Dear Captain Awkward,
A week ago, I met this person my age at a sailors’ swap-meet. He was selling a marine toilet, and I happened to need one. I bought it, and we talked a bit about our respective boats, then went our separate ways.
But yesterday, a letter turned up. He must have pulled my address off the check. He wrote me a very sweet letter about how nice it had been to meet me, with two attached letters as well; one for if I was single and open to dating, and one for if I was just interested in making a friend. The first one, in particular, was very flattering. He rhapsodized about my smile, calling it a summer afternoon and ‘a small boat in open water, and … the lighthouse guiding it safely home.” In the friendly letter, he offers to lend me a few books and suggests some labor swapping on our respective boats, and just asks to stay in touch.
From a personally objective stance, he’s amazingly appealing. We just met briefly, but I remember him as being tall and handsome, and I definitely tried to get his facebook (he doesn’t have one). Like me, he’s a solo sailor with a long renovation ahead of him. We’re even of an age. I would certainly be interested, except:
1) I’m not dating right now. I have an intense restoration project going on for my boat, and when that’s done, I’m leaving the country for a lengthy period of time on a solo circumnavigation. I decided almost two years ago that I don’t have room in my life for both a relationship and the cruise.
2) Related to the above: I wouldn’t even know how to casually date. Every relationship I’ve been in has begun with me dreaming about spending the rest of my life with that person, and most of them have ended with me realizing that my dreams are more important to me than a future with the other person. Considering how big this particular dream looms in my life, I can’t imagine a person competing with it until I’ve achieved it.
I would love to be friends with this gentleman. He’s articulate and sweet, and from these letters, he understands at least the basis of my grand passion. We share a major interest, and we could trade help back and forth on our boats, which are similar. I don’t currently have any friends into boats, which makes it a lonely hobby, and it’d be so nice to have a project buddy.
But he’s obviously interested in me. Very very obviously. I’m confident that I can express my boundaries in words, but I don’t have a good history of friends respecting my boundaries, so I worry that I am not as good at expressing them in action. I also don’t have a mixed group of friends to invite him out with to give myself a buffer. So I’m just not certain where to start with him. I have his number and his email address, and the ball’s in my court. Where do I go from here?
Married To My Boat
Hi there, Married to my Boat.
Okay, we’re gonna logic this one out, right quick, and then take on the overthinking bits in a specifically nautical context. Groovy? Great. Your only articulated question is “Where do I go from here?” which is something that I, a purveyor of internet advice, can not tell you definitively. You are the only person who decides what you’re going to do.
HOWEVER, you’re asking what to do instead of automatically consigning this guy’s letters to your personal pile of creepy come-on stories (His three letters are merely a more elaborate version of the middle-school note asking “Do you like me? Yes, No, or Maybe – check one!”) which tells me that you DO want to date this guy, but can’t make it make sense logically. So based purely on the fact that you’re asking this question, I’m going to say that – if it were me – I would jump in and go on at least one date with this guy.
You like him. You might LIKE like him. Why not find out if that could work?
Allow me to introduce you to one of my main men: Horatio Hornblower. In the first book (written, not in his personal chronology, and boy howdy racist as only a book from the 1930s can be!) Beat to Quarters, he is a busy dude. International relations, navigation, power mad superiors, keeping 200+ dudes alive and healthy in a wooden box thousands of miles from safe harbor, and a ton more. Not to mention that he is totally married to the sea and despises women, especially his wife. If anyone had no time (and less than no inclination) for love, it’s Horatio. And yet, love finds him anyway (spoiler: it’s not his wife).
With your first point – I decided not to date – you’re reminding me of some of Horatio’s less good qualities: he’s very rigid and hard on himself for having feelings that are not connected to the ship or his duty. You may not be looking for love, but love can still come looking for you, and you will not be betraying your dream to say yes to it. Yes, you can stay married to your boat, but take a minute to consider it an open marriage.
(Warning to the non-sailing types: jargon ahead) Think of love like the wind in your sails. Right now, you’re seeing love like a headwind, coming directly from the place you want to go. The only love you’re imagining will put you in irons. What I’m trying to tell you is that love can be any wind. You can sail it close-hauled and exhilarating. You can tack through it. Love can be a running wind.
A relationship that holds you back is not love. If you do have a relationship with this or any guy and he puts limits on you and your dreams, then you dump him. If you have a relationship with this or any guy and he fixes your boat with you, sets up rendez-vous with you on your solo trip ports of call, sends you letters and you want to send him letters, or is quietly accepting that when you leave you’re 100% gone for at least 2 years, then it is ON for the amount of time that it is. Time limits don’t make love less.
On your second point – you don’t know how to casually date – NEITHER DOES THIS GUY. He just sent you a letter (or three) after meeting you once. He compared you favorably and romantically to nautical touchpoints. A casual dater would have just asked for your number and whether you wanted to grab a drink. Now, I didn’t meet this guy, wasn’t there to see the possible sparks flying over the marine toilet you were negotiating, so I can’t really judge how you should feel about him and his letters of DEEPLY UNCASUAL DATING (which it’s possible that he sends to every likely sailing lady he meets. Hey! look who got burned by a sailor before! It’s Cdr. Logic! Although, everyone is different, even sailors, so your guy could be legit into you and only you.).
So don’t casually date. Go on a real date where you wear pretty clothes and you both agree that it is a date. This isn’t competition with your boat, any more than sleeping, eating, occasionally watching a movie, or talking to your friends is competition with your boat. Maybe you will hit it off, and maybe you won’t, or maybe you’ll hit it off platonically. But you won’t know unless you go.
Now, regarding your friends and their lack of boundary respecting: that is what they are like, that is not what everyone in the universe is like. Sure, it’s possible that you’re not expressing your boundaries effectively (I don’t know, ’cause I wasn’t there), but there’s nothing like practice for getting better at something. So keep trying with them, and keep setting your boundaries with new people.
To conclude, where to start.
If you want to date him:
- “I thought a while about both letters – of course I read them both, too tempting! – and I’d like to take you up on a date offer. What did you have in mind?”
- If he makes you plan the date or flakes at all, he’s not that into dating you, and you can cut your losses.
- On the date, talk about your boat projects. It may come up naturally that you’re planning a long absence, or it may not. All you’re doing on this date is finding out if you like him enough to go on another date. That’s all. Not grand passion, not marriage, not abandon all your other projects. Just… another date yes/no?
If you don’t want to date him:
- “I thought a while about both letters – of course I read them both, too tempting! – and while I’m very flattered, I’m afraid I’m not interested in dating. But I would like to get a coffee or [local sailing meet up?] with you. I don’t have any good friends who are sailors and would love the chance to talk shop.”
- On the not-date, talk about your boat projects.
And good luck on your circumnavigation!