  Nope. Not really.  Could anyone have helped you when you were in his shoes?  Would it have made you feel better to have a romantic interest sit you down and say “Here are all the ways you are doing it wrong and weirding me out?” We think that we want this kind of feedback, but when our feelings are all exposed and tender, maybe we don’t really.  We just want the other person to love us back.

Your second question is “Can I sleep with him without all the messy feelings stuff?”  Maybe. Probably not.

You can ask him. “I’m attracted to you and would like to maybe have sex with you, but I’m worried, given how intense things have been, that you will want that to turn into a serious romantic relationship when I am 100% not ready for one of those  when I do not think that I want that kind of relationship with you.** What do you think about that?”  Let’s call this the 500 Days of Summer scenario. What you risk is him hearing only what he wants to hear, and trying and hoping and scheming to turn a sexual relationship into true love, and then being really, really mad when it doesn’t work that way.  People don’t like to be told that they are fuckbuddies, even when they are fuckbuddies. They REALLY don’t like it when they want the relationship to be more.

You already have had this conversation, right?  I mean, he’s told you that he doesn’t *just* want to sleep with you. So maybe take him at his word, and don’t assume that just because he’s a guy that he’ll settle for sex any way he can get it.  “Casual” relationships are still relationships, and they need a high degree of manners and caring about the other person to pull off.

**Okay, let’s unpack the phrase “not ready for a relationship right now.”

Here there be bullshit.

What it really means is “I’m not ready for/don’t want a relationship WITH YOU.”

But we say “right now” to avoid saying “WITH YOU” because we want to let the other person down easy.  We’re counting on them to get the hint.

I know, I know, you’re new in town, you’re super-busy, you’ve got stuff going on, it really is a “timing” thing, if only you’d met him 6 months from now when you’re more established—

No. If you were feeling it, you’d be feeling it.

When someone really has feelings for you, they can’t hear/deliberately don’t pick up on the silent WITH YOU at the end of the sentence, so it becomes a question of “Okay, cool. When will you be ready?  Because there I will be!

And you can “be friends” and “hang out” with them, but the friendship is based on a lie.  The friendship at that point consists of them waiting for you to be ready to date, and you not dating them, but maybe keeping them around as a “break glass in case of emergency dry spell/need attention/a date to that wedding” solution, and should you date anyone else they will get really angry and say “I thought you weren’t ready for a relationship right now and you’ll wish they were cooler about it and not so entitled/angry (and you’d be right to wish that, because part of being a grownup is learning to take a soft rejection gracefully, but it’s also understandable that they feel…not great).

You may really truly like them and care about them! But this is still what’s going on. So, this is my good deed for the day:

  • If you don’t want to date someone but do you want to be friends, just say “I don’t want to date you, but do I really like you and I hope we can figure out a way to be friends” and leave the weak excuses out of it. If you change your mind down the road, and the other person is still attracted to you, you will find a way to work it out.  “Remember 6 months ago when I didn’t want to date you?  Well now I do.  What do you say to that?”
  • If someone you’re interested in says “I’m not ready for a relationship right now,” the correct response is something like “Well, that’s a bummer, obviously, but I understand” and then back off, because you understand that what they’re really saying is “I don’t want a relationship WITH YOU.”  You will be much cooler, and much happier if you learn to see soft rejection for what it is:  Rejection. Go lick your wounds in private and don’t make the rejector explain/justify all their thoughts and actions…unless want them to avoid you for the rest of time.  No one wants to date a Rules Lawyer.

In conclusion, there is no magic way, even with supreme politeness and honesty and directness and coolness, to manage this guy’s feelings for you or “intensity” level. You can decide what you want out of the relationship – A short-term sex partner?  A friend? – and ask him for what you want.  How he handles it is up to him.

One sign that I don’t want to be in a relationship is that the other person makes me constantly talk about and negotiate the relationship. You can set your own boundaries for how often and how “intensely” you hang out by…. setting boundaries for how often you hang out. That doesn’t necessarily need to involve a conversation about “What is this relationship and where is it going?”, by the way.   If you say “I can’t hang out this week or next. Can we catch up sometime in November? I’ll get in touch when my schedule clears” without guilt or apology, that’s a good sign. If that makes him feel wronged and he makes you have a giant talk about it, that’s good information.

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28 comments
  1. I like the 500 Days of Summer analogy. That would be a pretty good movie if I didn’t get the impression that we’re supposed to sympathize with the male protagonist. All I could see was the male protagonist being a giant ass. “But I engaged in manly combat in your presence! According to the rules of chivalrous romance you’re supposed to swoon into my arms now! Stop having a personality of your own, dammit!”

    • JenniferP said:

      Oh, I don’t root for the protagonist at all. We never even find out what Summer’s job is or what she wants to do with her life. Probably because the protagonist never asks her! But she inspires him to follow his dream of architecture, like a good MPDG. He’s not ready for grown-up love with actual women.

      I think it’s beautifully shot and the “expectation” vs. “reality” scene is brilliant.

      • Nomie said:

        My favorite thing about 500DoS is that, going by interviews and twitter, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does not sympathize with his own character at all. Says Tom is selfish and a bad listener and doesn’t get why fans want to marry him. (To which I say “have you looked in a mirror lately,” but.)

        • JenniferP said:

          I think that movie is really well shot and acted, and has great design, but it’s either a film I love for portraying so honestly and grimly what sexists NiceGuys(tm) are in such an ooky, deeply uncomfortable way or a film I hate for wanting you to root for a selfish, immature sexist twit who doesn’t really see ladies as people. Glad JGL is on my side, maybe now I can inch back towards liking the movie again.

          • Isn’t it best as a film that portrays honestly and grimly what sexists NiceGuys(tm) are in an ooky, deeply uncomfortable way and yet prods you to root for this selfish, immature sexist twit who doesn’t really see ladies as people?

            Even a film with a deeply evil protagonist like Lost Highway plays with your desire to identify with and pull for him. If you don’t identify with the protagonist, it’s just pictures on a screen.

          • Veronica said:

            The director seems to have been heading in that direction, too. When asked about Summer’s “stock character” personality, he stated -

            “Yes, Summer is an immature view of a woman. She’s Tom’s view of a woman. He doesn’t see her complexity and the consequence for him is heartbreak. In Tom’s eyes, Summer is perfection, but perfection has no depth. Summer’s not a girl, she’s a phase.”

            - so it sounds like he was aware of the implications on screen. In that case, I find it more forgivable. It’s when it’s done unconsciously that makes it scary as hell.

  2. wondering said:

    I was in a similar position, ten years or so ago. Perhaps minus a smidgen of the intenseness. I and a guy were really good friends and went out to the pub together for beer and nachos and writing and silly stuff at least once a week. One night as we were walking to the pub, he confessed to being in love with me and wanting to have a relationship. Fortunately, I did love and care for him – just not the way he wanted – and I managed to handle it pretty gracefully in a “I really care about you but we are not right for each other. I need someone to stand up to me and not always let me be the boss but you would always try to do as I asked regardless of how it made you feel and I would end up a control freak and you would end up resenting me. Now let’s go to the pub and drown your sorrows. I’m buying,” kind of way. Anyway, the whole reason I bring it up is because 5 or 6 years later, we were totally in a place where we could have some good happy fun casual sex without romantic strings entangling us. So, it could happen to you too – just not right now.

    PS: Anyone who helps to drown a friend’s sorrows over your own soft rejection needs to keep two things in mind: 1. you are not there to drink, you are there to listen 2. you should try to pretend that the person xe’s talking about is not you. Helps you to keep some distance from the conversation.

  3. This is good advice. In my experience, telling potential partners “not right now” only ever leads to “Okay, when?” Except in ONE case, although now that I think about it, maybe I didn’t tell him “not right now.” Okay, so I told a guy that I didn’t want to date him, and he wanted to be friends anyway, and proceeded to be an awesome, respectful friend. And then later we dated for three years. Now we’re both dating other people, but we’re still friends. So that is what can happen when (a) you set a boundary and (b) the other guy respects it.

    But that guy wasn’t Super-Intense Guy, and it has to be said that a Super-Intense Guy rarely makes a Super-Fun Sex Friend. I’m serious. You can’t really have a healthy, satisfying, sexy time with someone who is laser-focused on winning love/affection/validation. (Although, as wondering points out, maybe you can once they grow up and out a little.) But beyond that… in my experience, there is a set of uncomfortable sex behaviors that tend to accompany intensity. They include but are not limited to excessive sex theatre (example: staring into your eyes followed by sudden sloppy lunge, as if overtaken by desire to swallow your face) and a tendency to produce small gifts after hooking up, which have the icky feel of tips or rewards.

    • JenniferP said:

      Aaaaaaah Excessive Sex Theatre! Aaaaah!

  4. Esti said:

    I love this response, especially about not being ready for a relationship right now. The only thing I would add is this: his intenseness and bending over backward to say he doesn’t want to just have sex with you is a soft (preemptive) rejection of a casual FWBs relationship. This guy is telling you loud and clear that he does not want and cannot handle casual hook ups without expectations or hurt feelings. Even if he says “yes, that sounds great!” you know, based on his behavior, that what he is actually saying is “no, but I will do anything to keep this going in whatever form I can!”

    And honestly, as someone who was also once like this guy (weren’t we all at some point?), I don’t think your friends plan is a good idea, at least not initially. You will say “do you want to get a beer on Friday?” and he will hear “let’s go out and get tipsy together on date night.” You will say “thanks for listening to me complain about work” and he will hear “you’re the person I want to talk to when things go wrong.” You will say “this is my new boyfriend, Steve McQueen” and he will hear “I’m leaving you and this is your cue to GET ALL DRAMA UP IN HERE.” I know it’s hard to say no to a ready-made friend in a new city, but I think the transition to friendship will be harder than you think.

    • JenniferP said:

      “Yes, I will totally have a casual sex relationship with you!” = “I will change your mind with my penis!”

      • commanderlogic said:

        Penises, strangely, do not contain psychotropic drugs.

        Or if they do, WHOA, get that checked out, man!

        • JenniferP said:

          In either case, the effects are temporary.

    • k said:

      Oh wow, you are so right! “I don’t want to have sex with you” definitely = “I don’t want to just have sex with you”.

      I’m the kind of person who gets so stressed out by Intense Guy type stuff that I instantly activate the slow fade and then disappear into the ether when this type of situation comes up. But if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that LW should not try to turn this into FWB, at least not right now.

  5. too-much-too-soon said:

    It’s interesting reading this a few weeks later, seeing how things shook out.

    I’ve learned a lot, actually, in part about being honest with myself — one should always ask oneself two questions, a) what do I want in a relationship (in general)? and b) what do I want from this relationship (in particular)?

    To be fair, he was never intense in a boundary-pushing way. He’d say, I want to see you all the time, and I’d say, not until next week, and he’d say ok. After some weird intense stuff, and some drama, and a big ol’ fight, we’ve finally managed to have a really good conversation covering the following:

    1. we are way attracted to each other and like to, yanno, act on that
    2. we both want, in our lives, to fall in love (rather than not)
    3. we are pretty unlikely to ever fall in love with each other

    …so we will keep things fairly casual and not publicly recognized, especially after aforementioned drama and fallout.

    so, yay. i do think this is, overall, awesome advice.

    p.s. thanks for including my dorkariffic Walt Whitman references!

    • JenniferP said:

      Sounds like a happy ending…and a Happy Ending…for all. Thanks for the update!

  6. xenu01 said:

    Um, I just want to say that Excessive Sex Theater is the best thing ever ever EVER. And ew, I have totally dated that creepy guy with the eye contact! Actually, MY creepy eye-contact guy got all freaked out because I was WALKING TOO FAST (I swear. He felt like I was rushing him. Or something) and made me stare into his eyes and breathe with him or something. He had my wrists in his hands and wouldn’t let go. It was super creepy and suffice to say we never had a second date.

    • Leah Jaclyn said:

      I have a customer who does this, every saturday without fail he will line up at my register and just stare at me while I serve the customers in front of him, it’s intensely creepy. So much so that when I saw him out side of work I ducked into a shop to hide from him.

  7. Alberthe said:

    OH GOD, creepy eye-contact guy is creepy! On the other hand, he did give you the chance to write ‘the lidless roving eye of Sauron eye-fucking me from across the table,’ so maybe the date was worth it after all… The phrase certainly made my day;)

    There have been a couple of times when creepy stare-y guys have struck up a conversation with me out in public, and I for some reason have been completely unable to just tell them to go away (shy + polite = not the most assertive combination) and therefore have been dependent upon divine intervention to get rid of them. I don’t know what I would have done if the creepy guy was someone I actually was supposed to spend the evening with. Well done you for escaping.

    Also *giggle* at excessive sex theatre:)

  8. Sleeper said:

    A chick telling me she was not trying to date ME instead of saying RIGHT NOW would have saved me a whole lot of time. I’m not one of those type people easily hurt by the truth, so it vexes me when women take the kid gloves approach instead of being honest.

    • JenniferP said:

      Understandable! I’m 100% in favor of directness in these situations.

      Hopefully going forward you’ll be able to understand that a soft rejection is a rejection, and to stop looking at these situations with so much wishful thinking. Interpret “I’m not into this” (for whatever reason – “I’m not looking for a relationship right now”) extremely conservatively, and trust that women who really like you will find a way to let you know. And hopefully you’ll understand that there are reasons women try to let people down easy. I’m sure you’re cool, and not going to turn into ANGRY GUY when you hear a “no,” but a woman who doesn’t know you very well can’t be sure.

  9. Christen said:

    A guy I dated briefly in college and really, really liked said, “I’m not going to tell you I’m not looking for a relationship right now, but whenever people say that they end up in a relationship like a month or two later” — ensuring that, when that exact thing happened, I was happy for him instead of irritated and hurt. Ten years and many soft rejections later (both given and received), I appreciate him way more for being honest and thoughtful in breaking off our fling. We don’t talk much these days, but remained friendly throughout college.

    Also, this might say more about my own neuroses than anything else, but these types of rejections also bug me because of what they can imply about the listener. Telling someone you don’t want a relationship when they’ve said they do is one thing, but I’ve had a couple of guys I was really, really not serious about take pains to warn me that they really don’t want anything serious right now. (It turned out both of them were protesting too much, or at least asking way more of my time and energy than I wanted to give anyone I’d just met.) The other soft rejection I hate is “I don’t have time for a relationship.” It’s true, there are times and lives when it’s actually impossible to date (or when you’re too stressed out for it to be any fun), but like the Captain said, when you really feel it with someone, you tend to try and find a way to make them part of your life. Whenever I hear “I’m too busy” my impulse is to say, “Hey, my free time is also finite, jerk.” I realize what they’re usually really saying is “I’m not into you enough to make time to see you on a regular basis” and that the correct response is to just accept that and move on and probably wait for the other person to initiate contact. But man. Annoying.

  10. Veronica said:

    I agree with all of the Captain’s advice, but I will also add – if this guy is really a decent person, he’ll be let down initially…but then he’ll get the hell over it. He might distance himself for awhile in order to sort out all those feelings, but that’s just human. The only people who push the boundaries are the ones that didn’t respect them in the first place.

  11. JB80 said:

    Not much to add here, just wanted to add my voice to those guys saying they appreciate honesty. I once asked a coworker out for coffee and she said she “wasn’t looking for a relationship right now”. A week later, she had a new boyfriend. Somehow, this hurt me more than if she’d just said she wasn’t interested in me. Most guys, I think, can handle rejection and would appreciate an honest answer.

    • JenniferP said:

      Noted! And the next time you hear “I’m not looking for a relationship right now” from someone, assume they meant “WITH YOU right now” and the world will be a better place.

  12. NotSoShyGirl said:

    Out of interest, is there any recommended response to the ”Yes, but WHY NOT???” post-rejection inquiry? Just recently I’ve been involved in that kind of situation which consisted of me saying ”I like you but not in a sexual/romantic way” and them saying ”Ok cool” but embellishing our later conversations with things like ”So… I don’t get it. Am I just NOT ATTRACTIVE or something??” Aaargh.

    • JenniferP said:

      If they keep asking you/harping on it, maybe reconsider continuing contact. Otherwise, you just stick with “sorry, I’m really not feeling it, and I really wish you would stop bringing it up. I don’t have a good explanation.”

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