Reader Question #28: New relationship angst!

Dear Captain,

I am in what seems to be the early stages of a relationship – four dates in – and I need some advice in how to proceed.

The woman I am dating is a very lovely person (I am, by the way, a queer woman), we have a lot in common, and I enjoy spending time with her. However, for a start I worry that I enjoy the thought of dating her for two rather selfish reasons. First, that I have a habit of being the ‘carer’ in all my relationships with friends and sometimes family. With this woman, I don’t feel that this would be necessary so much and that’s quite a restful thought. Second, she’s more interested in me than I am in her. It feels bad to say, but I have a history (thankfully something I have been able to put aside and begin working through) of a very painful two-year unrequited love/lust for someone, which made me feel undesirable/unlovable/etc. Her being interested in me feels, after all that, very nice.

So I worry that my motivations in getting into this aren’t nice motivations, and further I worry about what I can give her back.

I don’t want a romantic relationship. I enjoy dating her, and sex with her, but I don’t want her to be my girlfriend. Not only is this a very busy time for me (last year of university), I don’t think I’d want her as a girlfriend anyway; I don’t think she’s someone I could be in love with.

I don’t want to bring her into my core group of friends. She already knows most of them through the wider social circle – I’m not ashamed of her. But if I bring her in it will be as ‘my date’ and that would change the dynamics I have with my friends. I’m not happy about the thought of giving up that dynamic.

I randomly swing into low energy/introvert mode. At that time, all further social interaction becomes a chore, and all I want to do is go home and read a book. With my ex, we would call a time out when on a date and both read for half an hour, so that worked okay. But I’m not sure how to make it clear to this woman that it will keep happening (I’ve already bailed on her twice when hanging out) and that it isn’t something about her.

I don’t want to sleep over at her place – I get insomniac in strange beds. She seems to have less trouble sleeping over at mine (as she has done so) but I worry that I’ll seem aloof.

I have an unpredictable libido with partnered sex, and also have occasional trouble orgasming. In the past, I’ve handled this by only dating/hooking up very casually – getting in touch with whoever I was seeing only when I felt like sex. I’d be happy to do this with her, too, but she contacts me a lot and I feel she wants to date more regularly. The trouble orgasming links in with the introvert mode – not only is it embarrassing for me when I don’t come, as I’m not very good about talking about it yet, all I want to do afterwards is say goodbye to the rest of the evening and go home.

With all this, I don’t know if I should be pursuing a relationship with her at all, and if I do I know she’s got a right to know a lot/all of this but I don’t know how to bring it up in a way that isn’t potentially going to hurt or offend her. She has not yet asked to be in a relationship or to hang with me and my friends, or for me to hang with hers, but as she does seem to want to date regularly I want to make things clear from the get go.

Thoughts? Advice?

Thanks for this question!  First, it gives me a chance to post the awesome trailer for Chicago indie filmmaker Wendy Jo Carlton’s new musical, Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together.

Cute gay women!  Overthinking it!  IN SONG!

Wendy Jo is the talented shizznit, people, and I cannot wait to see this movie.

Second, I think there is a chance that you are overthinking this new relationship and that you are overthinking it A LOT.  Four dates in, you do not have to solve the problem of whether you fall in love, meeting each other’s friends (and under what definition that will take place), sleeping arrangements, your issues with orgasms and introversion, that other person you liked for 2 years and how this might relate back to it, etc.

I could be totally wrong about this, and tell me if I am out of line, but you say in your letter that you are usually the “carer” in your relationships.  You’re more comfortable pursuing than being pursued.  And you spent two years in that role with someone who did not reciprocate that affection, and you looked for sexual satisfaction outside of a romantic relationship with casual partners.   So that’s what I’m basing this on:  What I think is going on is that you have found someone who likes you and wants to have sex with you while liking you, and then she consistently likes you the next day and goes right on liking you, and it’s a new feeling and it’s freaking your shit out.  And you’re using a lot of these anxieties about meeting friends/introversion/orgasms/worries about falling in love to try to manage this person’s feelings for you (in other words, to put yourself back in the “carer” role) to gain control over the situation.

Now this relationship might be doomed for all the reasons you say it is.  You may just be Not That Into Her.  She might get to know you better and decide to break up with the woman who leaves in the middle of dates/doesn’t bring her around her friends/never sleeps over/doesn’t really want to have a committed relationship in the last year of university.

This woman does deserve to know your thoughts and feelings and in general “how you work,” but there is a way to deliver that information incrementally and without making assumptions about her feelings and desires.  Namely, it sounds like there is a lot of cycling going on in your head that has nothing to do with her, and it seems like a mistake to share all of that with her or put it on her for the sins of “liking you maybe a little too much.”

So here is my advice.  It is very basic and I do not mean to be patronizing, I’m trying to circumvent the anxiety cycle in your head by focusing on basic, simple, immediate questions instead of worrying about…..THE FUTURE.

When she calls you for a date, ask yourself:  “Self, do I want to go on this date?”

If the answer is no, say “No thanks, not today!”  And when you do want to go on a date, get in touch with her or answer differently.

When you’re on a date, ask yourself:  “Self, am I enjoying this date?

If yes, continue with the date.  If no, cut it short and go home. If this has happened before, I’m going to assume she’s noticed of your introvert tendencies, but it is probably a good idea to tell her about them.  “I’m an introvert and easily exhausted by people.  In the past it’s helped me to take a quiet reading/internet surfing break or cut things short when I need to recharge.  How would you like me to handle it with you?”

When the question of sleeping over comes up, ask yourself “Self, do I need to be in my own bed to get a good night’s sleep?”

If yes, then say “I’m sorry, I sleep really poorly outside my own bed and have a lot of stuff to do tomorrow.  Can we go to your place another time?

Then, if you like her, stay over at her place on a weekend night when you don’t have to be up and functional first thing the next day.  That way you’re not rejecting her or making her feel crappy, you’re just taking care of your own needs.

If your friends invite you to do something, and you don’t feel like inviting her along, don’t.  You get to spend time with your friends without people you are dating tagging along.  If there is a party for the larger social circle and she would know about it or be invited anyway, then you can both go and have a good time.  People will figure out that you’re seeing each other naturally in the course of things.  You can also say to your friends “Hey, this thing with ___ is really new we’re keeping it light.  Don’t feel like you have to invite her to everything to please me – I just like seeing you guys on my own sometimes.

If you’re having sex and you can’t have an orgasm, you didn’t fail at sex. This goes for everyone reading this.  Even you, dudes.  Even you.  The world would be a better place if people felt comfortable saying “I don’t think I can come this way, right now, but I’m enjoying being with you.” You don’t owe this woman your own orgasms.  If you’re going to have a sexual relationship, you do owe her honesty, as in “my libido is unpredictable” and “here are things I like to do in bed” and you also owe her questions about her own desires and fantasies and pleasures, and you owe it to yourself to work on whatever issues you might have around intimacy and sex.

FYI, I’m a total introvert.  I live with Intern Paul, but we each have our own rooms where we can close the door and invoke the “Pretend I don’t exist until I come out” rule.  We take separate vacations.  One of the reasons our relationship has lasted is that while dating, either of us could say “want to come over later?” and the other person could say “Meh, no, I’d rather be alone” and  then we could say “cool, see you when I see you.”  It was so attractive!  Doing our own thing!  Alone!  Separately!  In quiet solitude!

What I’m saying is, anyone who likes you probably understands that they are getting a prickly introvert who will defend her alone time to the death.  As long as you are honest and direct about it, and if they don’t like it, they can bail, and you don’t have to manage that process for them.

TL;DR version:

  1. You’re overthinking it.
  2. Take one date at a time, and focus on whether you are enjoying what is happening right now.
  3. Be honest and direct about your own needs and desires (like sleeping over).
  4. Don’t try to manage her feelings, her relationships with your friends, the future for her – it’s patronizing.
  5. Do manage your own feelings and anxieties.  If you don’t want to hang on a given day, don’t hang. If you don’t want to sleep over, don’t sleep over.  If you don’t come, don’t come.  If you’re focused on your studies and don’t have time to hang out this week, you can just say so.  Four dates in, six dates in, 10 dates in – you don’t have to hammer everything out right away.  You still get to be making up your mind, as does she.
  6. If you’re not enjoying yourself and don’t see it going anywhere, just break up with her. If you are enjoying yourself…it’s okay to just enjoy yourself with a nice person who likes you.  I get the feeling that is a novel experience for you, but it’s something you fucking deserved all along – from life, from love, from sex – and I hope your future involves more of it, not less.
  7. See Wendy Jo’s movie when it comes out, it’s going to be awesome.

10 thoughts on “Reader Question #28: New relationship angst!

  1. Thank you so much! I’m also an introvert, and have been worried about how to tell my (first!) boyfriend that I enjoy being with him but still need some time on my own if we’re together more than a certain amount of time… this makes it easier. :~)

    1. There’s lots of us, and it will go a lot better if you say “I like you so much, but I’d rather be alone tonight” and then go do that thing rather than worrying about it for weeks/months and then exploding “WHY WON’T YOU EVER LET ME HAVE ALONE TIME OH GOD LET’S BREAK UP” down the road. Your BF will figure out, hey, if she gets alone time, then she’s happy to see me when we do hang out. Your BF might also like his alone time and just not have said anything before now.

      Good luck and enjoy it.

      1. As an introvert, that whole “worrying about it for weeks/months and then exploding “WHY WON’T YOU EVER LET ME HAVE ALONE TIME OH GOD LET’S BREAK UP”” scenario rings a few bells for me.

        Much better about dealing with that today.

        Introvert rights!

        What do we want?!

        To sit at home and maybe read a book!

        When do we want it??

        After being around people for awhile!!

  2. If I were so gifted, I would make you clever flowcharts of the Order of Social Experience Operations.

    “Am I having fun?” If “no” initiate “go home sequence”.

  3. You are so right – I have been overthinking. It’s something I tend to do a lot, and yet never notice until someone points it out to me! Thanks for your very clear and well thought out response – I’ll work on taking things in the present and not getting too hung up on things.

  4. Do I smell a lesbian “choose your own adventure” book by Captain Awkward around the bed?

    “If Lizzy decides to accept Tina’s offer of a nightcap knowing that she’ll only resent Tina for ruining her sleep cycle, turn to page 78. If she opts to go home, put on her comfy pj’s, and give the new REM album a spin, turn to page 94.”

  5. Huh. Typical I found this now. I was in a very similar situation until ooh… 6 hours ago? I’d decided I Wasn’t That Much Into Him, despite him being a very nice guy, and generous and pretty good looking. Something just didn’t click. It might just have been cos I’ve only recently, in the past couple of months, got out of a serious relationship, but I don’t think so. He knew all that before he asked me out, and luckily was understanding when I split.

    Oh, and knowing how to go about it came from one of your other posts my brother linked me to.

    Ta Cap’n. You are pretty Awesome. Time to spread the word!

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