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.
Too Much Too Soon
Dear Too Much:
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.