#260: Sense and Sensibility and Saying Stuff Out Loud

Both Bingley and Jane are like, “OMG OMG OMG TOUCHING! YAY!”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m afraid my question is a little on the vague and general side.
I feel like Jane Bennet, whose “feelings, though fervent, were little displayed.” I just don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, and for the most part I’m very happy to be that way. But I think it’s been a problem for my intimate relationships. Three or four people I’ve dated have said I seemed unenthusiastic about them, especially in the early stages of the relationship, even though, in actual fact, I was very excited about them. The first couple of times this was said to me, it was in the context of ” . . . and so I didn’t think you would mind when I started dating someone else instead” and I figured it was a self-serving excuse and/or projection. But it’s been said since then, in less ambiguous circumstances, and I feel like I shouldn’t brush it off.
I’m newly single, so this issue has been on my mind as I think about starting to date new people. But I don’t know quite what to do. Using my words seems appropriate, except I have no idea what words to say. I was intrigued by Commander Logic’s recent suggestion about practicing being positively assertive – I’m good at being assertive in other areas, so this seems like something I could work on and something that would be useful in making me a little less reserved. I would love to get some more suggestions.
To be clear, I don’t plan to go full-on Charlotte Lucas and display feelings I don’t actually have. I just hate the thought that my gentleman callers have been feeling unappreciated. There’s a lot of dating advice out there telling people how to play it cool – what can I do to play it a little hotter?
Cold Face, Warm Heart

Hallo, Warm Heart!  CommanderLogic here.

“The Colonel is so OLD.” WhatEVER, Marianne.

The Captain sent me your letter and I immediately conducted a bit of Netflix research and re-watched Ang Lee’s 1995 Sense & Sensibility. I highly recommend you do the same, because I think the contrast between Elinor and Marianne is going to be more illustrative of your (and for a long time my) “problem” with being subdued.  Also, Alan Rickman… HUMMINA.  I’ll wait.

You back? Great. So! First things first, did Marianne’s effusiveness with Willoughby stop him from dumping her ass? No. No, it did not.  Did he dump her because she was effusive? No. Did Edward dump Elinor (initially) because he wasn’t sure she liked him? No. In both cases there were other things going on for Willoughby and Edward (Money problems, sekkrit agreements, jerky family, etc.) that had nothing at all to do with how much or how little they showed their affections.  How does this relate to your situation? Those people who thought you would be okay with them dating other people were ASSHOLES.  Their assholery has exactly nothing to do with how much or how little you showed your affection, and everything to do with them wanting to date other people for [reasons] which they expected you to know through telepathy.

But you did cotton to the basic “I don’t know what you’re thinking” side of being reserved, and want to do some work there. Well done! Way to take those asshole lemons and make super lemon-powered robots! Let’s do a brief primer in how to show people you like that you like them.

Fitzwilliam Darcy once again attempts to practice seduction via telepathy.

Say stuff out loud because people are terrible at reading minds. Even if you think “I like you” REALLY HARD at someone, they are not going to know that you like them unless you say “I like you!”  You’d mentioned wanting to practice more positive assertiveness, and that’s all about just saying the nice or pleasant thing that you’re thinking out loud.  Other messages you can deliver by voice rather than brainwave or “evocative” facial expression:
– Your hair looks great.
– You smell good.
– Thank you for [doing thing], I really appreciate it!
– I’m so glad you chose [activity] to do.
– I’m having a great time with you right now.
– You are amazing!

If you’re anything like Elinor or younger-CommanderLogic, you’re probably going to think something along the lines of “But what if I say something TOO FORWARD. It’s rude to say that stuff out loud!” Wrong, Elinor and YoungerMe! It’s a little weird if you’re not used to it, but as we covered in the first positive assertiveness post, it’s an over-filtering problem.  You’re having awesome and positive thoughts all the time, but they’re getting caught in your “potentially rude and awkward” filter.  Replace that filter with a new one that says: It is never rude to compliment, thank, or share a positive thought, so when in doubt, ask yourself if it’s a compliment, thanks, or a positive thought. Work on letting those things through.

Allow this thoughtfulness ninja to steal into your heart and read sonnets to you.

Now that’s all Level 1 stuff.  Some advanced Like Showing includes:
Physical contact. Sexy if that is the level you’re at, but hand holding is a good physical version of saying “I’m happy!” Hugs. Cuddles. Sitting close in a booth. Gentle head butts in the shoulder.
Actions. Do little things for them. Or big things! Notice and speak up when they’ve done little or big things for you. (Col. Brandon is a goddamn loving actions ninja! He just observes and then gives you the thing you need at the moment you need it; knife, piano, a curacy, HE IS ON IT OKAY?)
Check in. “I’m feeling like this. Are you feeling like that too, or like something else?” (Example from early in the CL/HL relationship: “You were only gone for two days, but I missed you. Is that weird?” “Nope. I missed you too!”)

What was most difficult for me was figuring out that different people are… different. (Duh, right?) And! The same people are different depending on their moods. There isn’t a single formula that works every time, but if you speak up, you’ll find out what works.  Some people want to be praised. Some people want to be held. Some people want you to demonstrate your affection. And some people don’t want the same like messages that they send out.  Just watch for reciprocity – does this person act like they like you? – check in with each other, and carry on!

Finally, Showing Like is as much about saying “I received your message of liking me!” as it is about saying “I like you!”  If someone is throwing Like your way – whether verbally or through actions – they need to know that you heard them. Bonus: telling someone they’ve been heard is a combination of complimenting, thanking, and a positive thought. That should get through your filter, no problem!

– “I like to be told that I look pretty!”
– “You put so much work into dinner, and it is just beautiful and tasty.”
– “Since we’re hanging out and websurfing together, can we websurf kind of cuddled up?”
– “I love it when you pop up in my IM window in the middle of the day. It makes my afternoon!”
– “I found this fancy tea that tastes like almonds, and I know you love almonds. Here!”
– “You are such an amazing kisser. Speaking of… [smoochings].”
– “You remembered [thing that I said I wanted three weeks ago] and got it for me? That’s amazing!”

Every one of those things is code for ‘I like you and you make me feel good’ for someone.

Edward Ferrars, always showing his love by showing up and stammering. It’s his way.

I guarantee you, if you are temperamentally an Elinor, you will feel initially uncomfortable providing all this feedback to people in your life – and I do recommend practicing with your friends.  Tell your friends when they look great. Tell them you noticed when they do something super cool. Tell them you saw the CUTEST otter video the other day and it made you think of them right away. Let the people you like know in no uncertain terms that you like them. It will get less weird and more awesome as time goes by, I promise.

Best of luck!
CommanderLogic, recovering Elinor

35 thoughts on “#260: Sense and Sensibility and Saying Stuff Out Loud

  1. “I found this fancy tea that tastes like almonds, and I know you love almonds. Here!”

    I was very nearly drinking something when I read this, but fortunately my “don’t drink and look at the screen” instincts are highly developed, or it would have come right out my nose. Because I read “almonds” and immediately thought “cyanide!”*, and now I have Tea and Corpses stuck in my head.

    *I know that’s not strictly how it works, but… almonds!

    1. I immediately thought about cyanide as well. It’s a product of me reading too many Agatha Christie novels.

    2. Fourthed! I am now picturing a very cheerful Kathy Bates/Annie Wilkes cheerfully declaring how much fun it is to hobble Paul Sheldon, then asking him if he thinks that’s weird.

    1. I feel like I should warn people that the book in the post,The Five Love Languages, does have some potentially useful info (though not based in anything even remotely scientific, if I recall correctly), but it’s definitely part of the evangelical Christian subculture. I haven’t read the book in a number of years, and maybe its attitudes aren’t so bad. But I do remember there being LOTS of bible verses. I think people who have had negative experiences with Christianity should be forewarned.

    2. I also thought of the Five Love Languages when reading this. I has been a really helpful book. I reread it every few years. I agree, it is noticeably Christian based. There is in particular a story about a woman who saves her marriage by loving her husband “the right way” that sends tiny chills up and down my spine, but overall, I still recommend it.

  2. My heart is brimming with Jane Austen references!!

    Elinor is a bad-ass. She frickin’ got her family up and running after disaster, and didn’t let her feelings supercede her immediate priorities. And she got the best dude.

    LW, it’s okay to be reserved! It’s also okay to ask what your partner wants and/or express how you’d like to be shown affection. Just bringing up the conversation of “love languages” can help immensely. My significant other shows his affection in practicality: doing the dishes, etc. I prefer extraneous acts like a post-it note with a heart left on his car, or a kick-ass mix cd. Find out what your partner/potential partner wants and communicate what you want, and it will be much easier! Before we had this conversation, he was feeling unloved and I was feeling unloved. Now, I try my hardest to verbally acknowledge how grateful I am for him cleaning the house, and he makes an effort to do silly things for me. We still have to remind each other now and then of our different love languages, but overall, it’s awesome.

    Even if you still tend to be reserved with showing affection, it’s okay! Mr. Bingley’s golden retriever attitude and affection balanced out Jane’s reserve. You’ll find your perfect combination of Mr. Darcy/Mr. Bingley/Edward Ferrars. (Not to say you can’t be happy or complete without one.)

    1. coming v. late to the party, but two things: 1) I pictured Mr. Bingley as the literary incarnation of the Golden Retriever of Love, and my brain went to the ultimate happy place! And secondly: “You’ll find your perfect combination of Mr. Darcy/Mr. Bingley/Edward Ferrars.” This combo is Frederick Wentworth!!!!!!!

  3. I don’t know if we can make follow-up questions, but from the ones who date reserved people: are you allowed to ask for that as well?

    I feel like every time I ask, they say yes. But it’s usually just a nudge for them to contact me. And they are always receptive, unless they are busy. And then I feel like a jerk asking for contact because they are busy. I don’t know if they’re avoiding me (which they seem too adult to do) or if they’re just ridiculously busy (they are!). I guess I could just ask, but I don’t know how? I suppose I also have a very different perspective because I’m a very social person in comparison.

    Here’s some perspective, LW: those people are DEFINITELY assholes. But for other people who aren’t sure if you like them when you do — it’s hard because your dating actions (going on dates, hanging out, etc.) might all be very passive. Maybe reach out more in terms of initiating hang outs. Randomly compliment them on something they do well. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just miscommunication. If you want to hear the other side of it, people have been worried that I don’t like them like that because I’m friendly to everyone. Everyone’s got problems like yours — it’s a good thing you can recognize them, though!

    1. Sure! Follow-up questions are fine, but I’m not sure what you’re asking.

      are you allowed to ask for that as well?

      …Ask for what, Lt. Right? Every time you ask… what? Standing by to answer! 😀

      1. Haha, sorry! And sorry for making you stand by so long! I guess I was asking: are you allowed to ask for that affection? Even early in a relationship? My personal problem is whether I can ask someone to contact me more (or, when I reach out to them, at least acknowledge it more), even though I know they’re terribly busy (as am I). But…I am a little scared I am being needy or asking for too much in a relationship that’s kind of at a standstill thanks to time and distance for the next couple months….

        1. “Are you allowed to ask for [specific demonstration of] affection?” – Yup.
          “Even early in a relationship?” – Yup. Especially then! You’re just getting to know each other/how the other person works/how your relationship will work.

          Frame it like this: When you do x it makes me feel appreciated/liked/connected. Can you do x more often?

          You can even say “I’m a little nervous talking about this when we haven’t gone out that much, but…” Asking for what you want is hard, and other normal humans will appreciate how hard that is.

          – “When you respond with a really long email, I feel like you took some time to think about me. It makes me feel all happy and warm. Is that how you like to communicate best?”

          -“I love having long phone conversations with you! Can we schedule a nightly/twice-weekly?” (note: this would not work for me and HL, because HL hates being on the phone. if we were long-distance, ours would be an IM and email romance)

          – “I feel a little disconnected from you. Do you feel that way? If so, how do you want to connect better?”

          – “I feel so well-cared-for when you make the plans. I make plans like a boss, but when you do it, I feel like you’re really into me. Can you plan our next date?”

          Vulnerability! It’s really hard to do. Good luck!

          1. Thank you so much for this, Commander Logic! This is so helpful and done so simply that I feel better about it already — I will definitely use your advice. I really love your posts — do you or will you get a blog of your very own so I can appreciate both you and Captain Awkward in tandem?

          2. You are nice, Lieutenant! Thank you! I may at some point have a blog elsewhere on these internets, but it would be under another identity. As long as the Captain needs a stalwart companion to help out, you’ll see me Awkwarding it up here and only here (er, and Twitter) as Commander Logic.

        2. Hey Lt. Right, I don’t know if this will be helpful, but here’s a story: I am in a fairly new (since last fall) long-distance relationship. In some ways, it’s pretty casual; my boyfriend is married, I am in a committed domestic partnership, and we know we will probably never live near each other again. We don’t really talk on the phone; we send emails and see each other every few months. But we’re both really into each other for sure.

          Our main way of communicating is by sending rambling, long-ish emails a few times a week, plus the occasional flirty text or twitter exchange. Sometimes one or the other of us is busy and that goes down to one email a week. This spring, when his schedule got really busy and he couldn’t respond to me as often as he’d been able to before, it was SO EASY to worry that there were problems. Maybe he was irritated with me! Maybe I was way more emotionally invested in the relationship and I’d embarrass myself with my Golden Retriever of Love snuggle-bombs when I visited him next! Oh no!

          So the next time I emailed him, I said “hey, I totally understand being too busy to write a big email, but when you’re really busy can you try to send me some texts or poke me on twitter or something like that so I know you’re thinking about me? It would make me feel a lot better. Also I will probably do the same to you, so don’t be surprised if I start texting you more when we’re busy.”
          And this past month, when he was SUPER busy and I got very few long emails from him, it was ok because he sent a few short ones to say hello. I realized that I wasn’t worried at all, because he was being affectionate in a way that he had time for and I knew he was just really stressed and busy, not ignoring me.

          Long story short (too late, I know): it is totally ok to ask for more contact. I was kind of worried about it; I used to be really needy/clingy and have spent the last decade trying so hard not to be that person that I am often too hesitant and afraid to ask for emotional support that works for me. But you can definitely do it, and I certainly appreciate when people I’m involved with, either as friends or as romantic partners, let me know the best way to give them attention and affection.

    2. The last time I had an internet dating profile (in the winter, before/where I met the Gentleman Caller), I said in my profile:

      “I’m looking for someone outgoing and demonstrative. Introverts are welcome, but the strong, silent type does nothing for me and I need people who can have feelings and tell me what they are.”

      I’m pretty fucking great at letting people know I like them, and I wanted the same in return. I am done with the “Do you maybe like me?” dance forever. But I’m 38 and had leveled up through years of “I don’t know how to say feelings/he doesn’t know how to say feelings/we are perfect together.”

      So that’s an option! Head it off at the pass!

  4. Hi! I’m a recovering incredibly reserved person, myself. I mean, I’m still reserved and only effusive with people in my inner circle, but I am getting better at letting people I like know that I like them. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice in order for compliments and thanks to feel natural. I like to practice on strangers because then, if I look ridiculous, I don’t have to hear about it later. So, I make a game of it. I’m interested in fashion so I tend to notice what people are wearing– so when I’m out I make it a game to see how many people I can compliment without getting flustered (I’m only up to 3, but that’s much better than being flustered just thinking about 1). Just a compliment on someone’s shoes when we’re standing next to each other in line. A big “Thank you for all your help!” to the salesclerk at the grocery store. It makes me feel good, and of course, now all the staff at the grocery store and my favorite deli remember my face and know how I like my coffee.

    This is good because I’ve gotten better at talking to strangers and it definitely carries over into my friendships since I’m much much more comfortable speaking to my friends this way.

    1. “I’m interested in fashion so I tend to notice what people are wearing– so when I’m out I make it a game to see how many people I can compliment without getting flustered”

      Wow, are you me? 😉 This is exactly what I do. It’s the only compliment I know how to do that doesn’t sound too contrived or too personal. People seem to appreciate it.

    2. A woman randomly complimented me on my purse on the train the other day, and it made me so unexpectedly happy that I turned around and complimented a woman on her earrings on the way home that day and SHE seemed very thankful and happy to receive the compliment. It was a fun little sequence for me and I think I’ll keep it up, because I notice other people’s clothes and accessories a lot too and I hadn’t really thought about how nice it is to hear that from other people.

      So basically apparently there are many of us who think this way!

  5. As a recovering Marianne, I must avow that this advice is most sensible and well-reasoned. While I had no black-clad Brandon waiting in the wings whilst I whistled over Willoughbys, eventually I recognized that their repeatedly (and metaphorically) throwing me over for Miss Greys was NOT NICE; practicing acknowledging all the lovely people who make me want to exclaim, “that is so wonderful you did that/said that/touched me that way” was a brilliant combination for exorcising assholes from my life AND courting lovely love love.

    How would Jane Austen describe the act of exorcising assholes, I wonder?

    LW, guy who “figured you wouldn’t mind” was BANKING on you being disinterested and/or “being cool and not at all jealous” and basically letting you be the one who was in the wrong. See http://thegloss.com/sex-and-dating/women-crazy-334/ recently linked here.

    You can do it. I agree with CL’s advice to practice on your friends, it’s brilliant and I am convinced that increasing the amount of just regular friendly love in the world increases all forms of love, which is never bad.

  6. As a recovering rarely sharing compliment-feelings person, the Commander is right, it does get easier, I swear, even though it is occasionally awkward. I started trying to compliment more around the time that I noticed that when I complimented my friends, about half the time they thought I was being sarcastic and teasing them. That made the giving of regular praise especially difficult to transition to, but they readjusted. I found it helped me to start off by sharing compliments other people gave (like letting my awesome coworker know that our boss said a bunch of really nice things about her when she wasn’t around, and that I agreed entirely), and to comment on concrete things rather than general traits. And now? It’s pretty nice to just tell people when I think they’re great, and it’s nice to have them believe that I mean it without me protesting in an injured tone that I wasn’t being sarcastic.

    1. I have this problem STILL, and I’ve been assertively happy at people for years. I finally figured out what I was doing wrong: I don’t have any kind of visual happy when I compliment. Picture someone with a straight face telling you how nice your outfit looks. So now I try to nod and smile and go all Hermey-the-Dentist on them so they know I’m not being mean.

      1. This makes me think of my best friend – she isn’t very facially expressive so sometimes people mistake her ‘neutral’ face for angry when she really isn’t. She finds it hard to give compliments without people assuming she’s sarcastic too.

        She works it though by just being very upfront – a kind of ‘this is just my face’ if people don’t seem to get it.

        I also ask, before I tell her something that I think warrants a BIG REACTION that I want a BIG REACTION and then she’ll get very expressive just for me.

  7. So I am more of the “Here are all of my feelings about you out loud, please don’t freak out” person, BUT I can tell you something that help me when I’m unsure if someone is into me.

    I think someone already mentioned that it helps if you initiate dates, but also sometimes it will inevitably happen that you have to postpone or cancel. When that happens, it is really nice to hear something like “I’m really sorry, I have to work tonight but can we do day X instead?” (this especially works if day X = tomorrow). Giving an alternative (and then actually following through with it) makes it clear that you /do/ want to hang with them and that it’s just a scheduling conflict (rather than an excuse). Also, I hate uncertainty, so knowing concretely when the next time I’ll see someone helps a lot. 🙂

  8. I just want to say that using your personality/communication style as a stick to beat you with is something a**holes do regardless of the personality/communication style in question. I’m more a Marianne and have gotten “I had to lie to you because you freak out when I tell you the truth”. Decent people may find your style a poor match for them, but they won’t use it to excuse bad behaviour.

  9. The first couple of times this was said to me, it was in the context of ” . . . and so I didn’t think you would mind when I started dating someone else instead” and I figured it was a self-serving excuse and/or projection.

    Yeah, I feel you on being considered unemotional/uninvested. Rehashing painful college experiences with a good friend many years later, when I expressed my hurt and confusion at an otherwise wonderfully kind, smart, amazing guy apparently hitting on me and feeling me up in a hot tub and then turning around and getting into a long-term relationship with her, her reaction was, “Well, you seemed so blase, he probably thought it was no big deal for you.” So it’s okay to be an asshole as long as there aren’t consequences? No, it’s still not okay. Admittedly, that whole thing was all about not using our words. Being naive and repressed, it took a few decades for me to learn how to express myself. I did eventually ask him about that incident, and he said that he was using me to keep the other person in the hot tub at bay. Wow, how could that ever be okay without discussion or my consent? Why was he an asshole only to me, and considerate of everyone else in our social circle? And of course, now I have the opposite problem: I am too emotive on rare occasions and read as angry. Sigh.

    Perceived lack of consequences does not make such inconsiderate behavior okay. And good luck learning to open up more. It definitely takes effort, but it’s worth it.

  10. I love the great suggestions here about opening up more, and I am going to apply them myself.

    That said, never forget that you are who you are. It’s just how some people are wired. Playing your emotional cards close to the vest can be a temperament thing. That is 100% valid, and it doesn’t make you inherently worse (less kind, less loving, less thoughtful) than someone who is more emotive or openly expressive.

    Of course it’s worthwhile to learn to express feelings well enough to be understood, and to be sure that the people in your life believe their importance to you, feel loved, feel appreciated, etc. So I applaud that work. But don’t start thinking you need to make yourself over completely, unless you have good reason to believe that there is something truly troubling causing your reservedness. You actually sound pretty level-headed and self-aware, so this is probably an unwarranted warning.

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