#337: I want her. She wants me. What do I do?

Ahoy, Captain! Maybe this is a pleasant problem to have, but it’s a puzzling one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with a woman I find very attractive, trying to figure out whether I want to ask her out or not. We have a lot of interests in common, and do plenty of things together, but have different interests too. (I like this for a couple of reasons – the fact that she’s not into knitting means that my knitting group will always give me space from her, for example, and on the other hand she’s introduced me to a fun new sport I never would have tried otherwise.) I find her fascinating and really easy to spend time with – she’s just a very friendly person. I really, really want to make out with her, and from the way she’s acted towards me, I think she’d be pretty open to the idea of taking this from friendship to dating.

I’ve been holding back from that step, though, mainly because I feel I need to know people a bit better than I know her before I go there. (I’ve never been attracted to someone this quickly before – it’s both exciting and a bit weird.) It was actually a comment on a recent CA post that made me wonder if I should reconsider it altogether. I can’t find the comment, but it said something along the lines of “People who won’t respect your boundaries will tell you through their actions – they’ll touch you without asking, they won’t notice when they’re interrupting or dominating the conversation, and they’ll tell you inappropriately personal things.” That pretty much describes my friendship with her so far.

There’s a lot of physical affection in our friendship, which I love, but it did start with her touching me without permission – I just didn’t care, because I liked it. When something’s bothering her, she does tend to steamroll over other people in conversation until she’s exhausted her need to vent. And we hadn’t gotten to know each other for very long before she hinted to me that she’d been abused and lost most of her friends over it, though she only recently told me all the details. But although I was sympathetic, even at the time I thought it was a big leap to even drop me hints about this stuff when we hadn’t known each other long.

Captain, I don’t know what to do here. I really feel for her over what she’s been through recently, having survived the same kind of abuse and subsequent loss of support network myself. I want to do what I can to support her through that, and it’s clear she still has a lot of feelings to work through. But I do worry about some of these things, especially the way it’s almost impossible to get in a word in with her when she’s upset about something. It seems like the sort of thing that should be a red flag, or at least a warning to be careful while I continue to support her. And yet, I really like her! She’s very attractive to me in all sorts of ways, I love being around her, and she gives me warm fuzzy feelings in a variety of body parts. I just worry that my happy feelings are drowning out warnings I should be listening to. Or maybe that I’m just a bit desperate – I’m a lesbian and it’s really hard to find queer girls I can talk to in my area.

How do I tell whether to ask her out or not when my logic-brain says to be cautious but the rest of me just wants her?

I’m going to answer a question with a question and then let the commenters have at it.

Is there some reason that you cannot casually date this woman?

As in, be friendly, enjoy what there is to be enjoyed (ahem), but don’t try to lock her down as the Love of Your Life?

You’re smart to pick up on some of the red-flaggy behavior that’s not what you want in a partner, and you’re smart to not let the pants-feelings cloud your judgment, and you’re generally smart to be cautious, but I think the script you’re looking for is:

Would it be okay if we made out sometime?

And when she’s dominating the conversation, the script is:

“Hey, I’m sorry you’re sad. Is it my turn to talk yet or is this more of a monologue situation?”

I know you’re trying to be a good citizen of Feelingstown, but you can’t control everything that will happen and everything that everyone will feel. Definitely not all pantsfeelings need to be acted on, but you’ll never be this young again and obviously you both want to. Sometimes that’s a good enough reason.

Okay. Enough of being the devil on your shoulder. If your gut really says to not get involved with this woman for some reason – she just reads like Trouble to you – then listen to it, and put a stop to the flirty-touching stuff. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting someone, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting someone who you don’t necessarily end up with in any kind of serious or permanent way.

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56 thoughts on “#337: I want her. She wants me. What do I do?

  1. LW, I was in a similar situation, and decided not to go for it. I decided that the woman I was interested in is a total jerk, really mean to all of her friends including me, and also racist, and that it was time for me to do a slow fade on the friendship, not invite her into my pants.

    How that went for me: I’m having a lot fewer really stupid arguments, fewer incidents of someone outright rejecting as “stupid” the TV show everyone else in the room is watching, and less racism in my group of friends. But every time I see her, I still get this fizzy feeling all over. My libido has NOT gotten the message.

    So, um, yeah. I can’t tell you how things will go if you do date this woman casually, but I can tell you that if you decide not to, be prepared for the pantsfeelings to not go away for a while.

  2. Totally seconding the casual dating suggestion. Some red flags are like seeing “chance of rain” on the weather report. They don’t mean CERTAIN DOOM, just ya know, there’s a possibility, make sure you’ve got an umbrella, don’t plan to go play tennis today, etc. If you’re comfortable that this is more a “chance of showers” situation and not a “category five hurricane warning” situation, go slow, use your words, and give yourself permission to bail whenever you feel like.

    1. “give yourself permission to bail whenever you feel like.”

      I think this is important. Making a move on pants-feelings doesn’t have to mean forever. Keep it light in your head/heart and use your words (as many have said). See what happens.

  3. This is a good place for the “it happened, now what?” thought experiment of other threads.

    So you ask her to make out and you do. Then how will you feel?
    -Excited and a little (but deliciously) nervous, because makeouts! Or
    -Worried, because now she may claim more emotional or physical space from you than you are willing to give.

    There are other options of course, but either of those seem possible from the letter. (I think the first option is the most likely, but it’s hard to gauge the level of worry in this letter from the outside.)

    Myself, I tend to go the “make out first ask questions later route.” This route usually leads to adventure, and sexiness, and excitement and a little delicious nervousness. Sometimes it leads to misunderstandings and occasionally arguments, most often because the other person has opted not to listen to my words (which usually include pretty specific statements like “I’d love to kiss you” and “I’m not interested in a relationship for the time being”) and instead operates on assumptions like “If she wants to kiss me she’ll want to date me too.” You can’t control that reaction; the best you can do is be clear and kind but cut and run if the person continues to ignore or ruleslawyer your stated boundaries.

    Usually, one’s reasons for wanting a makeout are questionable–at least if you’re prone to questioning. We want to kiss people because they’re pretty, because they’re not our type but are inexplicably charismatic, because they talk a good talk, because we are lonely, because we are slightly intoxicated and everything feels good and kissing would just feel more good, because they’re wearing a kilt at a party, because you were just getting to know each other but it starting pouring rain and now you’re stuck under a construction playform laughing and whoops, kissing.
    You could pick apart any of those kisses and judge them. Or you could just accept that you and they are imperfect and go from there.

    None of that is relevant if “imperfect” in your context means “makes you feel unsafe.” I just wanted to give you permission to stop asking yourself whether you want to kiss a lady for the right reasons.

    1. Oh wait. I should clarify that by “make out first ask questions later,” the questions I meant were such as “Is this a ‘good’ idea, whatever that means? What will happen next? How will we feel about this later?” I did not remotely mean anything like “Kiss first and worry later about whether the other person wanted you to,” but it belatedly occurred to me that it might be taken that way.

    2. I like this comment! I think you’re right in that I’ve been questioning my reasons for wanting to do this, and it’s okay to just try things without worrying too much about the ‘why’. And while I can try to anticipate how I’ll feel about it afterwards – I think you’re bang on about those two possible reactions, and I would probably feel both – I don’t actually know.

    3. because they’re wearing a kilt at a party

      I keep telling Mr Kittehs’ Unpaid Help it’d be worth his while to wear a kilt, but will he listen?

  4. Unless you know that you’re the sort of person who can’t casually date – you immediately fall for someone as soon as you start dating, for example – then it seems like this would be a fun fling, at least.

    It sounds like you really, really fancy this woman. That is great (I miss that sudden give at the knees and racing heartbeat when you’re around someone you really find attractive – lust is all kinds of exciting and fun!) – give yourself permission to explore that provided that you think you won’t end up getting seriously hurt.

    Britt’s “chance of rain” analogy is fab – red flags don’t necessarily mean “run for the hills”. They’re called flags for a reason – because they’re warnings that you should be conscious of this behaviour and think about what the effect of it is on you and how much of it you’re willing to put up with. They’re not a guaranteed sign of bad intentions, or the Mark of the Beast. 🙂

    The red flags you’re seeing with this woman might just mean “this probably isn’t the person you’re going to end up with forever, but it will be fun while it lasts”. Or “hey, this person isn’t great at boundaries – keep alert to that fact and keep thinking about it in case yours are being eroded beyond what you are willing to accept”. Everyone probably has at least one friend who does not behave in a way that fits with their ideal – I have touchy-feely friends who don’t ask before touching, I have friends who monologue all over me, I have friends who tell me things that make me go “Whoa, TMI!” – but those are the things I’m prepared to accept because the friendship is mostly great and that behaviour is a minor part of how we interact. Plus I also feel comfortable telling them to get off me/shut up/stop telling me about their medical procedure in horrifying detail because I know enough about them to know that the behaviour is clueless rather than ill-intentioned or designed to control me, and I know it’s safe to tell them to knock it off.

    If your gut really says to not get involved with this woman for some reason – she just reads like Trouble to you – then listen to it, and put a stop to the flirty-touching stuff.
    I think this is the most important thing. If something feels really off about her, then listen to your intuition. Otherwise, go for it!

    1. This is one of those examples of pantsfeelings confusing my judgement, I think. Because I, too, have friends who are irritating one way or another, and usually I just accept it as part of who they are and go on enjoying the things I like about them. And yet in this case I’m worrying that these signs are somehow MORE than that, or will become more than that, or that somehow these things are different in a relationship than they are in a friendship – when there’s no reason that they have to be. Yep, overthinking it!

      On balance, at the moment, I don’t think she’s capital-T Trouble. I think she has a lot of difficult emotional stuff going on herself, some of which might end up meaning trouble with boundaries. I haven’t really tested the way she reacts to enforcing boundaries yet, because I haven’t felt a need to. And when the time comes, whether she passes or fails that test, at least I know what to do with it.

  5. Before opining, I would want to know more about the “touching me without permission”. Was it a casual hand on the arm or upper back at a socially plausible moment? Like you are at a dinner party and she gently invited you to sit down before her at the table, or something like that? Or was it something more intrusive and overtly sexual? Like you were talking at a party and she touched your breasts or buttocks without invitation?

    To take up the excellent weather forecast metaphor deployed above, the former is “fluffy clouds overhead; slight chance of an afternoon shower”, while the latter is “thunderstorm warning; flash flood watch”.

    The conversational steamrolling thing makes me concerned as well. If the LW decides, “OK, I am just gonna go with the pants feelings and keep this casual”, important questions to ask are (1) whether this person is going to be satisfied with that level of involvement and (2) whether this person is going to become a massive fucken pain in the asse if she decides that she is not satisfied with how things are going.

    1. Right, I think #1 is the big question — a fling would be fun, it’s just that both people have to know it’s a fling. There’s a big stereotype that queer girls get serious fast (cue U-Haul jokes here), but you don’t actually have to conform to it!

    2. This is a good question, and I should clarify! I think the touching started about the third time I met her, when she came up behind me at a party and pinched my side in a sort of tickling-surprise-hello. Then another time at the pub she was the last to arrive, there were no more chairs at our table and she sat on my lap – without asking, but then indicating that she’d move if I wanted her to. (I didn’t.) Since then we’ve been very touchy-feely, not in a sexual way, but more than I would normally engage in with a friend. At the start she initiated all the touching, now I do as well. Like if we’re just standing around, one of us will probably have an arm around the other. (Including during coach talks at [sporting hobby], which made coach raise an eyebrow once but otherwise not comment.)

      With the conversational thing, I do wonder if she will become a pain in the arse if things don’t go the way she wants, just from the way I’ve seen her get angry when she’s having problems in her other friendships. But I don’t know how much of that is her default behaviour and how much is because almost all her friendship have been bruised to some extend by the abuse situation.

      The upside of that is that I’ve also seen that the main thing that makes her angry when it comes to relationships is people not communicating their reasons for treating her a certain way, or giving reasons that she has good reason to believe are dishonest, so I have a few clues about how to deal with that problem if it ever comes up.

      1. That is pretty aggressive (and flirty) touching. I mean, sitting on someone’s lap is pretty much “Hello, sailor!” unless you know them so well that you know it’s just a friendly gesture. If you like it, of course, that’s fine, but it is pretty direct.

        I think it is a big mistake that she will treat you differently than she treats everybody else. If you are going to have a relationship with her, you should assume that she is likely to get angry with you and have a calm, adult way of handling it.

    1. Love this song! Definitely one of my favorites (behind the Robot song and The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room).

  6. Without knowing you at all, I think there are two possibilities of what is happening here, LW.

    1. You’re being cautious because you’re nervous, and so you’re over-analysing everything because you don’t want to start this and then it all go to hell. But that’s a possibility with every relationship. You may be looking for flaws because you don’t want to get hurt.

    2. You’re holding back on getting with this girl because your instincts are telling you to run. In which case, trust them and get gone. I tend to lean towards this one because I think if you were avoiding the relationship you’d go for “she’s kinda annoying with how she talks over people” rather than “this is a red flag”.

    How to find out which is really which? I don’t know. I get the two feelings confused a lot as well, and I think the most important thing to remember is that if you get together and it’s not working for you, you can break up. And if you don’t get together, -shrug-, you’ll meet someone else anyway.

    I get the impression that you feel like once you decide Yes or No to dating this girl, you lose control over what happens next. That isn’t true; whatever you decide you will always be in control of how you run your life and navigate your relationship. So try not to worry – you’ve got this.

    1. Ooh, that last point is a really good one, and it might be worth it for the LW to try to figure out why she’s feeling that way. Is that feeling of irrevocability around decisions normal for you, LW? Or is it specifically when you think about the future *with her* that you feel like you’re in danger of losing control? Knowing the answer to that might clarify what you want to do.

    2. That’s a good point! I think I have been second-guessing a lot of things that I’d feel confident about dealing with if this was a just-friends situation. I have sort of been feeling like pushing towards a sexual relationship would be a bit like just throwing myself off a cliff and waiting to see where I fall, and you’re right, that’s not the case at all.

  7. LW, good on you for being considerate to another persons feelings. In my opinion there are not many people out there who have enough respect for others or themselves to talk first & become intimate later.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling a person that your not available to them on a emotional level, you like them as a person & want to be friends, you find them attractive & would like some physical activity & then see from there how things pan out.

    If your gut tells you that warnings signs are apparent, then it’s not a great idea to proceed, but then again curiosity killed the cat, which has always put me in the shit!

    Like other people have commented it doesn’t necessarily mean run for the hills, however if this girl has issues she hasn’t dealt with yet then are you ready for the emotional rollercoaster? “over sharing” does my head in with people that I don’t know well or have just met. Next time she is dominating a conversation put your hand up (like in school) which is a sure sign that you want a turn to speak, I use it often & for me it works.

    Personally with what you have said in your storey, I would move on….. But probably after I shagged them, just being honest!

  8. I think you should give yourself a big old pat on the back for identifying what you think maybe could be a red flag. Kudos to you!
    Now, my advise would be to heed a red flag, but remember that they don’t always mean that your relationship is doomed to be abusive and horrible.
    You’re actually in a really good position here: theres a lot of exciting mutual pants feelings to enjoy, but you have spent enough time with her to identify some issues that might escalate if you become a couple.
    What you need to do is figure out some boundaried for youself now, so you can start a new relationship off on the right foot if thats what you want. Decide how much support you can offer her without it draining you. Figure out where you want to draw the line with her sad monologues, like your knitting group, identify places where you are seperate from her, and decide on what boundaries you need at home to preserve your own space – how often you feel you can see her, have her stay the night etc etc. You can establish your boundaries from the start here, have them clear in your head before you explore pants feelings.
    You will be able to tell pretty quickly from there whether she will respect those or not. If she does, congratulations, your red flags might have been managed. If not, then you get a more certain indication that things will turn abusive and horrible down the track, and can break it off feeling like you gave it a real shot, and with enough evidencfe to trust your own judgement on this.
    Thats how I have handled a red-flag/pants feelings conflict before. I’ve found it stops me wondering “but what if…” or “am I being fair” when I do end those relationships.

  9. As any relationship gets more intimate, there are more and more complex litmus tests for safety and healthiness. She’s passed one of them– she makes your probably-sexually-frustrated queer self feel excited, sexy, and open to new things. That counts. She failed another– she didn’t check in with you before escalating in intensity. But unfortunately, many many people do not, either because they believe they can tell if someone is open to that, or they are overeager, or whatever.

    I am more interested to know what happens when you try to assert a boundary: Does she immediately back off? Does she steamroller you anyway, but apologize later? IF SO, does she then work with you actively to figure out ways to nip that situation in the bud in the future, or does she expect all to be forgiven? Or does she steamroller you and not apologize? These things tell you how committed she will be to respecting your boundaries. Also, there’s no “right” answer to what you’re willing to accept, and that line is allowed to change.

    I am Team Date Her Casually, or at least Team Take It Slow. It seems like you’ll need a script for that, because nothing about the relationship you have described is casual. Perhaps try asking her on “a date”? Or something like “Listen, I think you’re amazing, but I’m a little overwhelmed by how intense our connection is. It’s really important for me to take it slow right now, so let’s keep it to one date a week/one sleepover a week/something concrete for now.”

    On the side, I recommend reading up on the abuse wheel, different types and tactics of emotional abuse, and plenty of anecdotal evidence. The #1 thing that has helped me leave bad situations is when I heard the words of every abused person in every anecdote I had read coming out of my own mouth. Even if it never gets that bad, knowing all the signs off by heart will give you firmer ground to stand on if you need to confront her about borderline behavior.

    Good luck!

    1. This is pretty much what I was thinking. On the one hand, I generally wouldn’t recommend getting into a relationship where you’re thinking up front “she’s great, if only Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3 weren’t true about her.” Because a relationship that will only be happy if you can change who the person is will never be happy, since you can’t change who people are.

      On the other hand, people can change themselves. I still wouldn’t want to count on that if the relationship would only work if they could change something *fundamental* about themselves. And respect for boundaries/ability to see a partner as a three-dimensional person who has a right to their own needs and comfort levels is pretty fundamental.

      Which is why I come out about where where the witching hour did: figure out what you would need for a relationship with this person to work. Would accommodating her personality totally as is violate boundaries that you could not be happy having violated? Would accommodating your boundary needs make her feel like she was walking on eggshells all the time, afraid of hurting or upsetting you if she just is who she is? Or can you envision some tweaks in behavior that she might be able to achieve without violating some essential part of herself, that would allow you to be with her without constant stress from the clash of your incompatible instincts?

      If in your heart you know it’s # 1 or #2, let it go for both your sakes. I wouldn’t even casually date.

      If you think it’s #3, by all means casually date. But fairly early on (depending on how things go), get down to the business of using your words, saying something along the lines “I really like you, and I think I might be open to something more serious, but I’ve learned through experience that there are certain things I need in a relationship to thrive.” And then talk through what you need boundary wise. Like “sometimes I feel overwhelmed and talked at when someone unburdens too much at once,” so I need to be able to communicate, via a code word or signal, for example, that I need to stem the flow for a little without the other person — you — taking that to mean I don’t care or I think you’re making a big deal of nothing or any of the hurtful things it could mean, but wouldn’t.”

      How your conversations about boundaries go will tell you a lot about whether/how you should go forward.

    2. The question of asserting boundaries is a bit of an unknown – I’m yet to really try to assert something, because so far I haven’t felt the need. She’s done some things that she maybe should have asked or checked in about first, but she’s yet to behave in a way that actually violates the boundaries I’m personally comfortable with. The closest we’ve come is when we were talking about friendships and values, and I disagreed with her point of view (“I don’t believe friendship has to be forever, and I can’t promise I’ll be your friend forever, but I like you and I will do my best to treat you well”) and she took that just fine.

      Alphakitty below might have hit the nail on the head with the question about being willing to commit to somebody ‘if’. There’s an awful lot to like about her, but I’m wary of getting into a situation where I want to change her, because it seems like a recipe for trouble.

      Which of course is when I swing back to thinking “BUT I REALLY, REALLY WANT HER.” Proceed but with caution, indeed.

  10. On the boundary thing: you decide on where your own boundaries are, and they may vary completely arbitrary from person to person, mood to mood and moment to moment. There is no definite way to make a comprehensive creep checklist, and while a collective of netizens can be great pooling their experiences together, everyone’s always going to read from their own life up to that point based on a handful of details of your situation. In the end, only you can decide whether to make the jump or not, and even if it turns out you’ve opened a Pandora’s Box, you have your own life to fall back on.

    If you haven’t done so already, perhaps ask a few trusted friends for their impressions of her? They’ve probably seen her in action and thus are able to give a more accurate judgement than we.

    1. And if none of your trusted friends have met/interacted with her, that’s step one. An isolated/isolating relationship is (generally) an unhealthy relationship.

    2. Good point! We met through a shared interest that it turned out was also shared by some people I already knew, so I have a few people I could ask. I know one friend took an instant dislike to her, but there are reasons behind that which make think I shouldn’t worry too much about it, beyond having to juggle one-of-my-friend-dislikes-my-crush social situations. But this weekend I’m (coincidentally!) seeing a friend I’ve known and trusted for years who also knows her, so I’ll have a chat to him about it and see what he thinks.

  11. First time poster here, so please let me know if I’m not being appropriate.

    Something I don’t see other commenters addressing much is that our LW’s potential fling has indicated what some people, myself included, would see as a second red flag: that she has “lost most of her friends” over behavior stemming from her abuse. Our LW has not shared specifics and I’m not prying, but I wonder if perhaps her excessive unasked-for touching has to do more with loneliness than with actual affection. Early on, our LW writes “she’s just a very friendly person.” Is she very friendly with only the LW? Is there unasked-for touching going on with other people as well? From my perspective, along having dealt with a similar person I was attracted to a few years ago, flirty touching with just you often equals interest in you, whereas flirty touching with everyone often equals loneliness leading to crossing personal space boundaries.

    Our LW has picked up on how sometimes this person is selfish with conversation steamrolling. I wonder, if there is also indiscriminate touching with several people, if that too is an earmark of selfishness rather than just being “very friendly.” Thanks for listening, AA.

    1. Hm, that makes a lot of sense to me. That red flag you caught– having lost most of her friends due to her misbehavior– also underlines the “proceed with CAUTION.” You don’t want to be anyone’s only important person, and that goes double if they are intense, boundary-negligent, or volatile.

    2. About that second flag… The LW is a tad vague about what the abuse consisted of. FWIW, it isn’t all that uncommon for victims of domestic abuse to lose many or all of their friends over the course of an abusive relationship, so that’s something to consider. It would really be a shame if potential new friends wrote someone off without understanding the greater context in such a situation.

      In my experience, people who are abuse/trauma survivors often struggle with boundaries. I’m a survivor of multiple forms of abuse myself and have been guilty of this in the past. My neediness and angst led to some less-than-stellar behavior toward friends over the years.

      I think it’s helpful to try to distinguish whether the boundary-crossing is the result of deliberately exploitative intentions, or if it’s the result of a traumatized person’s out-of-whack sense of boundaries. Both are challenging to deal with, but personally, I would swiftly cut the exploitative person out of my life, whereas I would take my time gradually building trust with the well-intentioned but off-kilter person. …I hope that isn’t too vague to be helpful.

      1. I’ve been deliberately vague about the nature of my lovely lady-friend’s abuse, simply because I’m personally not comfortable with disclosing the details of someone else’s experience in this situation – even if I’m talking about it anonymously on the internet.

        Regarding friendliness and touching – she obviously likes a lot of physical affection, and hugs some of her other friends, but not all of them. That said, I think she probably is feeling lonely and needy, and I know it’s something to be wary of. But even if I didn’t have any romantic interest in her, knowing what I do about what she’s survived, I would still feel exactly the same about being her friend and supporting her right now.

  12. Seconding the “date casually” sentiment.

    I would add that revealing that she has been abused and that she’s lost friends over it might be a red flag, it might not. I know that I tend to come out to people as bi within a few days of knowing them if I trust them enough, so that, if they do turn out to be assholes, I don’t have to suffer the pain of losing a long friendship. On the other hand, if you do stop being friends with her, it’s possible that she’ll use that as a scapegoat: “You don’t love me because I’m broken!” and all that. I don’t know. Consider this “slightly overcast, possibility of showers later this afternoon.”

    1. Yeah, also I tend to get quite intense (by some standards) quite early. If I like you, I will mention that I was sexually assaulted within a few days, sometimes less. For me, it’s a casual, everyday thing, and I wish it were treated that way so people could talk about it more organically. So I treat it that way, and figure anyone who it doesn’t work for would not be right for me anyway.

      1. Off-topic, but…

        I’m sorry that happened to you, and I want to second your approach to sharing your reality with others.

        I’m a child abuse survivor, and after years of painfully trying to hide it and its effects (I still struggle with PTSD 15 years after leaving home), I finally embraced it and now fully own it. Nowadays, if I start to build a friendship with someone, they’re going to find out about this part of my past fairly early on. Granted, it’s difficult to hide — it’s the reason I didn’t go to college, and it’s the reason I’m so passionate about helping to end domestic violence. Not everyone is comfortable with it, but part of my point in sharing is to raise awareness about how common child abuse and domestic violence are, and how devastating they can be. And like you, I figure that My People will not be put off by this part of my past and my openness about it.

  13. It’s entirely possible she lost most of the friends during the abuse, or later discovered that they were toxic people. Losing friends because of abuse does not have to be a red flag.

    However, having recently been in an abusive situation and not having friends is definitely a flag of some color. Pinkish, or orange maybe. It’s not one that says anything about her in general, but it does say something about her *right now*. It says she’s probably got a whole lot of emotional needs right now, has a good chance of being bad with boundaries (both setting and respecting) since that’s a thing abuse does to a person, and may not be in her right (emotional) mind, since ending any kind of relationship screws a person up. I’m not surprised she’s going around Disclosing Stuff; when you’re internal world is exploding, there’s sometimes emotional shrapnel.

    How is she dealing with these traumas? Do you get the sense that she’s Working On Her Stuff? Do you get the feeling she’s looking for friends to Be The Therapist? Does she own her shit?

    How good are you at maintaining your psychic boundaries? Do you pick up and carry the emotions of people you love? Are you able to be supportive without making other peoples’ problems into your problems? How recovered are you from your own abusive situation? Are you likely to be triggered by her abuse?

    I think some wariness is smart. I think you can proceed with caution, making sure to check in with yourself and hold tight to your own emotional integrity.

    Also… it’s really hard to find queer girls, but this lady won’t be the last queer girl you find. You can also decide to be friends! You don’t *have* to act on pantsfeelings.

    1. I like that phrase, “emotional shrapnel” – I definitely have both thrown it out and been hit by it

    2. I’m working in disaster recovery on the people side of things and I’ve definitely seen a lot of Disclosing Stuff – and experienced it myself (I live in the affected area). It’s like you get filled up with feels so much that you just have to let some out, which sometimes means you’re having a fairly normal conversation with someone and then suddenly tell them “So, yeah, I was standing right by X Thing that day and basically saw a whole bunch of people die”, as an example. It could mean she’s doing what Burnt Umber Ella and the witching hour said with getting the disclosure out of the way early, it could mean she hasn’t had any other outlet eg therapy for dealing with things after the abuse. Finding out which it is could be important so you know what you’re in for and whether you’re ready or willing to deal with that.

    3. ‘Emotional shrapnel’ is a good phrase, and your questions give me a lot to think about. I do believe she’s Working On Her Stuff, but not 100% at the stage of Owning Her Shit. On my end, I feel thoroughly recovered from my own abuse, but I’d only give myself about a C on maintaining emotional boundaries when it comes to other people’s problems. (Though at the start of this year I felt like an A – I had a friendship that really messed with my head recently, and I’m still extricating myself from the emotionally confusing parts.) If there’s a good thing about Emotionally Confusing Friend, though, it’s that it made me much more aware of my own weaknesses and boundaries, so I feel I’m in a much better place to proceed with caution.

      And ahh, yes, logically I know there will be other queer girls. The funny thing is, actually, that when I met her I was overwhelmed by this sense of optimism, because even if a relationship didn’t work out, it was so fantastic to be reminded that it was POSSIBLE to meet queer girls who I liked and who also liked me. It happened this time! It could totally happen again at some point in the future!

  14. I am a little bit of an Overshare Queen myself, and don’t believe that I’m creepy( I am mostly perceived as sweet and bubbly), so that may/may not really be a red flag in and of itself. Sometimes the oversharer is in the early stages of identifying with something (gender issues, abuse issues, divorce, etc) and that’s their primary focus, so it tends to color everything they say and do at that stage of life.
    Trust your gut and maybe slow your roll a little bit with this girl and see what happens when you put the Ice Cubes of Sweet Reason down the PantsFeelings. Also, am I the only old person here who now has this song going through their head? (Hope the link works!)

    1. Delurking (after reading the entire archive. no really. I like to be thorough.) because the Ice Cubes of Sweet Reason down the Pants Feelings made me laugh that hard.

      Thank you all, you are, all of you, entirely awesome.

  15. Stop over thinking this. Date her. Have fun. Tell her you’re excited/scared/overwhelmed/happy. Tell her when she comes on too strong or over shares. Tell her when you can’t stop thinking about her.

  16. Hi LW, just one caution over the casual dating suggestions. In your letter you say:

    “I just worry that my happy feelings are drowning out warnings I should be listening to.”

    Once we start acting on those happy feelings then they tend to escalate as we become more intimate with people. Has anybody else ever ended up in a serious relationship with somebody they only ever intended to be casual with, and then regretted it and found themselves too emotionally entangled to get out?

    So if you’re already worried that happy feelings are drowning out warnings then that’s only going to get worse if you start dating her – casually or no. it doesn’t mean you can’t – as people have already said, these flags may not turn out to be deal breakers for you. But just be careful not to get to the point where your logic brain can be completely overridden by your emotional brain. Maybe give yourself a checkpoint after a time to reassess those flags? You know yourself best in terms of how long you can be casual before you begin to get chemically attached.

    1. Exactly. This always, ALWAYS happens to me, to the point where I wonder how much falling in love is an inevitable thing and how much I kind of think myself into it. Setting a definite checkpoint is a really good idea – I’ll stick a note in my diary!

  17. Red flags are not necessarily signs that the relationship is doomed from the start, but rather a heads-up that these are issues you’ll have to deal with, perhaps throughout the life of the relationship. Can you deal with these issues? Then go for it! No one person is perfect, and no relationship is perfect – the secret to happiness in romance is not finding the perfect person, but the person whose imperfections you can deal with.

    Re: the ‘losing all of her friends because of abuse’ possible red flag. I just want to point out that, when CA went viral a few weeks ago, it was a pair of letters about creepers who were making some women feel uncomfortable and driving them out of their social circle. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that this woman lost her friends when they all decided to side with the abuser. It could be a much darker, reason, of course, but I just want to toss that out there.

    1. I didn’t want to share too much about the details of what she’s been through, just because I’m personally uncomfortable with it, but you’re sailing pretty close to the mark with “maybe she lost her friends because they sided with the abuser”. Which is not to say I shouldn’t be wary of her feeling exceptionally clingy/lonely/needy, as other commenters have mentioned, but I’m aware that from her side, that’s more or less how things went down.

  18. Thank you to the Captain and all the commenters who have had such thoughtful insights to add! I think the main thing I’ve been missing is that dating someone casually really is an option. I’ve never managed to have a relationship that was committed-but-casual before – they’ve all been either one-off hookups or the “suddenly falling into something deep and involved and complicated” situations. So I’ve been assuming that as soon as I commit to this, it’s going to BECOME a huge deep involved thing, and “things about her that make me cautious but otherwise don’t bother me right now” will become GIANT PROBLEMS, when it really doesn’t have to be the case.

    I like the weather analogy. ‘Chance of showers’ is definitely what I’m dealing with here – I’ve just gotten used to interpreting that as GIANT THUNDERSTORM ON THE HORIZON, TIME TO STAY HOME, when sometimes it does just mean what it says. I think it’s also that I’ve only just reached the point in my own development where I can recognise things that might become issues in a relationship early on – a good thing! – but I haven’t had any practice at dealing with them before they become issues. And I guess that’s something I might fail at a bit at first, but it’s worth trying.

    Anyway, I think I’m going to go forth and seek adventure (but cautiously) route – I can see the potential pitfalls, but thanks to all your advice I’m pretty sure I can navigate my way through them, whether it’s to an awesome relationship or a “This was fun, but no thanks.” And I know I’d regret it if I didn’t try.

  19. I just want to say this, I was in a long term abusive relationship where my husband had me pretty isolated for a long time, in the last year plus when I was trying to leave he co-opted my only two remaining friends for a period of time (until what he told them was unbelievable). I am in therapy for PTSD due to his attacks on me, as much as I want to find new peeps I’m having a helluva time getting out there for a couple of reasons. Trust, I don’t trust anyone anymore. Feelings, my feelings are all out there, I find myself telling people about the abuse and other crap way too soon because that is a huge part of me right now, dealing with why I let this happen and more, SEE! I started to do it again in a freakin comment, I’m leaving this in so you understand why I’m sayin.

    My point is, if this person you like has recently gotten out of an abusive situation she is dealing with a boatload of feelings and may not be able to rein it in yet. She could be a blamer who’s doing a manipulation number on you, sure, or she could be someone like me who is finally free and dealing with an overflow of feelings, alot of which are self-blame…

    1. To me, this goes back to the idea that dating someone doesn’t have to do with what they deserve, but what you deserve.

      A person who seems overwhelming to the LW may be in a totally blameless and understandable place in her life for that overwhelmingness, and still be a person the LW would be wise not to date. Not dating the person isn’t punishment for her being a bad person. It might even be a reward – instead of an intense, overwhelming, dramatic romantic relationship they might mutually do better as a supportive, well-bounded friendship with bonus pantsfeelings and fun sexy private imaginings.

      1. Rosa, I totally get what you are saying, I wasn’t saying LW should ignore it, I should have said “i’m responding to the red flag” the LW brought up ref sharing her abuse. Trying to say it is not necessarily a red flag of a manipulator or blamer, depends on context/now we go back to trust/truth, sigh. It just struck a cord, being fresh out of abuse and control it is hard to not say anything because you feel dishonest if you basically omit this big piece of who you are right now.

    2. Not to hijack the thread, but I wanted to thank you for mentioning “co-opting friends” as a component of emotional abuse. My ex did that, and I’m still working through trying to figure out how deeply he was messing with me, so it’s useful to hear that others experienced the same thing. Peace and best wishes to you.

    3. I’m glad other abuse survivors are also piping up to offer this other take on the situation.

      I can relate to everything you described. It’s taken me a little over a year after ending an abusive relationship for the really intense feelings and urges to overshare all the time to finally start subsiding. Individual therapy, group trauma therapy (the DV stirred up the PTSD I already had from childhood abuse), and a local abuse survivor meet-up have all given me outlets to share in a safe and welcoming environments, and as a bonus, they’ve helped me make new friends despite my difficulty with trusting new people.

      LW – If you do pursue a relationship with this lady, I’d recommend introducing her to Captain Awkward. A huge part of my own healing has come from discovering sites like this where topics like abuse and boundaries are discussed in a very positive, educated, nuanced manner.

      1. Thank you for this, and to everyone in this thread who have shared their stories. I experienced a lot of similar abuse with my first girlfriend, especially the co-opting friends thing, so I completely get that. I’ve never reached a point where I find it easy to talk about the abuse, though, not to anyone – I think it’s just my nature to be reserved like that. But it does mean I hadn’t really gotten my head around the way that talking about it and venting her feelings to me is part of her just feeling overwhelmed right now.

        She’s obviously in a tricky place right now, and I have no idea whether pursuing a relationship with me would really be the best thing for her, even if it is for me. I just don’t think there’s any way to find out except to ask, and try to keep an open mind about how she’s behaving and what she’s dealing with, while keeping an eye to my own boundaries as well.

        Regardless of whether I end up dating her or not, though, I think I will introduce her to Captain Awkward, and blogs like Fugitivus, which I read obsessively when I was going through the worst phases of dealing with my own abuse.

  20. LW, I can think of one very good reason not to get involved in a casual relationship with this person: “this is a casual relationship” is a boundary. It makes no sense to assume she violates all kinds of other boundaries, but dang it, she’ll respect that one.

    I mean, in your letter, you’ve already answered your question, right? You know this woman is problematic, but PANTSFEELINGS WHOA. And pantsfeelings are really loud, sometimes loud enough to shout out our better judgment. At least, er, I read that somewhere. Yeah.

    So if you’re going to go ahead, and it looks like you are, you should have your Plan B ready. What are you going to do if (or more likely, when) she refuses to follow your boundaries about “this is the kind of relationship I am comfortable having with you”?

  21. When I’m angry about something, I have to blow off steam before I can start to talk about it more rationally and effectively. It’s my way of dealing with the anger. I have to puke it out so that it doesn’t cloud my thinking anymore.
    Everyobody who interferes with my puking process by trying to get a word in has to violently agree with me, else they’ll be puked at and accused of being the root of all evil.
    Maybe it’s a feature of some people with PTSD. I’m working on it.
    My point is: Don’t let it put you off that she (currently) needs this method to deal with things that make her angry. As long as she doesn’t force you to participate in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or insists you listen when you’re feeling unstable yourself, there’s nothing wrong with the approach in my view.

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