#719: “Conceal, don’t feel” or, when it takes forever to love people.

Hi Captain,

I met a man via online dating about a month ago. He seems like a not-terrible person on paper. Probably even nice. He’s friendly, has a sense of humour, watches similar shows, and is showing consistent, genuine interest in me. We live in different cities and have never met, but we’ve been texting almost every day for the last few weeks. I don’t expect to be able to meet him until September when I move cities to attend grad school. At that point, I will be in a much better position to see him regularly if we click.

The trouble is, I’ve already stopped being excited. I have to remind myself to text him back, and I often forget. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, because here is a person who is clearly great and interested in me, and checks off all the things on paper. I would really like to be dating him, or someone, but:

a) I am very bad at generating meaningful feelings for people without in-person interaction.

b) I still have all these feelings for a very unavailable ex (we’ve been broken up for 3 years, so it makes no sense for me to have Feelings, and I would like to be over this person immediately). If I could move on with someone else, maybe I could finally let this go.

c) It takes me a long time to feel anything for anyone unless we have a strong emotional bond and pre-existing intimacy (ex and I discovered we were bi together. We were/are also best friends). I could meet this person in September and still feel nothing until we’re in a car crash together or something ridiculous. This makes the quick-decision world of online dating really difficult, because it takes me a long time.

So I don’t know what to do. Is it normal to feel kind of indifferent about texting someone you haven’t met? I’m not wildly excited to continue texting him (the way I think I should be) but I’d be open to at least meeting him in September. Would it be incredibly weird to say, “I find it sort of difficult to stay in regular contact via distance when I’m getting to know someone. I think you’re nice, and funny, and sweet. Would you be willing to put this on pause until September so we can see if there is real sparking going on?” How do I date people when it takes me a very long time to feel close to people unless we’re in some sort of crisis? I don’t know the difference between “There’s no spark here” and “There’s no spark here- yet”.

More importantly, why is my heart such a stubborn beast? I don’t expect you to know the answer to that one, but I would appreciate your advice with the rest of this very much. Thanks!

– Literally Elsa from Frozen

Hi Elsa:

Your script for what to tell this dude is great. He might say “Yes of course” and then you can hang out with him in September, or he will say “No I insist we keep texting” and you will say “That’s not how my heart works, sorry” or he will say “Why bother, then” and you will say “good point.” No matter what, you will be free of months of Obligation Flirting.

I can’t break the magic power of your ex, or help you manufacture intense bonding experiences (like wartime sex in a crowded room during the siege of Stalingrad in Enemy at the Gates, for example), but I can tell you that there is information to be had here, in that you are starting a new adventure in a new place and that times of transition are exciting because we tend to be vulnerable and active in a good way when we set up a new life for ourselves. I wouldn’t ascribe too much meaning to those pesky feelings for your ex. Right now, when everything is changing, it’s not weird to me that you would suddenly be extra-nostalgic or thinking about another time in your life when you were in transition. And hey, maybe online dating isn’t for you right now, maybe a series of first dates where you sit at tables in well-lit coffee shops talking about TV shows with “people who aren’t terrible on paper” isn’t for you. Maybe right now you need to climb some walls or rocks or fence or act on stage or learn a new language or go to a loud dark dance club and dance your face off. Maybe you need to write letters to the editor and register people to vote. Maybe you need to explore the queer-friendly places in this new city and find other bi people to hang out with.

It’s not all one or the other, since online dating will be there when you want it, and “take me to a place you really love, Shiny Online Dating Person” is a great way to get to know a new city. Still, I don’t think it will hurt for you to throw yourself hard into things that interest you, try out new things that *might* interest you, and then see who else is around when you come up for air. New friends. Dates. Academic collaborators. Solid trivia team members. Fellow quilters. Dance partners. People in terrible bands that you listen to in cramped basements drinking watered-down liquor. Locate Your People, and maybe nearby will lurk Your Person.

86 thoughts on “#719: “Conceal, don’t feel” or, when it takes forever to love people.

  1. Hey, I am the same way! Online dating has never worked for me because it takes me *forever* to figure out how I feel about people. Also the people I like online and the people I like in-person overlap a lot, but there are plenty of people I like in person who I don’t find particularly interesting online and vice versa. I saw my now-boyfriend’s OkCupid profile and dismissed it with a big NOPE. Later when I met him in person and we worked together on a project for a month, I fell madly in love with him.

    So, basically, good for you for recognizing that this text relationship thing is not working for you. I don’t know how people like us get better at dating – knowing the difference between “no spark” and “no spark yet.” But maybe you will luck out like me.

  2. LW, I gotta say, maybe online dating is not for you? If you need time to bond (like I do! You are not alone in this!), your best bet is to meet people through school, work, hobbies, and other activities. You can’t force interest and you’ll probably be unhappy if you do.

    1. Dates from dating sites never worked out for me I got together with both my ex-girlfriend and my current one after weeks of Platonic interaction (albeit also online).

    2. Another possibility: Dating is not for you? You could be somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, or demiromantic, or some such thing. I know I spent a long time dating around and saying “I can tell I am supposed and expected to feel something right now, and perhaps if I wait (or find the right person/circumstance/event/moon phase) it may appear?” Or being excited about aesthetic/sexual/sensual attraction and then wondering why I got prickly and irritable when partners asked for affection.

      It may not suit you at all, LW, but something to look into?

    3. There’s also lots of ways to online date. Some people do extended “auditioning” before meeting. Personally I had trouble with that for different reasons than the poster here (I tended to be much more blue-sky about people and the meet was a let-down) so I viewed the online contact as a way to quickly meet people I know I wasn’t NOT interested in. We seem interested and compatible? Cool, let’s meet.

      Not everyone was down with this, though I found many were convinced when I told them my feelings about nothing substituting for actually determining if we click in person. Anyone not down with it wasn’t my style – and that’s okay too! The whole point is to find compatible people and that means a lot of different things.

      I met my now-wife that way and it’s been over a decade, so I can’t say that there’s not other pressures now. I really don’t know. But the “right way” to do things is the way that works for you. If minimizing texting in favor of a meet is what you need then that’s what you aim for.

  3. Your heart and your head don’t seem to be on the same page. Your head says “he’s great, he’s interested in me, he meets all my qualifications on paper, and if I get involved with him maybe I’ll finally get over Ex! Go go go!” Your heart says, “Slow down. Wait till you meet him. You’re not excited about the texting. You know what I’m like, how I need meaningful interaction and a strong emotional bond of some kind before RomanceFeels can happen. Pushing it isn’t working.”

    I think you need to listen to your heart a little more, and stop letting your head insist that you *should* feel excited, and if you’re not there’s something wrong. Perhaps your heart is such a stubborn beast because your head keeps trying to boss it around, and invalidating its feelings. I tell myself all the time that I *should* love salad more than I love chocolate, but I just don’t. You feel what you feel.

    1. I personally think it’s sort of foolhardy to establish much progress solely online when it comes to endpoint IRL relationships because they progress WAY past the point they will be in person when you meet, and you end up rubbing brains through your reading of their “voice” only, without other cues….ie it’s entirely thru your filters. If it makes you a little meh, or a little less than thrilled, it’s probably a Good Thing. Your idea of asking for a “Pause” until Sept is probably good….at least perhaps to take it back a notch or two….but stating what is going on will at least let him know where things are at, instead of him wondering if he’s watching the start of a Slow Fade.

  4. I think online dating can work for the LW, maybe–but with the caveat that she engineers a first in-person meeting fairly early on with somebody if she enjoys the online/texting communications? It sounds like the in-person aspect is important, so while others may like to email back and forth for a while, you could use that as a brief initial screen and then move on to face-to-face meetings quickly to see if there’s actual chemistry. Online dating is what you make of it.

    Otherwise, I agree with the Captain, your script is excellent on its own, and his response to it will give you some actionable information.

    1. Totally agree – this is why I implemented an online dating rule that I would only consider interacting online with people who were local that I could easily meet in person. Because if you think there’s something there, nobody wants to wait 3 months to meet face to face. I’d recommend pulling back and if the guy is open to it, then try meeting up in September. But you don’t want an entire summer of staring at your phone.

  5. Are you only texting? I really hate having conversations by text longer than “running late, be there in 5”, “ok”. I can see how it wouldn’t be thrilling. Have you spoken on the phone or talked on Skype or Facetime? Although not the same as actually in person, they are much more “in real time” and there’s so much more you can hear in how someone speaks, than tone in text.

    1. Totally agree there – it’s hard to feel that text-only people are real :-).

    2. I was going to mention the same thing! I met my husband online and I’m someone who does not fall for people easily. However, he and I took our conversations to Skype soon after we started messaging back and forth, and I fell for him pretty quickly. I am, however, on the asexual spectrum so I’m not sure if that plays a part at all. I do endorse video chat! Play games, watch stuff. You might see some spark. 🙂

    3. I had the same thought reading this! I met my now-husband online and at first I was kind of unenthused like the LW is. He seemed great but I knew I wouldn’t meet him IRL for a while so I was like, Why bother? Annnnnd I was hung up on someone else still. But as soon as we finally video chatted sparks flew like crazy, and we moved up our in-person meeting and then moved it up AGAIN because we couldn’t wait any longer.

  6. Oh, and, as far as having feelings for your ex–you say you’re still very good friends with him. Have you considered a period of limited or no communication with him, to see if the Feelings will settle down? I know it would be tough, but being best friends with somebody and having those intense positive feelings and meaningful interactions with him, while trying to simultaneously dampen down romantic feelings, sounds very difficult. You have my sympathy with that. 😦

    1. I don’t think LW said that the ex was a man/used he/his pronouns for them?

      1. Oh sorry, I should know better by now to assume. Good catch, thanks

        1. Hey! Ex and I both identify as women/use she/her pronouns, but not to worry. I understand accidental slips 🙂

    2. Merp, yes. It’s very difficult. Especially when attempting to provide “objective” support for her current relationship troubles with her girlfriend. I’m currently in the process of quietly distancing (not offering information about my life, starting a new Tumblr/social media sites. Basically creating spaces, online and off, that are just mine). I don’t want to make a big thing out of time apart because we’ve done that multiple times in the past. It only ends up being a way to bring up all the sad feelings again. When I leave this time, I don’t want to instigate a Conversation. I just want to be myself elsewhere. Thank you for the sympathy 🙂

  7. You’re not alone in this, LW. I hate having conversations with people via text, except if it’s an old friend that I’ve literally known for years. When you don’t know someone well, it’s hard to have a text convo that goes beyond ‘Hey, how are you?’, ‘I’m good, how are you?’

  8. You’ve been broken up with your ex for three years… and you’re still hung up on them… and y’all are still best friends? From one limerent person to another: you need to cut the cord. Not forever, hopefully, but have you done a period of no contact? If you have, maybe try it again, until it works? Falling for someone else helps, definitely, but sometimes you just need to murder your feelings, and distance is the only way I’ve found to make that happen. If the friendship between you is real, you can always rebuild it again later.

    1. Eh, I don’t know. I think cutting off all contact (following the advice often given here) made a breakup a lot worse for me. I think it would have been easier if we’d had a little bit of time of being apart but in communication to make sure that’s really what we wanted and create some more certainty about the situation. As it was, the break was abrupt and devastating. There was so much I wanted to say to the person, clarifications, things I realized only after the breakup sunk in, but I didn’t because we’d promised no-contact. And now it’s almost a year later and I’m still devastated.

  9. I’m totally with LW on this one. I did the online dating thing for a long time and my feeing was, if we hit it off online let’s meet up in person because that’s how you know if you’re truly compatable. I mean, assuming you’d like to progress from texting/phone calls to actually being in one another’s presence and doing things together and perhaps physical intimacy then why drag it out forever online only to finally meet in person and realize you can’t stand the other person? I mean, I wasn’t on those sites looking for a pen pal! And lots of quirks that can make or break a relationship (poor hygiene, bad money management, family drama, etc) can’t be discovered digitally.

    I think LW’s idea to re-connect after relocating is perfectly reasonable. If it’s meant to be, it can wait a few months. You can always do a periodic “just emailing to say hi” kind of check-in until then. FWIW, I met my husband on a crappy free dating site. We had two kids in less than 2 years and just celebrated our 3rd anniversary. So there are certainly happy outcomes in the online dating world. Good wishes to you, LW!

  10. You could also put things on pause in your own way at your own pace. September isn’t that far away. You could tell him that you only want to text once a week until then. You could suggest a phone call at some convenient time for both of you. That might feel more like a scheduled date. There’s nothing that says that all relationships have to start as wild pants feelings and settle into something calmer later. Some relationships start more calm and build. A sexual relationship should certainly have attraction and good sex in it, but you seem concerned that you’re not doing it right if you don’t have the sort of intense feelings that come from bonding over a crisis. It’s perfectly alright if you bond over a longer time and over lesser things. (I’m in my 50s, and I still don’t have the same sort of intense feelings I had for my first love. Turns out that for me, that sort of intensity was a thing for my teens and wasn’t going to return no matter what sort of situations I tried to engineer.)

    There’s also nothing wrong with you if you’re just not attracted to him. You’re allowed to pull the plug on this relationship now, after meeting him in September, or any time after that. At whatever point you feel like you’ve given it a good try (and that’s when YOU feel like you’ve given it a good try, not someone else’s definition of how long that should be), it doesn’t matter how good he looks on paper. (I feel like yelling that to you and to my younger self: IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW GOOD HE LOOKS ON PAPER.) If you’re not attracted to him, you’re not. A lot of heartache comes from trying to convince yourself otherwise. In the world of attraction, there are no shoulds.

  11. One thing that did stand out for me in the original letter was this: “ex and I discovered we were bi together. We were/are also best friends”.

    I don’t know the full story, so perhaps you and your ex had a couple of years of getting-over-one-another time, before resuming your friendship. But I do think it might be difficult to form a new relationship, while your ex is right there, being delightfully best-friendy. I know that buildings and people are not the same thing…but when I was flat-hunting, years back, I had a really tough time finding anywhere new, because I kept thinking, “I just don’t feel the same warm, fuzzy feelings towards the new flat that I feel towards the place I’m currently living.” And it was only when I realised, in an epiphany of the obvious, that I was *never* going to love a flat I’d seen for ten minutes as much as the place I’d been renting for four years that I was actually able to imagine myself living somewhere new, and perhaps falling in love with it, too.

    All I’m saying is that there might be a temptation to compare the new and potentially-one-day-best-friend person with the actual best friend you’ve known for years, and with whom you have pre-existing intimacy. And that can make moving on difficult.

    All that said…I completely agree with the Captain’s advice. Obligation Flirtation is no fun for anyone.

  12. I find this is a common conception of online dating (that is, that the actual dating takes place online). See, for example, the suggestions in this thread that online dating isn’t for you that assume that the majority of online dating actually takes place online.

    I prefer to call it online introduction service, because in my opinion/experience that’s how it optimally works. Your relationship with a match is probably going to take place mostly offline, so offline experiences with them are a much better test of compatibility. Which is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that your preference, LW, is SUPER common in my experience and totally, totally understandable. And if this person wigs out when you tell them you want to put a pin in everything until September, remember that handy block button!

  13. LW, I have to say, I think the way you can not fall for people without actually knowing them for a while in person and kind of well is healthy and awesome, not something wrong with you. Needing drama to bond is maybe a separate thing that I can’t address. But as a person who has put myself through a lot of hell-time because I can’t keep my hope/need/fantasy projection from sticking to people I don’t actually know well yet? I’m pretty impressed with your natural off switch for that. Why on earth _should_ you feel romantic and bonded with someone you haven’t met? It would just be fantasy and projection. I think your honesty with yourself and the guy are awesome. Be yourself, notice how you really feel, tell the truth, and the people who things work with, things will work with.

    1. Thumbs up!

      I think it’s normal for humans to need to share experiences to bond emotionally, BTW (whatever ‘normal’ even means…). If you know someone for a long time the day to day good and bad experiences of life can fill that role, otherwise why not try meeting lots of people who seem broadly to ‘have potential’ and then doing stuff together with them? I don’t mean car crashes, obviously, but e.g., trying a new skill together or going on a somewhat new adventure can create more minor (and safer, lol…) versions of a bonding experience.

  14. LW, is it possible you’re demisexual? You say it takes you a long time to feel anything for someone without there already being a strong emotional connection — am I right in interpreting that to mean romantic/sexual feelings? ‘Cause a strong, intimate emotional bond is definitely feeling something. Whether you are or not, though, the Captain’s advice is spot on: if you need to already be close to someone to develop romantic feelings toward them, then finding Your People is probably your best bet for also finding someone to date without it feeling like a chore.

    1. Wanted to add: I brought up the possibility not because I think you need to put a label on yourself, but because a friend who is demi only recently discovered that there was actually a word for how she feels and interacts with people, and that discovery helped her to feel less like there was something weird or abnormal about how she builds relationships. Knowing that there are enough other people who work the same way that there’s a word for it can sometimes be good.

    2. ^
      This. If you hadn’t heard about demisexuality being A Thing, maybe do a little reading and see if sounds like you. (If you already know about it and it doesn’t sound like you, cool. You’re the one that would know.)

      Bi-romantic demisexual here, and it took me a loooong time to figure out my sexual orientation. (I never did manage to date, but got lucky and eventually managed to skip right to the getting-engaged-to-my-formerly-platonic-roommate.) I wavered about whether bi or asexual was the closest fit, but I always had this little niggling sense that something wasn’t quite “right” about me and how I experienced attraction. I could feel attraction, but I couldn’t understand most of the language used to describe how it was “supposed” to work. I spent time second-guessing whether this or that counted as “spark”.

      It was about a year after my marriage that I finally ran into the term “demisexual”. Turned out it wasn’t that something wasn’t “right” about my orientation, it was that the most important part of my orientation was something I had never heard of before. In some ways it changed nothing – I’m still married to the same lovely friend, and I still usually shorthand refer to myself as bi. But as a person who loves words, it felt like coming home to finally find the word for my experience.

      Also, I am so sorry you have this situation with your best-friend ex, that sounds heartbreaking, and FWIW I think that trying to move on after three years is handling it like a boss. Good on you for setting forth to look for what you actually want instead of wallowing in might-have-beens. Regardless of whether it’s demisexuality or something else, I think that starting over can have a huge extra element of challenge when you’re someone that develops connections more slowly than our society says is “normal”.

      1. Also, what our society deems “normal” is actually a really narrow strip of the vast landscape of human experience. I feel that this idea of immediate attraction as normal is actually quite new, and I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea that a slower way of developing emotions is somehow outside what’s considered normal. Not to say that words like demisexual aren’t useful, of course, they definitely are!

    3. I was thinking the same thing as I read the letter. I’m pretty sure I’m somewhere in the demisexual zone (even with actor/musician crushes, I have to know something about them as people before I’m really into them), and I recognize that “meh, this is too much work/how can I get excited when I don’t even know if I like you yet” feeling.

      1. I’ve been thinking I’m probably demisexual for a while now, and part of it is what you describe–not getting crushes on celebrities unless I feel some kind of attraction to their personality. Just looking at pictures of ostensibly attractive people does nothing for me. Which is probably why I find Tinder extremely unsatisfying (although sometimes entertaining).

  15. Online dating works quite well for me, but “staying in touch online with somebody I’ve never met IRL” doesn’t. Your own script is perfect.

    1. And even if you have. I had a LDR with someone, but I broke it off in part because I found staying in touch through text/email etc outside of our meetings really stressful. After awesome weekends of great intimacy, I tried to extend that to keep him in the loop of my life that he was not yet fully in (or in at all), because otherwise it felt as if he did not exist. Easing someone into your life through whatsapp makes for long long texts with long long explanations, I can tell you, and the daily text-based contact became a chore that Skype could not make easier. Add to that that I am bad at keeping in touch with people I cannot regularly touch at the best of times and that all this was in a second language. The whole thing did my head in. In the end I concluded that this was just not for me.

  16. To me your script sounds fine and makes total sense.

    YMMV, but as far as I’m concerned, online dating is a misnomer — it should be more like ‘on-line meeting’. I have heard of people developing relationships online, but I think it’s probably far more common for it not to work that way. I don’t see the value, personally, in chatting with someone by text more than a few days before meeting, and personally I wouldn’t exchange messages with someone unless they’re geographically close enough for that to be possible. It’s useful to widen the number of people you meet, and you can use those questions and filters to increase the number of people you meet with broadly similar values (and partially screen people for major dealbreakers — including, IMO, living far away…). And up to a few days of online chatting might help you start a conversation when you actually meet, but in the end if you’re looking for an in-person relationship, look for in-person relationships, not penpals. Make it a fairly brief meeting (like half an hour) in a public place, and just use it to decide if you want to meet them a second time.

    Basically I think your reaction to a text-message penpal is more common than the opposite… Human beings didn’t evolve to form emotional bonds through text messages, for the most part, let alone physical attraction.

    I’m sure there are people who do find corresponding with someone they’ve never met does actually develop into a strong relationship, and certainly if someone finds that working for them, great for them, but if you don’t find it working for you it definitely doesn’t make you unusual or ‘difficult’!

    1. I certainly have friendships I’ve developed online, but those, for the most part, took in the neighborhood of 3-4 years of consistently keeping up with each other’s lives to develop.

      1. Yes, I have such friendships, too, with people I’ve never met in person. But 1) they’re built up over a long time, and usually over much deeper discussion (often of difficult or controversial subjects) and 2) 90% of the time they stay online.

        Penpals can be really great and you can have real genuine penpal friendships, but they’re their own thing and I don’t personally think it’s a very high probability way of developing a romantic or physical relationship.

  17. OP, your description of how love works for you sounds a lot like how demi-sexual and demi-romantic people experience things. It might be something to look into?

  18. I kinda feel this. I can click with people online and I can enjoy online conversation, but I can’t fall for someone online any more. (In my teens? Oh boy.) And I start to panic now if I am enjoying conversations with someone who I can’t meet right away for whatever reason, because a thing that keeps happening to me is – I enjoy passing the time of day with this person when I remember, it’s not a huge deal, when circumstances change I’d be happy to meet up with them etc. And at the other person’s end, when I’m in touch they are falling for me, and when I’m out of touch they are freaking out. It’s happening to me right at this very moment and I need to do something to sort it out, but it rankles a bit because I’m kinda thinking “hey! I didn’t ask you to invest this much into this!” and now I have to try to clean up the feels mess…oh well, it’s no-one’s fault really and I will clear it up soon…

    I don’t have advice but it seems like the Captain and other commenters have it covered, but I just wanted to say I feel you.

    1. I don’t know the specifics of course, but it really sounds like it might not be your job to clean up the feels mess. Like you said, it’s not your fault if the other person is more invested than you are. I’m saying this as someone who’s often been the more invested party, and my experience has been that I can deal with that as long as the other person is honest about their feelings (or lack of).

    1. I love texting with people I already know; I find talking on the phone extremely unpleasant with people I am not extremely well-acquainted with. Very much a YMMV thing.

      1. Me too. I never talk on the phone if I can help it, but I have many friendships (not romantic relationships because I am aro-ace) that are text (or /email/WhatsApp/Twitter) -based. It works really well for us.

        1. I almost exclusively use text-based online communication these days, and find it lovely for a variety of reasons:
          -I can have time to think through what I want to say without initiating long, awkward pauses.
          -Likewise, if people aren’t responding or are getting ranty, I can switch to another tab and come back to the conversation later.
          -I can practice expressing sympathy or support for my friends going through hardships, without having to confront anxiety-inducing facial expressions, behaviors, or tones of voice, or generate anxiety in figuring out what my own should be.
          -I can use my hands for other things, instead of keeping one glued to the phone by my ear.
          -I can talk to people who would rather keep their real-world, identifying information private (FB’s “real names” rule notwithstanding).
          -I can have multiple, separate conversations going at once.
          -Other people in my household aren’t forced to listen to my conversations, and I can listen to music or a podcast while conversing.
          -Our conversation can include the sharing of links and pictures that the other person might find interesting.
          -Cell service in my area sucks.

        2. Same here. I hate phones except for arranging details and things. Chatting online, I can do other stuff too.

        3. Me too as well. I met my beloved ex online, in a text-based medium (ah, Usenet….), and fell in love with her largely over email with a few phonecalls thrown in.

          But the thing is, these were vast long emails, spanning pages, talking in depth about things. There’s a lot of way that I’m like the LW in having a tight connection between emotional intimacy and romantic feelings, and for me emotional intimacy comes from a place of having the other person deeply understand who I am and what I feel (and vice versa) and then appreciating and nurturing that. That can happen for me with words, but it takes a lot of them to get that deep an understanding. Texting really wouldn’t do that, for me.

      2. I find texting or e-chatting waaaaaaaay preferable to phone calls.

        I had a first date with a guy this week that went really well, and a few days later he texted to see if I wanted to chat on the phone after work.

        Honestly? No.

        I’m not a phone person. I’ll do phone calls or Skype sessions with friends who live long-distance, because that’s the closest approximation to in-person hanging out with them. I’ll reluctantly pick up the phone for work, although I vastly prefer email.

        But having a cute catch-up / flirt chat with someone I’ve met once, even had a really great date with once, is my idea of hell on legs. Not even just because my house has really poor phone reception. I was super anxious at the thought of it until I said that I prefer not to do phone calls. We ended up having a text-fest (which was unideal) where he said that he would find it hard to not do phone calls with a dating partner. We’re meeting up on the weekend and will have to wait and see. It might just be a communication incompatibility. If it’s someone I really want to make something work with and they need phone calls, I’ll deal with it and would do phone calls. If it’s someone I’m a bit ‘meh’ on then I won’t – and the phone calls would be *hella awkward* anyway.

        tl;dr it’s possible to be incompatible around type/medium of communication as well as frequency, style etc. It’s possible to compromise but I think you have to be at least a little bit invested in the person/relationship before compromise will just feel unexciting/a drag/stressful etc.

        1. OMG. Back when I was still dating a lot, I had a dude say “let’s schedule a phone call” and I said “I don’t like to talk on the phone, so let’s either meet or call it a day”. He said I was immature, if you can believe it.

          I was like, because I don’t like to talk on the phone I’m immature? Jeez. I told him to take a hike.

    2. God yes. All the options to express and revise of a letter, plus the privacy of not being overheard, plus the lack of pressure to say something interesting RIGHT NOW before there’s an awkward gap in the conversation, plus the option to look back on things and ponder them.

      (Phone calls are nice too! But they’re not universally regarded as a ‘better’ mode of communication.)

  19. I only date my close friends for exactly this reason. I just can’t really go for anyone I don’t know well. There’s no bonding experience there; we don’t even *know* each other, why am I going to get involved with you?

  20. Hi! Letter Writer here. Thank you so much to the Captain for your support, and in particular to all the commenters who have reassured me that it’s normal to not feel all the feelings right away. All the tiny voices saying, “we feel this, too!” is my favourite part of this site.

    Just an update, I texted the person this script and he was so sweet about it! He gave me lots of space when I wasn’t texting back for a week (not pushy!) and then when I did, he reassured me that he was busy as well, and that he would be happy to wait till September. These things are actually going a long way towards feelings. Not necessarily excited, lusty feelings, but calm and secure feelings.

    1. Good to hear, LW! Good luck in your future romantic endeavors!

      (If it helps at all, I’m in a similar boat as you — I have a hard time making friends as it is, and the idea of me having feelings for someone before at least a few months of being friends with them is unthinkable.)

    2. Yay, indeed! And yay for calm and secure feelings — for me, those are as important a part of a relationship as the excited lusty ones. 🙂

      Also as a “me too” — I’ve had several times in my life where I’ve had long-distance relationships and friendships with people I know I have real feelings for (because of pre-existing in-person relationships with sparks and feels), and often I find that texting-like communication feels more like a chore than a delight. So it lags sometimes, when that’s the main mode of communication — but, so far, the relationships have been fine with lapses in them.

        1. Just chiming in to say … as a woman halfway through the first long-distance summer break in her first relationship, this is super comforting for me also! I’ve wondered a few times if the ho-hum feeling of texting meant the sparks and feels would be gone when we’re in-person again. thank youuu

    3. I am madly in love with a man for whom I didn’t have real feelings for….five or six months. Like, he was just ok. For that long. And now it’s been five years and I am still head over heels. You’re definitely not alone and I am so happy for you that this guy reacted in a Good Person way. Captain always says….people’s reactions to boundaries tell you so much about them and whether they are worth more of your precious energy. Hope things continue to go well for you, with or without him.

      1. What would you say the tipping point was? Did he just grow on you slowly, or was it something big?

  21. “Locate Your People, and maybe nearby will lurk Your Person.” ❤ ❤ ❤

    1. Yes, I love that thought!

      LW, what encourages you to be online dating in your new city already, rather than your old city? Is it all eagerness to move on, or also eagerness to get settled in? Story time: I am wary of change, and so I felt the latter. I spent the summer before grad school trying to buy/make All The Things for my apartment-to-be, and I jumped into a relationship a few days before I even moved in! Turns out, this made me feel secure early on at the expense of spending time making connections in my academic program. (Aside: your colleagues and potential mentors are so, so vital, and will likely be so for years to come! Ask many people for help early, even to confirm what you know, and you will learn inside tips and learn your colleagues’ styles.)

      If I were giving my past self advice, I’d suggest harnessing my early anxious energy in order to identify social venues to try out in the new place: meet up groups, campus organizations, Yelp recommendations for coffee shops with power outlets… Perhaps also practicing a few recipes, so I could invite over some classmates for dinner near the beginning of the year. (Even while they’re still mostly strangers! Because they won’t be strangers in a few months!)

      To sum up my story, I wanted to avoid feeling the vulnerability of this life transition, and instead of facing the possibility of loneliness and worries about belonging as I moved to a new campus, I rushed into a “good enough” relationship in order to feel I was truly welcome somewhere in this new place. That relationship ended up causing lots of pain, all the more so because I had subconsciously made a lot of my new life rely on that bond and thus I was loathe to reevaluate the situation honestly. LW, if any of this resonates with you, then please be kind to and patient with yourself and perhaps address your underlying feelings or worries.

      Finally, grad school attracts lots of unattached, smart, interesting people (fellow students & many others working, visiting, or living nearby), so I found that trying to locate people online beforehand was a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle or owls to Athens.

      Jedi hugs and good luck!

  22. I love all the advice in the Captain’s post and in the comments (and I think LW has now more or less figured out what she needs to do/will do/is doing here, so I won’t add any advice there). But I do want to put big shiny hearts all around this last bit of the Captain’s advice:

    “It’s not all one or the other, since online dating will be there when you want it, and “take me to a place you really love, Shiny Online Dating Person” is a great way to get to know a new city.”

    I was single for a little over a year after moving to my current city for grad school, and in that period I did tons of online dating. None of it turned into anything close to a relationship; I think the most dates I ever went on with one person was four, and after that year I began a relationship with a FWB from my hometown, whom I’d also met online just before moving to grad school, but we didn’t really go on dates except once or twice (see: FWB) and he didn’t live in my city (although he eventually moved here and we’re now engaged). But I got to see so much of my new city, and check out all sorts of cool bars and restaurants and neighborhoods all around the city. It was a great way to get to know a new city, especially in the relatively easy first year of my PhD. So yeah, 10/10 would recommend online dating as a way to get to know a city even if you’re not sure whether or not you see a future with the particular people you’re dating.

  23. Off LW you are me, you must be! A million Jedi hugs to you because it’s so easy to feel like the bad guy I. This situation when you’re really not.

    As I say, I’m in a similar place and wanted to write to the good captain too – I can never will a spark with online dating. A guy can look ok, seem nice, be interested In the same or different stuff, be lovely in how flattering they are of me. (Gods knows it’s always odd and nice to be called pretty!) but it’s all meh. Messaging feel like an obligation and days go by without response but when I pick back up they’re nice as ever. But it boring and I feel awful that it’s boring or alternatively I get anxious. You try to think of following the cap’s advice to just MEET ALREADY but you feel no investment and you want to avoid the ‘no spark…yet?’ Conversation. So I drop off the face of the earth and leave them hanging and it’s awful.i don’t wanna be that guy.
    For me I have the problem of causing several friendzones of interested guys and taking 4 months to decide I wasn’t actually attracted to my first bf – after a he’d popped the big L word. It sucks, I feel like the biggest bitchqueen who ever bitched.
    Now for me I’ve had hobbies (arguably too many so it’s drains me emotionally maybe?) and finally have my own place. So I should be ripe for a relationship yes? Well maybe not because I can’t find anyone online bloody attractive properly and have no one in real life to meet cute.
    But you’re not alone LW, and yebjedi hugs are there. We’ll figure out this rubbish 😉

  24. As a demisexual, online dating was really really weird for me because of the lack of spark (it was actually during this period that I discovered demisexuality in the first place). I’m someone who’s really hesitant about meeting someone in public for the first time, mostly for safety reasons (yay rape culture!) but I found that once I started accepting that the “spark” wasn’t going to happen, I ended up really enjoying myself. I met amazing people, who may not have been my Person (to hold hands with or slow dance with or kiss in the rain a la The Notebook), but were still awesome people.

    I’m also someone who believes that all relationships are of equal value, even if they’re different. So, I don’t place more importance on my romantic relationships than I do my friendships or family relationships. While that may not work for everyone, it helped me release some of that anxiety about finding a “spark” or a Person To Kiss In The Rain. I could just seek out people who were awesome like me, and that was awesome.

    And, not that this is anyway solely connected with being demi, but maybe stop looking for a spark? From what you’ve described, it sounds like you’re less of a “spark” and more of a “slow burn.” Give yourself a break from catching on fire, and it might just allow you to find someone who warms embers in the pit of your stomach instead.

    1. “Give yourself a break from catching on fire, and it might just allow you to find someone who warms embers in the pit of your stomach instead.”

      This is perfect. Thank you.

  25. False: I can’t possibly move on to date someone else while I still have feelings for my ex. I have to be completely over the last relationship and solidly independent before I can think about someone new. Dating while still harboring feelings for someone else is a form of infidelity.

    True: We’re likely always to think back fondly on past loves, and that’s a good thing since the alternative is vilifying the ex to the point of hatred. What matters is whom you spend time with in the present, not lingering memories. A good new relationship can help you get over an old one.

    1. I’m one of those who rarely gets over the last one til someone else comes along. I hate the persistent belief that you have to be over someone before you can start dating again. If that were really the case, I would never having dated again after the tragic death of my first boyfriend. When we were seventeen. Can you believe how silly that would be? 🙂

      1. ^This! Getting over a meaningful relationship is a loooong process. It took me something like five years to be over my very first relationship, which started when I was 15 and ended when I was 22. Now at 29 there are still aspects of that relationship and losing it that I have to work on at a regular basis. It’d be ridiculous to still stay out of relationships just for that reason.

    2. Yeah, this is very true. What matters is whether you process what happened with the previous one, not that you scrub all feelings for them from your psyche.

      Sidenote: therapist told me after my last break up that the anger at the ex was good as a step of separation and getting over them. (Obviously not advocating hanging onto anger, but it’s not all bad).

  26. There is nothing wrong with you, your gut is right, your script is awesome, just banish ‘should’ from your vocabulary and you’re good.
    My online dating profile includes something like ‘getting to know people by basically texting isn’t my style and I have a short attention span so long chats are likely to peter out. Let’s just go for coffee’. I’ve also never met a partner or even someone I’m attracted to through online but I have made some really nice friends and been to some interesting places.
    I repeat, there is NOTHING wrong with you. Xx

  27. I absolutely love this line “Locate Your People, and maybe nearby will lurk Your Person.”

  28. I also take a long time to develop romantic feelings for a person. Online social places and dating sites were a great way for me to meet people when I was single, but I never, ever became the slightest bit attracted to anyone before meeting in person.

    So, yeah, nothin’ wrong with that.

  29. I met my husband (and plenty of other dates) through online dating. When my husband and I first started chatting, I was interested in/seeing another boy that I thought was Quite Something, and so I was upfront with my husband about where my head was at, and he was fine with that. We would chat online (before and after we met), and though our conversations were fun and interesting, I wasn’t thinking This One about him.

    Then things faded out with QS boy and I dated other boys and was seeing someone who was getting on my nerves for reasons not worth getting into. My husband had updated his MSN name to include a question about whether he could train for a half-marathon in a month, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I messaged him and asked if he wanted a running buddy. We made plans to run together and he showed up at my doorstep, and I thought, “hey, my running buddy is kind of cute.” And we ran together (okay, he ran and I tried not to die), and he left and we made plans to run together again and either our second or third run I suggested we add dinner to it. And another time we went to see a movie and had dinner. And eventually we had a conversation about liking each other and now we have a house and two kids and eight years of history together.

    So that’s my long-winded way of saying that sometimes someone isn’t on your radar at the time, but ends up being someone you click with later — and that online isn’t always the best way to get to know someone. Because as funny and entertaining as my husband was online, he wasn’t coming across my radar as someone that I would really connect with. And yeah, I didn’t always respond right away to his messages, and sometimes I barely answered him back, but here we are.

    That said, maybe this dude isn’t for you, and that’s fine, too! And I like your script, I think you have good instincts.

    1. Haha, I actually LOVE theatre. I’m looking forward to doing more now that I don’t have to worry about grad school applications.

  30. Hey LW,

    It looks like you’ve handled this really well, and found the answer you’re looking for. I hope it all works out well for you!

    I just wanted to pick up on this part of your letter:

    “How do I date people when it takes me a very long time to feel close to people unless we’re in some sort of crisis? I don’t know the difference between “There’s no spark here” and “There’s no spark here- yet”.

    More importantly, why is my heart such a stubborn beast?”

    You sounded as though you are trying to make sense of yourself, and perhaps understand your relational style. Others have spoken above about ‘demi-romanticism’ or the aromantic spectrum as one potential way of doing this. Another way that might be helpful is to do some reading into attachment styles, or perhaps to do some work with a therapist who has an expertise in that field. Not that there is anything ‘wrong’, or in need of ‘treatment’, I mean absolutely the opposite-just a journey of coming to know and understand yourself better, accepting yourself and finding out what works for you. I think the captain has posted before about attachment styles, and this book is one that is often recommended by therapists:

    (the link I got the reference from is here: http://www.westcoasttraumaproject.com/podcast/linda-curran-bcpc-lpc-cacd-ccdp-d/ he’s an american clinical psychologist so I think a legitimate source, and it’s a book I found helpful myself. However if it’s inappropriate to post the recommendation and the source please remove it captain, I’ve posted so much detail to try to give the LW or people who might be interested an informed choice)

    It’s just a suggestion so feel free to ignore it, it’s underpinned by my personal experiences of finding therapy with an attachment-informed clinical psychologist to have been very helpful in starting to understand what happens for me in intimate relationships. For example, I had a small issue with some friends recently, and dealt with it by trying to back away and give them space. My therapist reflected to me about my relationship with my mother, that when things are good she is right there and very connected, but when things are more difficult she finds it hard (this is based on my experiences before the age of 3, so things like her telling me that if I screamed too much when I was a baby she would close the door and walk away, which I think was probably the received parenting wisdom at the time). So now, as an adult, if I’m having difficult or painful feelings in relationships I pull away from the person/people involved, because I believe they shouldn’t have to handle my difficult or messy feelings, and because I want to give them space and not overwhelm them. Him reflecting that to me was really useful because it gives me some choice in using it as a strategy to manage difficulties in relationships: at times it is fine, and appropriate, but at other times it might be more helpful for me to ‘build a bridge’ back to the other person and try to work it through with them, something which hadn’t occurred to me.

    That’s just a small personal example, and not one that is perhaps relevant to you, but I just wanted to throw out the ‘attachment styles’ stuff as something you may be interested in reading into/exploring further if you are trying to understand yourself and your relational style.

    Good luck with your big move, and the new course, and dating of whatever sort takes your fancy (online, irl, through shared hobbies, etc.). I hope you are able to process your grief over your ex-that sounds painful.

    take lots of care LW and warm best wishes,


    1. You sound like a wonderfully kind person; thank you so much for the luck and the links!

      I agree with you and some of the other commenters about the demiromanticism. I probably am, but I’m still kind of sad about it so I haven’t really claimed it as my own. When I came out as bi, I was terrified but also happy because of all the potential people for loving. Identifying as demiromantic makes me feel scared that it’ll be that much harder to find people that I can love. I’m scared that I’ll settle for someone who doesn’t excite me and call it love because I’m supposed to.

      I’ll look into more therapy, thanks 🙂

      1. I’m one of those who didn’t know demiromantic was a thing until my relationships were fairly settled. I definitely recommend the Captain’s advice to throw yourself into your interests. YMMV, but I think that for demiromantics in particular, happily single but eager to make friends and willing to fall in love can be a good platform from which to build both friendships and possibly romantic relationships. I’ve never intentionally looked for a romantic relationship – they developed fairly naturally out of close friendships

        Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with directly seeking romantic partners if you want to! Just that you don’t have to, and you still have a decent chance of finding a good partner by making good friends.

      2. Oh good, I’m glad comments are still open – I saw this comment of yours, LW, right before leaving for a camping trip with no internet, but really wanted to reply. I’ve been thinking about you these last few days, and thinking about Young Me, and some things I wish someone had told me.

        If demiromanticicism and/or demisexuality doesn’t feel like a comfortable label to you, it’s truly OK not to claim it. Maybe it’s something close enough that it could almost work, but deep down you know it just isn’t quite right. (That’s how I felt about bi and ace.)

        But if it does feel like it might be something you do eventually want to claim, here’s my best attempt at comfort and reassurance:

        You will be able to find people to love. Even if the romance side of things never works out, you will still be able to love yourself, your friends, your family, your pets, your hobbies, your favorite fictional characters. If you want children in your life, you can be an honorary auntie or a reliable babysitter, you can decide to forge ahead into single parenthood, you can be a foster parent. You will be able to make a life that is full to the brim with love, and when your life is full to the brim, there’s not a lot of room left for settling.

        I know that’s cold comfort when you want Your Special Person to snuggle. I’ve been there. But the best way I found to deal with my fear of Not Finding That Special Person was to make my peace with the fact that I might not. Not because of being demi (I didn’t know that then), but because that’s a fact that is true for all humans.

        Something else that might help: Being demi might make dating harder, but it doesn’t necessarily make finding a long-term partner harder (if that’s what you’re looking for). I think that for me (YMMV) not being tugged all over the place by pantsfeelings made it easier to be clear with myself about what I really wanted. There are advantages to not starting to fall for someone until you’ve had a chance to get to know them, to see their bad sides and their low points, to get insight into whether you’ll be compatible long-term. It’s not a magic charm against heartbreak – particularly if you fall in love and they don’t – but it can be protection against certain types of heartbreak and certain types of time sinks.

        And one last thing – there’s a cultural narrative that says we need to find someone who excites us for it to count as True Love and anything else is settling and missing out. I don’t dispute that this is true for many people, and it might be true for you, too. I always feel a little weird trying to explain my perspective on this one, since there are also many cultural forces that don’t prioritize women’s pleasure and excitement, and I don’t want to participate in minimizing how important those things are. But for some of us, there are other stories and other ways to find True Love. Excitement isn’t important to everyone.

        It isn’t for me. But it took me a surprisingly long time to realize that – cultural narratives can run deep – and even longer to stop trying to talk myself into Feeling The Excitement Already. When I realized I didn’t usually enjoy excitement, I stopped trying to talk myself into it. I realized that, for me, the fear of not finding excitement was an external fear that I had caught from other people, not something that was coming from inside of me. And then when I eventually found a person who made me feel warm, happy, respected, loved, etc., I settled down with her without worrying about whether we had the correct amount of excitement between us. I have not regretted it yet and can’t imagine that I ever will.

        Your story might be different. I do think that excitement is a totally legit thing to want and to seek, and that if it’s something you want, being demi won’t stop you from finding it; so please don’t take my story as some kind of verification that being demi means settling for someone doesn’t excite you. It doesn’t. I just wish someone had told me that sometimes there are other stories instead of having to work it all out for myself.

        Anyway, Jedi hugs. Good luck with the therapy and all the rest of it, and I hope you do find your special person or persons in whatever way makes you happiest!

        1. The Aphid, thank you so much for sharing all this. It fit so well with what I’m feeling and made me feel so emotional (in a good way) that I actually copy and pasted your comment into a folder of mine for re-reading in the future. The way that you talk about the person in your life- that she makes you feel warm and happy and respected- that’s how I feel about my closest, kindest friends! Like a freeing kind of peace, which is maybe a kind of exciting feeling? I’m excited to see them, but so that I can feel that peace. I guess I’ve always associated romance with the kind of excitement that’s can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-euphoria. I googled limerancy upon another commenter’s mention of the term. That seems to fit better with my previous understanding of what being In Love should feel like, and is probably a good place for me to start re-evaluating. Anyway, I appreciate you thinking of me and taking time to come back and message 🙂
          (Hope the camping trip went well!)

          1. Thanks for letting me know that my comment spoke to where you’re at! I wasn’t sure if it would help or make things worse, but figured it was worth a shot, so am glad to hear it came down on the helping side. 🙂

            And yes, excited to feel a freeing kind of peace sounds very familiar to me! Sort of the excitement of coming home to a favorite place instead of the excitement of going to a fireworks show. I can see why other folks enjoy fireworks, but I always just wind up with a headache, so I stay happily at home instead.

  31. I’m demiromantic, mostly demisexual, and in exactly the same boat re: online dating. In my experience, most of the folks I met were ones that I could probably fall in love with, sure- if we were friends first. And it’s hard to get that kind of genuine no-pressure incubation period with online dating. On the other hand, it’s also hard to get people you’re already good friends with to date you, because by the time you start heating up, they’ve dismissed you as a romantic/sexual option long ago. I gave online dating several doughty attempts though, and now I’m about nine months into a relationship- my first relationship- with a great guy that I genuinely like and enjoy kissing, but because it takes so long for me to feel romantic towards anyone, it’s difficult to tell whether I will eventually feel that way about him or not. In the meantime, it feels like I’m wasting his time, even though he’s never suggested anything of the kind. So I guess my contribution to the conversation is that the problem doesn’t go away once you form a functional relationship unless you’re one of those impossibly lucky folks whose best friend falls in love with them back.

  32. Just joining the chorus – you aren’t alone in not feeling attracted to someone online. I’ve only ever felt feelings for someone I know in-person. It’s a rare beast too; I can’t say I ever met someone online that lead to a romantic relationship.
    Option A is to see how things go when meeting up with your e-buddy go.
    Other option is to stick to attempting to socialize and see who you click with; any interest groups or grad school type events nearby are a good start.

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