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#413: How do I Relationship?

I LUUUUUUUUV YOUUUU

Doug wins at relationships.

Hi Captain and Awkwardeers! I have a problem that may or may not be an actual problem and is probably easy to solve, but asking friends for answers gave me nothing but contradictory answers, so I thought maybe you could help.

I’m young (in college) and just started dating one of my friends. It’s great. I’ve known him for a long time, we share interests, we’re comfortable together, butterflies are in full effect, et cetera. The only problem is, I have no idea what I’m doing! I’ve never dated anyone before (I’m twenty-one) I don’t really have any girlfriends I could ask/am not comfortable asking my mom, so I’m essentially fumbling my way through the dark without a flashlight or roadmap. When do you move in for a kiss? What are the milestones? What does and doesn’t constitute PDA? What about gift-giving, is there ettiquette for that? Will our shared group of friends be uncomfortable about our dating? How do I get over feeling shy about asking him this stuff? How SHOULD I feel about this guy, anyway? I have experience with crushes, but not with what a mutual adult relationship actually feels like. The cumulative effect of all this is that whi le I really enjoy spending time with him, I spend the time we’re NOT together panicking about what I might be doing right or wrong. Is there any kind of Relationships for Dummies guide for people like me?

Sincerely,

Confused in Canada

Hi there, Confused in Canada!
Commander Logic here, and congratulations on new love! New love is fantastic, and I’m so happy for you!

What you’re dealing with here is an acute case of overthinking, with an associated infection of The Shoulds. Which you seem to be aware of, and that’s awesome!

I’m going to get to your overarching question in a sec, but first some short, pithy-ish answers to all the mini-questions you put up in there:

When do you move in for a kiss? – Whenever it feels like you want to kiss him. If it feels like an extra-bad time for it, say “Can I kiss you?” and then act accordingly.
What does and doesn’t constitute PDA? – Public Displays of Affection are just that: showing in public that you like this person. Holding hands, kisses, hugs, etc. What constitutes excessive PDA is up to you and your person to decide, though the law encourages you to keep it PG-13 at most.
What about gift giving? – That’s between you and your person, though as a rule of thumb, keep it low-key, affordable to your budget, and expect NOTHING IN RETURN. Give happily because you know it’s something the other person would enjoy. Receive happily because the other person thought about making you happy.
Will our shared group of friends be made uncomfortable by our dating? – Heck if I know, and heck if you should care. You aren’t dating AT your friends, and they really don’t have a say in who you date one way or another. I know it sometimes doesn’t feel that way, but I promise, your friends’ comfort does not trump your personal choices.
How do I get over feeling shy about asking him this stuff? – Same way you get to Carnegie Hall… a taxi. (RIMSHOT) No, I mean practice. Just say the stuff that’s on your mind and ask what’s on his mind. Your mantra for this is “Neither of us are mindreaders, and I was wondering/thinking this.”

What?

“Should” we be cuddle buds? Eh. Who cares?

Finally, the biggie:
How SHOULD I feel about this guy? – I don’t know him or you, so I’m going to say you should feel exactly how you feel at a given moment.  Love him down to the toe jam? Great! Find him suddenly annoying? Fine! Right back to toe jam loving the next second? Normal! Even if I DID know you both, I’d say the same thing, because you are the boss of you, and no one else is.

This ties into the question that underlies all of this: HOW DO I RELATIONSHIP THE RIGHT WAY?

The answer is annoyingly zen: you just do until you don’t.

Consider the Golden Retriever. (That’s in reference to a break-up, but it’s relevant to ongoing awesome relationships as well.) It doesn’t question WHY it loves you. It doesn’t question the best way to show its love. It doesn’t know WHY chasing and bringing back the stick is SO SO SO MUCH FUN. It doesn’t give a damn. It just loves the moment, and does what feels right in the moment, from jumping on your lap even though it’s way too big for that now, to laying in a sunbeam hoping you’ll dispense belly rubs.

Where you have it up on the Golden Retriever is that you have the ability to use words to optimize your relationship experience. Whereas the Golden Retriever will jump on laps for all eternity, you and your partner can have the conversation of “Hey! I know that [metaphorical equivalent of lap jumping] is how you like to feel close to me and loved, but it is really uncomfortable for me. Would [metaphorical equivalent of chin resting in lap] be okay with you in the future?”

Maru defies your societal expectations of box-fitting

Maru represents your relationship. The box represents “Milestones.” You don’t have to fit your cat into one box.

Which brings me to your question about Milestones.  In a good relationship, I’ve found that there really aren’t any required milestones, and that can drive goal-oriented people up a damn wall. I mean, there are culturally significant milestones (thank you very much rom-com and “get a wo/man” industries), but they do not – DO. NOT. – have to be adhered to on a particular schedule, or at all. The Relationship Milestone Police are not a thing, even if your Auntie Bessie or Toxic Friend Hepzibah are all over you for not hitting arbitrary milestones in some specific order or particular way. First date, first kiss, first fuck, first overnight stay, first party with friends, first meeting the family, first “I Love You”, etc. etc. to death. Maybe you’ll hit all of these over the course of months, or years, or on the very first date, or “out of order,” or the “wrong” person initiates them.  All of those schedules are fine. Maybe you’ll NEVER meet their family because their family is full of abusive meat-buckets. Maybe you’ll never have a “proper” first date, whatever that means, or you will and then forget about it. You can also develop milestones of your own! Outside of what is culturally dictated! Your first movie marathon could be important to you as a couple. Your first photo session. Jointly resetting your facebook statuses, or whatever. What matters is that you are happy with the relationship in the moment.

To recap: How to Relationship

1 – Are you happy to see each other? Then you are doing it right.
2 – Is something in the relationship making you unhappy? Then talk about it.
3 – Are you agonizing over what to do? For best results, agonize out loud to the other person in the relationship.
4 – “No one is a mind reader.”
5 – “I feel how I feel because I’m the boss of me.”
6 – Do and say what feels right and good, at that moment. Even if it’s awkward.

You’re already doing great, and I promise, if you’re happy then you’re doing Relationship correctly.  Good job!  Commander Logic OUT.

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56 comments on “#413: How do I Relationship?

  1. Oh, Confused in Canada, another over thinker like me. Pretty good advice, Captain, but I think it’s important to question the purpose of the relationship. If someone is in a relationship to “save” them or “complete” them, it puts impossible pressure on the other person and can fracture the whole thing. I’ve been guilty of that, and it sounds like Confused might be in for the same heartache. Best of luck!

    • What in the letter made you think that? Just curious, since I didn’t get that vibe at all from the LW or her boyfriend.

      • Patterns I have seen are that A. people who have not had relationships in a while and are out of high school have tended to spend the waiting period thinking along the lines of “thing A in my life sucks, if only I were in a relationship it would be OK!” which places on the relationship pressure to save someone from their circumstances. B. the number of rapid-fire questions and admission of panicking at the end suggests an unhealthy fear of losing the nascent relationship which is a result of looking to the relationship for their worth and purpose. C. I think there is a temptation in everyone to place on their romantic partner the undue pressure of being the ‘savior’ of their circumstance, and since it’s common to every one of your and my relationships, in Canada’s case I am only struck by it’s emphasis, not presence.

        Does that make sense?

        • I think there is a temptation in everyone to place on their romantic partner the undue pressure of being the ‘savior’ of their circumstance, and since it’s common to every one of your and my relationships

          I have never done this. Most of my friends haven’t, either.

          • No kidding. Just because you have dysfunctional tendencies…save the projection for the movie theater, dude.

          • I’d wonder if that’s some sort of Christian thing, because the rest of us don’t have a savior complex beaten into us via our religion, but I know too many Christians who *don’t* have that problem to come to that conclusion.

          • Oh, cassandrakitty, clearly another great crosspoint-on-a-pillow pithy saying :-)..

          • I don’t understand that sentence, language-wise (I’m not a native English speaker) – would someone be so kind as to explain it?
            Does it mean you are tempted to pressure your partner into “fixing” you or does it mean you are tempted to pressure yourself to “fix” your partner? Or am I completely wrong and it means something totally different? /hates when she can’t follow the argumentation because language

          • Myrin: both. That model of relationships says that both members of a pair “complete” each other, “save” each other, and “are everything to” each other.

          • Brynn, just because one dude is a giant projection of relationship issues doesn’t mean all christians have them.

        • Yeeeeahhhh, that’s a couple of pretty big assumptions about the LW, Rosemary, and… well… everyone’s relationship ever. Not cool, do not agree. You’re cautioned.

          • So… I am gathering that my attempt to communicate an idea were not clear like I had thought, as what I was trying to say didn’t come across well (or at all). My apologies, that didn’t work.

  2. Ahh this is beautiful and totally timely for me. I frequently spent time I’m not with the people I’m in relationships with wondering if I should even be in relationships. Overthinking is a beast.

  3. Commander Logic has the right of it.

    It’s annoyingly unuseful, right? You want something more concrete, maybe a checklist. Doesn’t work.

    Even if I gave you the One True Way To Do It, it would only be the One True Way For Me To Do It. I could even give you the One True Way I Think You Should Do It, with or without what I Think Would Actually Make You Happy — but ultimately, you are the only one who will figure out your own way. It sometimes takes years and lots of partners to figure it out.

    One thing that does actually work is to Learn From Others. Advice columns are great for that — you’ve come to a good place!

    People can tell you about the things not to do in relationships, but it doesn’t sound like any of that’s happening. Nothing there suggests velociraptors or bees in your relationship. Sounds like you’re doing fine and are just like whoa now what eek?

    Trust what you feel, even when it changes, and act accordingly. It’ll be AWESOME.

    • And then of course, you might have One True Way To Do It in one relationship and a completely different One True Way To Do It in a different relationship or even a different point in the same relationship!

  4. Commander Logic is Spot On here; Your feelings are Your Feelings. They don’t belong to me, your boyfriend, your mother, or society in general, they belong to YOU, LW! How you feel is your business.

    Communication is The Key. Your new love is not going to get annoyed or weirded out if you ask him the things you’re unsure about and openly talk about Your Feelings. They may love it! This is where TV really deviates from Real Life. There is no “You can’t say you Love him, it’s too early!” or “Men don’t want to hear about your feelings, they’re men!” Bullshit. That is Tv. Tv is usually stupid when it comes to Feelings and Talking. Like, I throw things at the Tv when you see Girl agonising about Feelings/Thoughts/Situations/Actions and Boy agonising about Feelings/Thoughts/Situations/Actions and the DON’T TALK TO EACH OTHER! I stopped watching Tv after too much of That because I didn’t want a broken Tv.

    So if you’re unsure about anything, you just want to express your butterflying love and adoration or just need to babble about things, tell it to your Love!
    I would also suggest something along the lines of:

    “Guy That I Love/Like, I’ve never been in a relationship before and I am unsure about what is normal and what is not. Please forgive me if I ask you questions and share my Feelings with you and let me know if you’ve got any questions yourself or are feeling Overwhelmed by my feelings/Thoughts.”
    Now, don’t take everything he says as Gospel but it will give you some indication and it also helps him understand how you are thinking/feeling – something that a lot of guys actually want to know but don’t know how to ask!

    As for milestones, I say that whenever you feel it is appropriate/comfortable, that is the right time. If you don’t feel comfortable or you feel pressured at all (doesn’t matter if the pressure is You, your boyfriend, your mother, society, whatever), don’t go there. And even if it’s at the last minute or even when you’ve already started and you feel uncomfortable eg. (you started to kiss with tongue but you suddenly felt uncomfortable) you can stop it right there. That is your choice and your right!

    Some people are comfortable having sex on the first date, some hold hands after 6 months and progress from there, all of them are normal as long as they feel right for the people involved.

    Jedi Hugs!

    • (Woo! My comment posted!)

      Additionally (sorry for the double post), on the topic of PDAs:
      My rule of thumb is to consider the people around you. To what level would a PDA make them feel uncomfortable. Personally, I get a bit uncomfortable if the couple sitting next to me or in front of me on a bus are snogging and having at each other like rabbits. So That, in my books, is a no go. Tongue kissing, groping or anything more sexual than closed mouth kissing is generally going to make people uncomfortable, especially if there are families with children or elderly individuals around.

      Consider your setting; are you in a park? A mall? On a Bus? At the movies? In a lecture theatre (seriously, this one, definitely no PDAs. I’ve seen people get thrown out for holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes.)?
      Make a judgement about what you this is appropriate to your setting. If you’re at a nightclub people are going to be a lot less weirded out with extreme PDAs than if you’re at the Annual Family Park Day outing of Everyone And Their Dog.

      As for you, as long as your comfortable (and it’s setting appropriate), the ball is in your court and you can do what you like. :)
      Just use your discretion.

      • Wow. Keep in mind, agirlfromdownunder, that your ideas about what suits “elderly individuals” are at least half a century out of date. Most currently-living elders were actually doing the sexual revolution in the 60s and thereabouts, and are probably much cooler about watching gropings of various level than shy young people wondering about relationships.

        • I wouldn’t say they are out of date. There are still a lot of non-elderly people who consider these sort of interactions inappropriate for public places. I have quite a few friends who would agree with me that it’s not cool when the people sitting next to you are having at each other.

          And when it comes to our elders, some may be okay with it, but others are not and even if they did live through the sexual revolution, they also grew up with a lot of etiquette that we no longer observe. They may not come up to you and say “Young man/woman, you’re behaviour is completely inappropriate” but you can’t take that as being ‘cool with watching people grope each other’ either.

          I’m as sexual as the next person here but there is a time and a place for these things. As a responsible member of society, it is good to consider all people who may be around, even to some extremes. Sure, there are lots of people who will be cool with it. But there will also be some who are not. It is good to be considerate and think about all people who may be around.

          We live in a multicultural society (most of us anyway) and some people from other cultures can find that sort of behaviour offensive or inappropriate. Being culturally sensitive is important as well as just plain socially sensitive.

          Sure, it’s your choice to make on what you do in public but I just encourage people to be conscientious about their behaviour. I’m not going to force people to conform to my standards or whatever, but I’m just offering a different point of view.

          • Thanks for the confirmation – indeed, on the whole younger people in the US are a lot more uptight about sexual matters than their elders. Not their fault, poor things, fundamentalists have had a stranglehold on public life for a good 30 years, and that’s bound to have some effect. But it does say that older people should watch out for the presence of young things to avoid shocking them with things that only seem natural to us :-).

            As an immigrant, I’d also like to point out that many people move to the US from their more repressive cultures in great part to enjoy a more sexually liberated life. So “cultural sensitivity” can just be another form of racism, assuming that people from other parts are naturally more uptight than you are. Which can be just the opposite in fact. So let’s not generalize too much about yet another group, shall we? Everyone is entitled to living their life fully by their own definition, no matter who they are.

    • Your new love is not going to get annoyed or weirded out if you ask him the things you’re unsure about and openly talk about Your Feelings.

      And if they do, this is a very convenient early red flag!

  5. I just wrote a massively long comment and the internet ate it.
    I might get back to it and repost if I have time. :/

  6. Tiny add on, I’d suggest remembering that he may have goals/expectations and to respect them. You don’t have to follow them if they don’t line up with yours, but he’s not ‘wrong’ for having goals any more than you’re not wrong for not having any set ones!

    The only part that becomes wrong is how people handle differing goals. Like, say, all the ‘rules’ about who pays for what on dates. If someone is assuming that one person will cover all food, and the other that a 50/50 split should be at least offered, it can end up with both people mad that the other is being ‘rude’ and not following the rules. Even though the rules are all in their heads and neither is a mindreader.

    And PDA is a personal thing. My own personal rule is to draw the acceptable line where affection becomes sexually charged. A peck on the lips/cheek? Fine. Mining for tonsil gold? Nope! But that’s all our comfort level.

    • I would add, however, that while it is probably OK for your partner to have some sort of goals or expectations for how the relationship progresses, this absolutely DOES NOT mean that he “knows” more than you do. If he does not communicate his expectations, you have somewhat less than zero responsibility for meeting them. If he pulls the douchebag sort of moves that some of my exes have pulled where he gets all surprised and/or mad at you for not meeting his totally unspoken Proper Girlfriend Rules that he is 100% sure “everybody knows”, this doesn’t mean he is more romantically savvy than you are, it probably means he is less–that he has paid so little attention to other people and examined his assumptions so little that he doesn’t even realize that different people do stuff differently.

  7. A simple but effective way of looking at it is that LW has their causality kind of backwards. It’s not kissing (or whatever) because relationship; it’s relationship because kissing (or whatever).

    There are certain things you want in this relationship, right? You’re not just in it to be in it? (If you are, well, I know it’s considered bad form to call anything Doing It Wrong, but if I’m going to make an exception to that, that’s where I’d make it.) The whole point, in fact, is for you and your person to get those things that you want, so it makes sense to arrange things to focus on that. That might end up looking like a normal relationship, if you want normal kinds of things and find that the normal way of doing things works for you, or it might end up looking really weird, if you want weird kinds of things or prefer to be a bit more experimental in your implementations. That’s fine! So long as everybody is getting what they want, you’re golden, because that’s the entire point of the exercise, after all.

  8. I find a good standard for this sort of thing is “safe & comfortable”. I like feeling safe, and I like feeling comfortable, so I want my partner to feel safe & comfortable, so I try to avoid doing things that make them feel uncomfortable, or unsafe. Remember, nervous or excited != uncomfortable; there are lots of things that give me the first two feelings without invoking the third.

    When do you move in for a kiss?
    Safe? Driving or operating heavy machinery is probably bad. I’d also rule out if he’s eating, drinking, smoking, blowing bubblegum, or using a toothpick.
    Comfortable? As the Commander says, when in doubt, ask.

    What does and doesn’t constitute PDA?
    Are you in public? Are you feeling affectionate? Could an outside observer infer your affections?
    Again, the rule is “safe and comfortable”. If either of you feels uncomfortable with something, you don’t do it until both of you feel safe & comfortable.

    What about gift-giving, is there ettiquette for that?
    Certain kinds of gifts (expensive gifts, intimate items) are more likely to make the receiver feel uncomfortable.
    Any gift that creates an obligation of reciprocity, a feeling of needing to “gift back”, is likely to make the receiver feel uncomfortable.
    Any gift that cannot be refused or returned without insult or offense is likely to make the receiver feel uncomfortable and/or unsafe.

    How SHOULD I feel about this guy, anyway?
    You should feel safe, and you should feel comfortable. (excited, nervous, eager, and unsure are all possible as well, along with a whole lot of other things)

    If you don’t feel safe, that’s a huge red flag.

    If you find yourself genuinely uncomfortable a lot of the time, that’s also a huge red flag. You can be outside your comfort zone, you can be exploring things that are outside your normal boundaries with his support, but if at any point you say “I’m not comfortable with this”, he should back off and support you. (and you should be doing the same for him) If that’s not happening, that’s a bad thing. A very bad thing.

    I spend the time we’re NOT together panicking about what I might be doing right or wrong.
    The Gift of Fear spends some time talking about the difference between actual fear and “worry”, the former being a signal of danger in one’s surroundings while the latter is more of an artifact of conscious thought. Worry is distracting, fear is life-saving. I’d say a similar distinction exists between “uncomfortable” and “excited/anxious”. I don’t always know where my relationships are going, but while that may feel uncertain, that’s not an inherently negative feeling.

    When in doubt, “safe” and “comfortable” are pretty good standards to use.

    • I love the safe & comfortable standard!

      Recently I realized those people I love being around the most are exceptional at providing me with a very ‘at ease/safe’ feeling. I’m an awkward socializer/relationshiper but with them I know they always have compassion for me and there is a high level of mutual respect so this allows me to STRESS less about what things mean or where they’re going and just enjoy living!

    • This is awesome. The safe & comfortable rule-of-thumb works really well with friendship-type relationships too – great for people like me, who often finds myself (over)thinking along the lines of “How do I friendship?”.

    • I really like your safe&comfortable rule-of-thumb – it clarifies many things!

    • I love safe and comfortable!
      Actually, my current Love feels like HOME when I am next to him. It doesn’t matter where we are. We could be cuddling on my couch, or out in the most public place. He feels like home. This is currently handy because I am going through health complications, and being able to have someone who feels like Home near me is going to improve the situation enormously.

      I also agree that safe and comfortable is a good way to judge PDA and such, too. A previous person that I dated wanted me to hold his hand while he was driving? I did not feel it was safe, so I declined. The fact that he did not take that well was actually a good and useful signal for me.

    • “Safe and comfortable” is the best standard ever!

  9. Ways relationships I’ve been in have gone:

    First: Date a guy for over three months before holding hands or kissing. Once you start, become so overwhelmed by how awesome kissing is that you do it all the time, in public and private, for months with no regard for PDA rules. Tone it down after a while. Keep a slightly obsessive journal about everything you consider to be a relationship milestone to make sure you never ever forget ever. Be together for about three years and then get painfully and awkwardly broken up with just before your high school senior year final exams.

    Second: Meet a really cute bigender femme person on the first day of college and bond over shared music interests and queerness. Jam on guitar and ukulele together and have lots of long talks about your lives. Start making out a bunch but intentionally avoid commitment for a while due to having just gotten out of a relationship. After becoming an official couple, discover that most of her family lives within fifteen minutes’ drive of the college campus, and be pulled into a vast familial circle as well. Have a lot of sex – queer sex, a delightful and unexplored territory. Gradually transition from a monogamous to a polyamorous/open relationship, remaining very close and in love. Intentionally avoid recording relationship milestones because you did so in an obsessive way in your last relationship.

    Third: Meet a girl on a club outing for a multi-campus queer group. Become Facebook friends, then discover your partner has a crush on her, then develop one on her yourself. Start flirting a lot over Facebook. Invite her to dinner and a school dance. Have a fantastic evening culminating in a threesome that lasts until the afternoon of the next day. Date as a triad for six months, most of them long distance as she takes a semester off. Break up mutually for various reasons associated with life stresses and communication issues exacerbated by the distance. Take a bit of a contact break but gradually work on building up a nonromantic friendship.

    Fourth: Meet a guy through mutual friends and campus events and build a friendship, largely around your shared queer and kinky interests. Eventually start discussing acting on those shared kinks. Go over a checklist about interests and boundaries while drinking tea in a semi-private, nonsexual space for clarity and safety. Start a kink play buddyship that involves no romantic commitments or fluid sharing beyond saliva. Cuddle and give each other advice/support on romantic and social subjects after playing.

    I’m only nineteen and this is a snapshot of the variety of totally valid, deeply enjoyable intimate relationships I’ve been a part of in my life so far. There is no magic formula – what works for you in one moment or with one person may be vastly different in a new time or situation. However, when you open yourself up to the freedom and variety that’s on offer, you can build the relationship(s) that will serve you best. I wish you well in your awesome new relationship journey! =)

  10. Dear LW,

    I just wanted to emphasize that EVERYONE has feelings like this at some point during the beginnings of new relationships (even non-romantic ones!). You are totally normal for being nervous about how to handle this new situation that you have never been in before. I affirm your right to be nervous and have lots of questions!

    It sounds to me like you really like this guy and want to make this THE BEST RELATIONSHIP EVER. Here’s the thing though; no relationship is perfect. At some point, you are going to do something that he finds weird/ annoying/ frustrating. He will probably get mad at you. He will also do something that you find weird/ frustrating/ annoying, and you will get mad at him. You will even fight sometimes!

    The sign of a good relationship is that you are able to talk about the things that are annoying/ frustrating with love and acceptance of one another, and go back to snuggles and rainbows. If you consistently feel scared to talk with this guy about your fears/ feelings/ expectations/ whatever, it’s probably a sign that the relationship is not going to work out. But I think that if the foundation is generally sound (and it sounds like it is! yay!) with time and practice and letting go of the idea of the PERFECT RELATIONSHIP, you will totally be able to make it work, and have an awesome relationship. Good luck!

  11. I don’t have much relationship experience, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that there are very few wrong ways to Relationship, and millions of right ways to. I would also warn against listening to anyone who says they know the One True Way of Relationshipping. My first serious partner had a lot more experience than I had, and I went along with a lot of the unreasonable expectations he had of me because I thought that those were just things people in relationships did. After I broke up with him, I realized that those were actually things that he wanted in his relationship, and that me not wanting it didn’t make me a bad partner, just a crappy one for him.

    I’m pretty sure that most of us in life are fumbling through almost everything we do in the dark without a flashlight or a road map. It can be scary, but it’s also pretty awesome. Our lives are our lives! We get to decide what we do with them! And that includes romantic relationships! I think the best thing you can do is follow the awesome six rules that the Commander set out, and keep doing what makes you happy.

  12. The first time my now-husband and I said ‘I love you’ to each other was magical and full of rainbows and butterflies. After we each went home that evening I was terrified that I’d made a horrible mistake, not because I had any doubts about the suitability of the relationship but because I had no idea what to do next. In the movies (most movies anyway), the point where the star-crossed lovers finally admit to their love and decide to be happy together is exactly the point where the credits roll. If the happy couple ever shows up on screen again, they won’t be happy any more – the relationship will be in trouble, or someone will be conveniently dead, or something of that nature. I had extremely few real-life examples that were any better. So I’d just hit the high point of my entire life, if books and movies and other people were to be believed, and from here, could it be good? Or was I doomed? Because doom was the only story I knew.

    I fretted about that for a few days, and then the feeling passed and hasn’t returned. I somehow figured out – on the fly, with my partner – what to do next. (Answer for us: More “I love you”s! More fun dates, like before but with less angst about leaning in for a kiss! Yay!!) At some point he admitted he had no idea what he was doing either, despite having previously been in a good relationship. We figured out how to continue to have a great relationship together anyway.

    I’m confident you’ll figure it out too. If your head says it’s right and your gut says it’s right and your partner thinks so too, you’re doing it right. If not, use your thoughts, words, and support system to figure out what actions to take. Have fun! You’ve got this one.

    • One of the problems in a first relationship is that you have no direct experience yet, and so, all you have are what you have seen around you.
      I had my parents and my brother and sister in law who were all in long term happy marriage country. I saw reasonable discussions and sharing around me and it did a lot to at least moderate the popular culture messages.
      I have an AWFUL time watching soaps, sitcoms, and most rom coms. I keep wanting to tell the characters to just TALK TO EACH OTHER ALREADY! Instead they do that thing(it happened in Brave, too) where they tell someone ELSE what they should be telling the person they are disputing with instead. ARGH!
      Or they make a really big deal out of some thing that symbolizes something important to them…and the other person messes things up because they weren’t told that this was a do or die test of the relationship?
      I could go on, but, basically, I learned at home to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not assume that the people in my life were mind readers. Figure out what it is that you need or want, and ask for it with words, not hints. The pop culture thing that if he/she/zhe really loved you he/she/zhe would just know? IT IS RUBBISH.

  13. JUST IN CASE the ‘move in for a kiss’ was a euphemism, maybe look into the Enthusiastic Yes. (Consent! Not just for girls!) Kissing may be totally ok one day/place/situation and not another. I’m a fan of the ‘ask until you learn what their pattern of response will be, then continue to ask until they tell you to stop asking, and then continue to ask on situations where you’re not sure’ style of physicality, because by then you’ll have learned some really fun/sexy ways of asking, and because I like my kisses (etc.) to be enthusiastically received. Also, because if you’re going to obsess about something, a great choice is ‘respecting another person’s bodily autonomy’ – a much better choice than ‘everything aaaahhhh,’ which seems to be where you’re sitting now. (I say this with totally empathy and love. Anxious over-thinkers, unite!)

    • I really love the suggestion that if you need to obsess, pick something helpful. I am also an anxious over-thinker, and this is a really great way to frame that whole thought process. High fives.

    • Yes! Word to all of this. Great suggestions.

    • Seriously, picking something useful and actionable to obsess about is the best. My anxiety is perfectly capable of deciding that EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE WORRIED ABOUT RIGHT NOW, and if you can direct it at “what are some more ways to have makeouts?” it works like a charm.

      My person & I have been together for almost 16 years, and still the anxiety needs to be redirected on a regular basis. I *wish* I’d had a way to think about that at the beginning — would have saved everyone a lot of squabbles and worry, for sure!

  14. Most of this is great, but I’d caveat rule #6: “Do and say what feels right and good, at that moment. Even if it’s awkward.” — as long as it doesn’t violate the other person’s boundaries. And if you’re not sure where those are, ask. Even if it’s awkward.

  15. When I was 18 and in college, the friend I’d been crushing on asked me out on my very first explicit date. I happily said yes, then panicked. I’d never been on a real date before! Everybody else figured dating out in high school, right? How should I act? Eeeeeek.

    Then a voice inside my head said, “Um, you’ve been eating lunch with this dude all semester. He’s seen you pick hamburger out of your teeth. Just act how you always act around him.”

    I took my own advice and had a very nice time. Too bad I didn’t apply the advice to other dating things (“I don’t know how to kiss and I’m scared and eeeeeek”). Admitting that I was nervous and had no idea what I was doing probably wouldn’t have lost me any points, and would have made it easier for him than my silent freakouts.

    So, seconding the suggestions above to let your partner in on the internal dialogue. You were friends before, and this is the kind of thing you’d share with a friend.

    • Also, “I don’t know how to kiss and I’m scared and eeeek” is super adorable and will make most decent people want to take extra good care of you and make ABSOLUTELY DAMN SURE you have a good time. It’s vulnerable, and vulnerability is scary, but people who like you will keep you safe. And they’ll usually enjoy it. Most people enjoy having the opportunity to care for the people they love (or just like!), right?

  16. Just a brief one: OT, love the picture of Maru as Relationship Cat in the Milestones Box. :)

    On topic, oh, milestones. Mr Kittehs’ and I decided we were married. Then months later we had a sort of marriage marker (ie. frocking up and having sticky sweets which I managed to spill on said frock) get-together with the family to say “Hey, we’re married! Isn’t that cool?” Then a few months after that, when we were all alone in a park and had been laughing about it, he proposed on bended knee, and we did sort of not-really vows, just ‘cos.

    So don’t worry about milestones, LW, or think there’s a script or timetable for ‘em. You can have ones all your own, anyway. First time you cooked together, if you like cooking. Or first whatevers, but things that matter to you two, not to anyone else’s preconceptions.

    Good luck and best wishes!

  17. We have a few useful rules, if you would like to hear them?

    1. I will not willingly hurt you
    2. I cannot read your mind

    from that follows a series of things that may be more or less specific to us, but may help:

    assume goodwill – I know, unless you are dealing with toxic people, this is a helpful place to start, and no one would willingly assume bad will on the part of a new romantic partner, but it helps in the weird and awkward spaces where you are over-examining motives for a small comment or action, and trying to decide how to respond

    when in doubt, ask – I’m so pleased to see enthusiastic consent showing up in discourse. The only way to learn anything about your partner is to ask, and have them tell you as honestly as possible, and the same in return.

    no one wins – this helps reduce power struggles and one-up or one-down feelings, and keeps unintentional slights or misunderstandings from becoming win/lose propositions… really pulling the fangs on power struggles made a huge difference to us

    We’ve kind of boiled it down to “talk, a lot, with kindness/listen, hard, with kindness”

    We’ve been together since 1981. We’re raising two awesome girls. I feel like we are doing something really right, and I think it started with those two rules.

    • Brilliant. My sweetie and I promoted “assume goodwill” up to number 3, but basically I second all of this. Good on you.

  18. Two other possible resources for helpful advice on relationship confusion are Scarleteen and RookieMag. They’re both pitched at a slightly younger age group, but a lot of this stuff is transferable. You may have to do some digging to find the applicable bits, but even the non-applicable bits generally make for good reading.

    Congratulations on the happy butterflies!

  19. Congratulations on the butterflies! Butterflies, they are so awesome.

    Everyone else has already given amazing advice, to which I would just add: watch out for the One True Love trap. Be with this person because they are awesome and they make you feel awesome, not because you feel any kind of obligation. From myself and my friend’s experiences, I feel like the ‘this is my first love and we’ve been together x long and IT MUST WORK FOREVER’ is a pretty common trap to fall into? It’s a sucky trap! Whether you’re with this person for a week or a lifetime matters much less than being in a healthy, happy relationship.

  20. I have some thoughts on the advice you’ve gotten from your friends, which you said was often contradictory. I think this is probably because what works for different relationships IS contradictory, in a lot of cases. One relationship may work well because they only saw each other on weekends, while another might only function when they’re hanging out more regularly. It just depends on the people.

    As far as evaluating the advice of your friends (and other people) goes, my rule of thumb would be to mentally preface everything they say with “this works for me, maybe it will work for you too”. I’m not a big fan of the word “always”, so if your friends say anything to the effect of “always wait at least three months before saying you love him” or “never let him pay for the first date” or whatever, take it with a pinch of salt. (As I said though, I’m not a fan of absolutes – in this case the exception relates to abuse, eg, it’s always okay for you to say no). It’s also worth thinking about how they came to hold their beliefs – is it a gendered cultural stereotype? These aren’t inherently bad, you just have to work out if they really do hold true for you and if they’re making you happy.

    Basically, I think it’s great and useful to talk to lots of different people about this stuff and to get a lot of different opinions. Sometimes the advice will be contradictory because people have different experiences – which is why it helps to have a lot of different perspectives. As time goes on, you’ll have your own experience to draw on.

    Just don’t overthink it too much. As long as you’re both happy, you’re probably doing okay.

  21. I think the best advice is to trust the other person, and don’t make the relationship your whole world. The way that you Relationship is to live like you normally do, while spending as much time as you (and he) want with the other person, and enjoying the hell out of each other. You are in the good part of a relationship! You can do whatever you feel like! Kiss him when you feel like kissing him, and if there are times he doesn’t wanna get kissed, trust him to tell you that/react in a way that nonverbally tells you it wasn’t okay when he is in the middle of a raid or whatever. Every relationship is different, so you just do what you want and see if it is compatible with what this other person likes (which, thus far, sounds like it is). You’re feeling it out now, but eventually it will either work itself out and you get used to it, or if it doesn’t, then you scrap it and find one that does. I’d try my darndest to crush those insecurities way down into a tiny ball and then slam dunk it in the wastepaper basket. You feel uncertain, right? Freaked out and excited, but not bad? So just tell yourself, “the only thing that doesn’t feel good here is all of this doubt. the rest feels good! so, this is good…! go away, doubt.” Then if/when something starts feeling actually, legitimately not-so-good, take notice and talk about it with the person. If you start getting an especially weird feeling about something you are doing, or something he is doing, sometimes it is best to step outside of yourself and look at it that way. I tend to write things down, then read them as I would any other piece of not-by-me writing. It makes it easier to check yourself, and also acts as a start to a script if you end up needing it. I do it with long letters detailing everything I am feeling and how I see a situation when I am having relationship troubles, but if you’re starting out and you’re not sure about ANY of it, maybe just a sentence here and there. If it turns out being, “a girl calls her boyfriend, he sounds grumpy and says he doesn’t feel like talking, says she’ll call back later” then you can look at that, pretend it is your friend coming to you with her own boyfriend situation, and probably just examine it like “I dunno, girl. Sounds like he’s just in a bad mood, probably just talk to him later like he asked?” And then, if it ends up being “a girl calls her boyfriend and he screams at her to fuck off without provocation, then she cries for an hour” or “a girl calls her boyfriend 5-8 times each and every day, he often sounds irritated but won’t say why,” then you can sort of start to look at it from an outside perspective to get a sense for what Reality is and what Feelings are, and try and balance the two before deciding on how to deal with the Badness.

    For me, this process is a HUGE thing, because Relationship Me is the Jealous Type/Insecure Type. I was in a long distance relationship for two and a half years and, especially toward the beginning, when he’d say he was gonna go out to the pub with his friends that night, it would make me crazy fretting about “what if he meets a girl at the pub and what if she flirts with him and he flirts back and what if he kissed her oh my god what is happening why can’t we just be together so that I can be there to protect my interests all of the tiiiiime.” Admittedly, this was not TOTALLY without warrant, due to a Just-Starting-Out-A-Relationship-Fuckup-On-His-Part-That-I-Decided-Was-Worth-Trying-To-Get-Over-Because-We-Had-Something-Real-Good incident, but even so? The ability to look at what I am feeling and say “okay, you feel that way. you’re going to feel that way, smidge of justification or no, and you can acknowledge that. but what is actually happening, right this moment, here in the world that isn’t in your head, is that someone that you care about is having fun with his friends, and that is good. you know that is good. he cares about you, if he didn’t, he wouldn’t act like he did, because good people don’t do that, and you wouldn’t be dating someone you didn’t think was a good person. accept that. he knows that doing X would hurt you, if he is going to do X, nothing you do right now could change that, and it wouldn’t be worth doing if you could, because you don’t want to be with someone who would do that. chill the fuck out, just let things happen the way they will, and DEFINITELY don’t try to monopolize someone else’s time. you don’t want to be that person, so don’t be that person, even if there is some of that person trying to burst out of your chest right now and work its way into a barrage of angsty text messages.” And eventually, training myself that way basically worked. I’m still the same person I was, I still got those twinges of ridiculous EXCUSE ME BOYFRIEND BUT DID YOU SEE THE WAY SHE JUST SMILED AT YOU?? WHY AREN’T YOU TELLING HER TO FUCK OFF THIS INSTANT (oh right it’s because you’re not an enormous douche like I am right now). After awhile, though, I was able to just fucking relax and didn’t have to force it so much. The relationship went up in flames for other reasons, but it had nothing to do with other girls. And if it had, it would have had nothing to do with me anyway, and worrying about it the whole time would have accomplished nothing, except making me unhappy.

    Anyway, the point I have been slowly (s l o w l y) getting to is: you will learn who Relationship You is. To find relationship me, it took a couple months to get comfortable with the guy, a few more months to realize what my weaknesses (and his) were, and another several months to train myself off the ledge of sabotaging my relationship, and learning the best ways for Relationship Me to communicate to/about Relationship Him (Relationship Him specialized in Total Radio Silence when feeling bad, inducing massive amounts of needless worry on my end. He got better at it, but still dumped me via Just Disappearing One Day, so there’s that). Hopefully Relationship You doesn’t need as much scrutiny as Relationship Me needed, but if so, just pay attention to what you’re doing (don’t obsess, don’t freak out, don’t worry, just observe), learn what your weaknesses are and work on them. You’ll figure out what you want and how you handle things as you go.

    So, be yourself, trusting that it will be amazing, but knowing that if it isn’t, and the relationship can’t handle you, then it isn’t a good one for you to be in. As long as you can look back on your sentences and they aren’t all “I CALLED HIS PHONE TEN TIMES THEN GOT DRUNK AND SHOWED UP AT HIS HOUSE AT 3AM TO CRY AT/FEELINGSBOMB HIM” or other varieties of “wow, what is this woman doing and HOW IS THIS ME??” kinds of sentences, then don’t even worry! you’re all good.

    (holy god I’m sorry for writing so much. but, you know, “RELATIONSHIPS.” that’s a pretty Big Topic)

  22. This post is just what I needed right now.

    I’m two and a half months into my first proper relationship, and having got over my “oh god maybe he’s not actually interested” worries and my “maybe he’s gone off me” worries and “he hasn’t answered the text I sent two hours ago IT’S ALL GOING WRONG” worries and settled into a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship I’m getting myself a whole new set of worries. I am overthinker-extraordinaire.

    For instance, I’m finding myself not as wildly and happily excited about seeing him as I was at the beginning of the relationship. But I’ve also got possible (undiagnosed) depression/bipolar tendencies, and I’m finding it really difficult to figure out my ~real~ emotions from my “augh everything is pointless” depression emotions. And I keep worrying about “oh god what if I’ve gone off HIM” and “AM I IN LOVE WHAT EVEN IS LOVE ANYWAY”. So this paragraph really helped:

    “How SHOULD I feel about this guy? – I don’t know him or you, so I’m going to say you should feel exactly how you feel at a given moment. Love him down to the toe jam? Great! Find him suddenly annoying? Fine! Right back to toe jam loving the next second? Normal! Even if I DID know you both, I’d say the same thing, because you are the boss of you, and no one else is.”

    Also, I really need to work on communication, especially about my emotions and sexual stuff.

    Anyway, sorry for possible derailing into My Own Situation, but I just wanted to say that I found the whole post really helpful in worrying less.

    • New relationships often come with a big rush of excited happy brain chemicals, and when that ebbs and everything is a bit less shiny and the bluebirds are no longer flying around your head, it’s easy to worry that something is wrong. Nothing is wrong! It’s just that the bluebirds have done their job of getting you over that initial nervousness and into a relationship, and now they’re off to circle other heads.

  23. Oh my god, you guys. It sounds like I wrote this letter, right down to specifics. New, first relationship, 21 years old, overthinker extraordinaire, and from Canada. This is seriously eerie.

    All the comments are so helpful. I really, really need to start using my words and telling him what I want instead of just sitting there, all demure and silent. He can’t read my mind! Oh my god, it sounds stupid to say that this is a revelation, but it is! :D

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