Dear Captain Awkward:
My boyfriend and I are in our mid-twenties and have been together for about half a year. He treats me well, takes an interest in what I do and enjoy and is generally a good boyfriend. We have a lot of similar characteristics and the same silly sense of humor. When we first got together it was supposed to be a casual thing, but it ended up escalating into something more serious almost immediately. Right now we are together almost five days of the week and almost never go out alone. We sleep in a tangled pile. We are comfortable with just being in the same room doing our own thing. I have never pressured him into anything and neither has he, everything just happened. It feels SO nice and natural. He seems to enjoy it too.
I am developing some Serious Feelings for him and I can definitely imagine a future with this man, but I am not sure about what he wants from our relationship. I would definitely want to be with someone who wants to have a family and this is not something up for compromise. My problem is that both him and I are absolutely terrible at talking about emotional things. I even have trouble saying „I like you“ out loud, asking „where do you see this relationship going“ is something I feel is beyond me. I’ve tried to find a good moment to force myself to bring up this topic with him, but can’t seem to find one (or I can’t make myself to open my mouth). I’m also afraid that he will not be able to answer my questions for the same reasons (I know I’d have trouble with it). I don’t want to lose him and yet I don’t want to waste my time in a relationship that will not lead anywhere.
So I guess my question is, how do I get over this unnatural fear I have of talking about my feelings/relationship goals? Suppose I get over it, how do I make the conversation comfortable enough for him? Do you think it’s viable if we’re both funny the same way?
Dear Miss Wordless:
If you are happy, you are not “wasting time” in a relationship that “will not lead anywhere.” You are learning to be in a relationship and enjoy the day to day of getting a lot of your needs met by someone cool and nifty who likes you and likes spending time with you. That ain’t nothing, and you should not feel guilty about enjoying yourself for as long as you are enjoying yourself. There is no one right way to be in a relationship, and if the two of you like to keep it light and seem to have similar styles of communication and humor, that can be great.
Being funny (and funny together) is really important and a great way of connecting. But if you’re going to be with someone your whole life and really do that whole in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, through illness and births and death and all the stresses and joys of living every part of this complex and amazing life you’ve been given, you will need more than funny.
Dark times come to us all. If you are very, very lucky, when you reach those dark times you will have someone who loves you to hold your hand and wrap you in their love and support, and remind you of your own worth. This love doesn’t have to necessarily come from a romantic partner to be real and true. Sometimes love is a sandwich. Sometimes it’s killing the giant bug that crawled out of a crack in the ceiling. Sometimes the toilet in the place you’re staying in on vacation is backed up, and love means driving you to a safe pooping sanctuary. Being vulnerable is scary and hard sometimes. It carries risk of rejection. But it’s the only way that we can we connect with each other beyond the surface level and reap all the rewards of being truly seen and truly seeing someone else’s heart.
Fortunately you don’t have to lay out all of your thoughts/feelings/hopes/dreams at once. You don’t have to go right into deep heartfelt talks about THE FUTURE. Relationships don’t have to feel “intense” to be true and important and truly loving. You can use this relationship that is working and where you get along very well and spend all your time together to practice being vulnerable a little at a time and see what happens.
I think one thing that will help you learn to let your feelings cross the brain-mouth barrier is to practice being present in the moment and saying what’s on your mind in the moment.
“I think I might love you but I don’t want to say so in case you don’t want a family or see us having a permanent future together” is a lot for anyone to unpack in a relationship where you haven’t talked about feelings before. NOTHING is wrong with having any or all of those feelings, and you don’t or shouldn’t have to make your feelings smaller or more convenient in order to be with someone. But there is a lot of pressure and anxiety tied up in expressing them all at once and with such a strong future-emphasis. So start small, and start in the present, and start with expressing true thoughts and feelings you are having in a way that does not put pressure on the other person to feel any particular thing themselves.
- “I am glad you came over tonight.”
- “Thank you for making dinner.”
- “I love sleeping next to you.”
- “I am feeling very happy right now.”
- “That feels really good.“
- “That doesn’t feel good, can we stop?“
- “I feel sad.”
- “I feel nervous.“
See what reactions you get. Does he smile? Does he reciprocate? Does he open up a bit? Does he make you feel glad and comfortable that you said something about how you were feeling? Then things are good.
Maybe next you can practice asking for specific things.
- “Will you rub my back?”
- “Can you make dinner tonight?”
- “Can we do (that sex thing I like)?”
- “Is there’s something you’d like to do today?“
- “Does this feel good?“
- “I’d like to have a night to myself to catch up on reading. Can we talk tomorrow instead?”
- “Will you be my date to x event?”
Practice being honest about your feelings about what is happening now and checking in about his. Start with low-stakes, true things.
You say “we spend five days of the week together and almost never go out alone.” So one other suggestion I have to make things feel a bit less risky is that you do something to get back in touch with your solo life – spend a little solo time with your friends, make sure you do a hobby or art or sport or working at a goal that is yours alone and that brings you in touch with other people. I don’t know if it’s winter where you live, but I do know how tempting it is to curl up in the bundle of two and not motivate to go out and do things with others. That can be so great and comfortable, but right now if you’re feeling uncertain about relationship stuff s it can be good to get back in touch with the fact that a lot of people like you and want you to be happy.
These are the most basic baby steps, and I can’t script out your whole story for you. Maybe you have another year ahead of you before you can say “I’m in love with you” or blurt out “I want to have kids and I am hoping you want to have kids with me and that we can do that together” after an episode of Parks & Rec. This is a good news/bad news situation – until you’re comfortable enough to talk about having kids with the purported father of those kids, you’re not ready to have kids.
I want to leave you with three thoughts.
1) There is no way to know ahead of time what someone else thinks and feels and wants. There is no code for figuring it out and therefore guarantee that they will be on the same page as you before you speak up. Despite an entire magazine industry devoted to “Top Signs He’s Ready To Commit” written by people who have degrees in preserving the status quo from Dipshit University, the tools you have at your disposal for sussing out another adult’s plans, hopes, and feelings are:
- Saying what you want and seeing how they respond.
- Asking what they think and seeing what they say.
Your question, and its mention of “sleeping in a tangled pile” (lovely image, by the way) and asking if I think it’s viable because your senses of humor match was a little bit about asking for top! signs! this will work out! I mean, yeah, it sounds like the guy is into being in your company, and “actions speak louder than words,” but I think it’s okay to want the words, too. (See .gif, below).
2) If you are a lady, that does not means that you have to do all the work of figuring out feelings and the future. You are not this guy’s FeelingsTutor. You’re the one who wrote, so probably you will be the one to start saying things like “I really like you.” If he’s a good guy and into you, he will make it very safe and comfortable to trust him with those things, and he will say stuff back, even if it’s hard for him, too. If you start opening up and suddenly feel like you’re dating a Michael Cera character (like an onion, with each layer made of more Michael Cera) who only has one emotional mode, abort!
3) If you really know that you want to have kids someday, you gotta speak up about it sometime. Whatever that heart’s desire is – if it’s to live on a boat for a while or move to Finland or start a theater company or go back to school – you have to be able to say it out loud to the people who you want to really know you.
By saying it out loud*, you do take a risk. You risk that people will laugh at you, or not be on board. You risk that this person right in front of you will not be on Team You while you go after the things you want. You risk pain and disappointment.
By NOT saying it loud, you also risk never, ever getting what you want. Not because some evil nemesis put their evil boot down on your neck and stood in your way, but because you stayed silent, the people around you never knew what you wanted, and you never gave them a chance to actually be on your side or walk away from your side. And then time happened. Your silence + time + fear came in and stole your dreams from you, and then it was too late.
Every good thing that ever happens to us because someone said “Yes, let’s try it.” There is no love without courage, so be of good courage. Take your faults and walk into Camazotz. Take your passion and make it happen. Say “I really care about you and want you to stay in my life” to your boyfriend, and see what happens.
*can mean voice, text, email, letter, skywriting, or any form of expression.