#988: “How do I have the ‘is this a real relationship?’ talk with someone without messing up the relationship?”

Dearest Captain,

I’ve been dating a person for almost 3 months, and he is terrific and lovely. Sexy stuff is also ding ding ding jackpot!!!. I’m at the point where I would like to have a low-stress check-in about how we’re both feeling regarding exclusivity and commitment. I know we’re both currently not seeing anyone else. My general impression is that he’s interested in a relationship, but ‘impressions’ are not hard evidence and I just want to address it explicitly without my inner FEELINGS-VORTEX getting in the way.

I’m really struggling to find the right words to initiate this conversation, because everything that pops into my head has strong overtones of “PLEASE LOVE ME FOREVER” and “I’m putting all my hopes and dreams on you despite only having known you for 10 weeks or so”… and those are NOT the kinds of conversations I want to have. They’re definitely not representative of how I actually feel – it’s just that my anxious-attachment mechanism kicks into overdrive at the very thought of addressing it and everything starts to feel like much higher stakes than it really is.

I did some googling on “How to have a DTR conversation” or similar, and Captain, there is a universe of terrible advice out there. Of course, much of it is geared towards straight women, and either implies or outright says things like “Don’t be too pushy. Men don’t like to be rushed. Let him do the chasing.” DON’T STARTLE THE WILD MALE HUMAN. There’s a heck of a lot of cultural messaging to the effect that [in a heterosexual relationship] it is a woman’s role to push for commitment and that men dread this conversation, which makes me both extra nervous about it and also kind of resentful. I would like to be able to leave those feelings at the door when I bring it up, but I’m so lost for the right words to use that I just end up getting even more anxious, and then I don’t bring it up at all because I want to be coming from a place of curiosity and confidence, not from a place of fear.

I’m sure about this guy. He’s kind and responsible and we laugh together a lot and we are hella attracted to each other. I’ve felt a whole bunch of YES about him since we first met, and know that I know him a little better I feel totally sure that I want a committed relationship with him. It’s frustrating and embarrassing for me that I feel so lost as to how to bring this up. I know there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but do you have any good scripts for having this kind of conversation? I think you’d be doing the world a great service by putting out a few (non-gendered) ways to check in with someone you’re dating about your hopes and feelings about the relationship.

Many thanks for all you do,

Looking For Words

Dear Looking for Words,

giphy (16)
Image description: Kristen Ritter, dressed all in black, giving a truly epic eye-roll that involves her entire head.

Thanks for your letter. “DON’T STARTLE THE WILD MALE HUMAN” is such a great descriptor of that brand of advice that assumes that all straight women are trying to pin down a committed relationship and all straight men are trying to keep their options open. If you’re this imagined woman, only through pretending that such things are not important to you, silent & stoic waiting plus a continued performance of good sex and home cooking (Glamour magazine’s “Engagement Chicken” recipe at the link), and being MAXIMALLY CHILL AT ALL TIMES can one “lock down” the elusive “Committed Boyfriend” of one’s dreams! With the potential of a bonus “surprise” proposal someday when he, independently of any discussion or input from you, whips a very expensive piece of jewelry out of his pocket and places it on your finger where you will have to wear it…


Watch Hitchcock’s 1954 film Rear Window sometime for a classic version of this tale. It’s a murder mystery and also a romance where L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) wants to keep being a rugged photojournalist and his girlfriend Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) wants to come with him on his adventures and build a life together. He’s all “You’ll only slow me down” (No, bro. Bro, no.) and also “You can’t take your awesome wardrobe on the road with me!” (he has a point about that) and part of the film is about her becoming “Action Lisa, Who Solves Crime” to impress him. There’s a visual story in Edith Head’s costume design where Lisa goes from twirling in a gorgeous dress with a black bodice and a giant poofy white skirt when you first meet her (that is not at all suggestive of a wedding dress, oh no, why would you say that?):

…through a series of less glamorous, less feminine looks until she ends up here: (Image description: Grace Kelly wearing a sporty red shirt and jeans, reading a book about the Himalayas in one frame and secretly reading Harper’s Bazaar in the next).


By the end of the movie, Lisa’s successfully changed herself into a woman unthreatening enough that he can see himself settling down with (while wittily keeping her secret fashion superhero identity intact). He has not changed himself at all to impress her. Not incidentally, it’s her knowledge of fashion and girly stuff that cracks the case.

Critics and scholars have made much of Lisa’s green suit from the middle of the film (left image) that echoes the green dress (right image) worn by the sad “Miss Lonelyhearts” character that Jeffries peeps on through his window. Is Lisa feeling like Miss Lonelyhearts in her pursuit of Jeffries, or is it a “there but for the grace of A MALE HUMAN WHO MIGHT MARRY HER IF SHE WORKS AT IT HARD ENOUGH WITHOUT APPEARING TO WORK AT IT goes Lisa!” commentary by Hitchcock and Head, who never did a single thing by accident?

This is a very common theme of 1950s films, by the way. Rugged (white) adventurers who had done epic Manly deeds among (white) Men during the war had returned to settle down into relative peacetime and prosperity  to become the “(white) man in the grey flannel suit,” ruled once again by the petticoat law. One of the things I dig about the beginning of the Outlander TV adaptation is that they show a woman in that same place, trying to return to “domestic bliss” after the adrenaline of being a wartime nurse, and finding it ill-suited to her. The Bletchley Circle also does the whole “we did the most important work ever but now we’re supposed only worry our pretty little heads about getting dinner on the table?” thing well. I think we need more of those stories about that time.

Image description: Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont in her pale pink satin nightgown and filmy robe, standing in a doorway with her hand on her hip. She does nothing by half-measures, and her road game pajamas are no joke.

This story, where the best, most worthy women who deserve love and commitment are available and cool and accommodating and above all patient and never “needy” or “desperate” or “clingy” is deeply embedded in our culture. And if you’re involved with a man, bringing him catered dinners from “21” and packing your “to-go” lingerie in its special folding case and waiting for him to do the right thing and commit you up, if he decides not to it’s probably because you spooked him – you said the wrong thing, you looked less than perfect, you had morning breath or farted in your sleep or had real human skin and real human emotions where he could see them. Faux pas!

This is exhausting. It is also bullshit.

While I believe deeply that you can’t convince or persuade someone to love you if they don’t, I also believe that people who like you and want to be with you will be just fine…and dare I say happy?…that you told them about your feelings and desires. If you say “I really like you and I want to date only you, are you on the same page?” and the other person bolts, it’s not because you said it wrong or because you spoke up. “Screwing up” the delivery of those feelings or not using the exact right secret formula of magic words cannot undo a romance that actually exists. A dude who is enthusiastically dating and sexing you who can be “startled away” by an expression of affection or hope for the future from you is not the right dude for you.

You asked for scripts and not an essay on visual subtext in 1950s romance narratives, so, here is one:

I’m really enjoying being with you. I want us to keep doing this, and I’ve decided that I don’t want to date anyone else while we see where this could go. What do you think about that?

I’m not going to tell you that it’s not risky to put that out there or that your anxiety is wrong or misplaced. Sometimes we have anxiety because our brains are being assholes, sometimes we have anxiety because we can feel the whole trajectory of our life starting to bend around another person and we need to be sure that it’s okay to let that happen. If your Gentleman Caller is not on the same page, asking the question brings all of that out in the open and it will be almost impossible to go back to the fun you were having if you know he doesn’t see your relationship the same way. It’s so tempting to sit back and wait for the other person to say something first. “Then I’ll know for sure that it’s real,” you think.

Your question is taking me back to meeting Mr. Awkward. We met online, had a great first date, an awesome talk on the phone, and then had an epic second date involving Cuban food & beers, staying up all night talking, revealing important mental health stuff, [CENSORED], and me making breakfast while he demonstrated 1970s disco line dances in my kitchen. I vaguetweeted out “Texas: Messed with” after he left the house. That’s me: Subtle.

He called me a night or two later and we stayed up all night talking on the phone again. I was the first person to delete my OKCupid profile. I broke off a long-term friend-with-benefits relationship pretty much immediately. I wrote this poem down in my LiveJournal: The Great Tsunami by Michelle Wolf. The first time I went to his place I surreptitiously photographed his giant cookbook collection and texted it to my friends. I was the first person to say “I’m not seeing anyone else and I’d like to see where this goes.” He was enthusiastic but also a little vague – as I had done with my friend-with-benefits, he was winding some casual dating stuff down behind the scenes so he could come correct. I tried not to freak out, and he kept showing up awesomely and enthusiastically in my life. He never made me feel like I was “chasing” him or overthinking it.

A few weeks later he cooked me a roast chicken (coincidence?) said “I want you to be my girlfriend, is that okay with you? Because at work I’ve been referring to you as my girlfriend, and my friends said ‘Wait, you have a girlfriend?’ and I said ‘I think so, but I should probably run that by her.'” We’d waited to introduce each other to friends and family, but I remember going to a birthday party at a bar and meeting all his people and hearing this sweet little note of pride in his voice when he said “This is my girlfriend, Jennifer.” I got him into the Vorkosigan books. He brought me an excellent kitchen knife that fit perfectly into my hands. I took him to my secret magic monthly karaoke party. He wore blue suede shoes and murdered (in a good way) an Elvis song.

I still remember the first “I love you.” He came to the Take One film festival at school to watch my first-year students’ films with me, and then we went home where he’d made dinner for us. We stayed up late singing songs from musicals as if they were country songs (try it with Les Miserables, it’s amazing) and the next day he sent me a video of him singing Stars in his best Texas twang. I watched it about 4 times and then called him up and blurted out “Uh, I’m pretty sure I love you!” and he laughed and told me he loved me, too. I took this selfie right after that conversation and I made that face for the rest of the year. My coworkers kept asking “Is everything all right? You just seem really…well, uh…happy? It’s weird.

Captain Awkward, happy
Image: Me, with bright orange glasses and a big toothy smile.

I could have played it all cooler, I could have waited, I could have kept my options open, I could have let him be the first to suggest that we be exclusive, or to say “I love you” and it probably would have worked out the same in the end, but I’m glad I didn’t. In love, I am an enthusiastic and demonstrative person, I am terrible at “playing it cool,” I am terrible at surprises or waiting (Me: “I got you a present for Christmas, Christmas that is six weeks away – do you want to open it now?“) and what this love gives me is freedom to be my awkward, enthusiastic, demonstrative self.

My lovely Letter Writer, that’s what I want for you. I want for you to be able to say “I really like being with you and I’m starting to think this has a real future” and for him to say, “Great, me too!” or a clear “Oops, sorry, no.” I don’t want you to have to “leave your feelings at the door” before having this conversation, I want your feelings right there in the room, being all messy and honest: “I’m falling in love with you but I’ve been nervous that nailing ‘our relationship’ down will somehow break the spell. I don’t know how to even have this talk, but I feel like it’s time to have it.What do you think?Also, there is no “right time” to have this talk that is separate from your need to have it in order to be safe, happy, and comfortable in moving forward.

I want your love settings to be “Fuck yes!” or “No thanks!” (don’t mess with Mr. In-Between), and I want any dude you date to not only “not be startled” by your affection and enthusiasm, I want him to see that and get that and love that about you.

I say: Hold these days like honey in your mouth. Believe in the happiness you feel and the actions you observe with him. Trust the bond, and don’t be afraid to test it by asking the questions you need to ask. However the words come out they will be the right words, because they will be your words and they will be true words. If he gets all vague and weird like some fashion magazine advice column dude, it wasn’t because you did something wrong. If it all crashes down because you asked a question, soothe yourself with this poem by Louis McKee: What Cowboys Know About Love.

249 thoughts on “#988: “How do I have the ‘is this a real relationship?’ talk with someone without messing up the relationship?”

  1. I love this column and this advice, but I just have to say that Lisa Freemont is so, so cool. She does ask for what she wants, in a very modern way, and she does it clearly and concisely. Admittedly she does it while wearing ridiculously gorgeous and flattering clothes, but still, she goes for what she wants. And eventually she gets it, too!

    1. Oh, I totally love her! It’s him I’m dubious about. She can do better!!!!

        1. Unfortunately in this movie he’s also L.B. Jeffries. Not as bad as Scottie in Vertigo, but, sooooo not ready for her jelly.

          1. Oh, man – Scottie in Vertigo was something else – so needy, but so, so, so…scary. He was this enormous abyss of neediness.

      1. As I recall, there’s a similar dynamic in To Catch a Thief, though John Robie (Cary Grant) maybe has a little more reason to keep Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) at a distance. Still, it’s a little disorienting to watch these middle aged men act like the young, beautiful, intelligent, and adventurous woman who wants to spend her life with them is a pest instead of the Platonic ideal of a female partner.

        1. Fun fact to know and tell: Carry Grant would only take a role if the girl was perusing him. He even had scrips for some famous movies rewritten so that the girl was chasing him and not the other way around. I can’t remember exactly but To Catch a Thief might have been one of them. He thought it would make him seem more desirable and make him a bigger star. It was all about who had the power in the relationship.

      2. Indeed. Every time I watch that movie, I just wind up yelling, “You idiot! When Grace Kelly wants to marry you, you just say yes!”

  2. Hold these days like honey in your mouth. <— That is the best sentence ever.

    1. Oh my heart, yes. I can still taste that honey sweetness of the firsts that I shared with my now-husband, even though it was over 10 years ago. This whole post made me tear up a bit, I just love it so much.

  3. This is such a lovely response.

    Note, only tangentially related: I am bitter (but humorously so!) about the cultural insistence that you can “catch a man” with good cooking. I have lovingly baked HUNDREDS OF COOKIES. I have carefully harvested, washed, cut out the manky bits of, and peeled EXCESSIVE QUANTITIES OF ROOT VEGETABLES for savory stews. I have provided beautifully crusty bread at SPECTACULARLY OPPORTUNE MOMENTS. I have sneakily carted around my own spices so that I could give communal meals that ~extra something special.~ I have had roughly 1 million people make the joke that I would be a “great wife.”


    1. The one time cooking did help me woo a man it caught me one who didn’t know how to cook and who didn’t want to learn, so, great job there!

      1. I’ve known exactly one woman who ever “caught” a man worth having by way of her cooking. That was the amazing lady who brought me up, and who told me the story of her romance with her husband like this:

        “He asked me to go out to dinner with him. I told him that I didn’t go out with men*, but invited him back to the apartment I shared with my roommate for a home-cooked meal instead. He asked me to marry him that night. I said no. Six months later he asked again, and I said yes.”

        [*She was a devout Mormon and this was the 1930s.]

        What he learned, in short, was that 1) she stuck to her principles; 2) she nevertheless liked him a lot and was willing to get creative about showing that, *within* her principles; 3) she didn’t judge him at all for not following the same religious rules that she did, even though they were important to her; 4) she was an incredibly loving, caring person who used her cooking among many other ways to lavish affection on the people around her.

        Yes, she was also an awesome cook; but that was very much secondary.

    2. This reminds me of a group of guy friends I had in college. They were all roommates and the group comprised at least 3 of the 5 hottest guys in our apartment complex, so they CONSTANTLY had baked goods on their kitchen table from random girls who were in their study groups or lived nearby or whatever and just “happened” to stop by with a plate of “extra leftover baked goods” that they in no way made for the sole purpose of getting these guys to subconsciously think of them as future wife material.

      Let me tell you, being the strictly platonic female neighbor of those guys was amazing. Any time I wanted something delicious to eat, I just had to wander over there and they’d wave to their table and say, “There’s way too much perishable food here, can you please eat some?”

      Not that I judge those girls, as I too have tried this strategy. It was just funny how concentrated it was on these guys. I’m a horrible cook, though, so thankfully I gave up on it before I wound up with anyone who relied on me for subsistence.

      1. WOE, WOE BETIDE THOSE WHO WOULD EMOTIONALLY MANIPULATE OTHERS VIA BAKED GOOD. (I have definitely 100% absolutely never, ever delivered custom-decorated boxes of ten kinds of cookie and pints of homemade ice cream to thirty people for Christmas in an attempt to mass-purchase love for myself.) (Oh god being a freshman is the worst.)

        In all fairness, cooking has brought some wonderful people into my life, and been a lovely component of many of my (non-romantic) relationships! So I don’t regret at all the time I’ve invested in it. It’s awfully satisfying to be able to say “I love you” coded in pie. (For those interested in the code, you ask someone with whom you have a mutually supportive and loving relationship what their favorite pie is, and then you make the pie and give it to them, and that means “I love you.”)

        If anything, this is a plea to ~people in general~ to stop making that goddamn joke about wifeing it up and shit. ‘TIS NOT FUNNY, ME FELLOW BEANS; LET US LIVE AND LET LIVE WITHOUT REDUCING EACH OTHER TO OUR STEREOTYPICALLY MARRIAGEABLE QUALITIES.

          1. I pretend to joke that my top love language is baking, but it’s not a joke.

        1. If I had gotten into cooking earlier, and/or had access to my own space for cooking earlier, I probably would have created a lot of FEELINGSfood. Fortunately by the time I started cooking I was already dating my nerd of a feather. And while I will definitely be saying “Will you marry me?” coded in chicken and baked Alaska, I will also (as I suspect whoever thought up “Engagement Chicken” would be horrified to hear) be saying it to him in actual words.

          (It won’t really be chicken and baked Alaska. My nerd of a feather knows I like Captain Awkward and wouldn’t it be my luck he’d happen to read this page and realize I’m me, thus spoiling the surprise. That I will propose is not a surprise. The specifics thereof are.)

          1. I made a “please don’t break up with me” Valentines dinner once: seated portobello mushrooms, wasabi mashed potatoes, green tea soy-based ice cream (because Inamorata was lactose intolerant, and despite soy milk not agreeing with my insides).

            I still think of it as The Meal of Abjection. Inamorata loved the food, broke up with me anyway, and I got to deal with soy aftermath for the next day, in a handy illustration of why it is also important to care about one’s own well-being.

      2. haha, I initially read that first sentence as you knew three hot roommates who all baked and constantly had cookies on their kitchen table and i just adore the image of 3 jock type guys (because in my head that’s who they are) who all love baking together and are always offering everyone fresh baked goods. What a fantastic delightful alternative universe.

      3. When my now-husband and I were still dating, I went to a 90th birthday party for his Great-Uncle Roy, and at one point in the proceedings, Uncle Roy was talking to Mr. JustKate.
        Uncle Roy: “Is that your girlfriend?”
        Mr. Just: “Yes, she is.”
        Uncle Roy: “Are you going to marry her?”
        Mr. Just: “Well, we’ve not really discussed it yet.”
        Uncle Roy: “Is she a good cook?”
        Mr. Just: “She’s a real good cook” (which, not to brag, I am).
        Uncle Roy: “So what’s the problem then?”

        Hey, he was 90, so personally I thought it was a hoot. And to this day, when I cook something Mr. Just really likes, he’ll say, “Maybe Uncle Roy had a point!”

        But of course it really doesn’t work that way, nor should it. On the other hand, marrying someone because of his/her cooking ability is probably a more important (and certainly more useful) criteria than, say, “But she’s so hot!” and it’s definitely better than, “I’m miserable with him but even more miserable without him.” 🙂

    3. My then-BF now-husband wooed me with food. Let me tell you, it’s awesome being on the receiving end of that. He cooked me a lovely roast chicken meal one time–individual Cornish game hens–and the high point of the date was when his needy and jealous Siamese leaped onto my plate and took my tiny chicken for himself! In our reactions to that, we discovered many areas of compatibility (as in, we both thought it was hilarious, and nobody yelled at the cat).

        1. That cat slept BETWEEN us for the rest of his life, like the sword of chastity between what’s-his-name and some woman. So much personality in a brain the size of a walnut! It’s amazing.
          Anyway, I concur with everyone else. Talk to him, LW. If he’s right for you, he’ll respond in a way that is kind and respectful and appreciative (even if what he says is “I’m not quite there yet”).

          1. The Siamese of Chastity!

            When my dad was going to pick up my mom for one of their first dates, she drew him a map of how to get to her apartment. There was a huge arrow on the map labeled “Beware of cat!”

            But the Siamese liked him, so now they’ve been married nearly 35 years and I exist.

        2. oh man I should have kept reading.

          My “I will woo you with food, because I love you and also feeding people” also had to do with Cornish game hens. And also with the cat consuming now-fiance’s Cornish game hen.

          Did the cat take the entire tiny chicken? Because I’m picturing a Siamese just hauling ass with a chicken the size of itself, giving no cares, because Siamese give even fewer cares than the majority of cats, and I want to give this mental picture of a Siamese the highest of fives for the escapade.

          1. He did exactly that, and dismembered it in front of me just to show me who was the boss.

          2. This is just an excellent cat, all around. Not only do I compliment your cat, but my own cat, who ate my now-fiance’s Cornish hen on the ill-fated Night of the Time the Cat Had Fancy Tiny Chicken and Fiance Did Not, also salutes your cat.

      1. Love that story! I have a similar-ish one about being wooed with food (except I was already married to my husband). I was about 7 months pregnant, and he was not working because [long story resulting in us planning for him to stay home with the baby].

        I got home after a long day at work, and the table was all set, with candles. And a roast chicken, and mashed potatoes, and green beans, and whole lovely chicken dinner. The first thought that went through my head was, “This is just like the 1950’s, but better!”

        1. I was long distance with my now-husband for the first six months. On one of his visits, I was walking down my street on my way home from work and I thought ‘What is that delicious smell?!”. Then I realised it was coming from my flat. It was the first time I really felt like I’d come home. But then he had hooked me in from the beginning after telling me he used to be a chef in a Mexican restaurant. And being really smart, gorgeous and sexy and all that…

      2. Aww, kitty!

        My husband made peanut chicken and rice for the first dinner he cooked for me, and it snared me then and there. A man who acknowledged having full adult skills without expecting applause or a parade? Sign me up.

        1. I’d never cared for fried rice as a dish, until Mr. Bells made it for me with fresh garlic-ginger paste. Now I beg him to make fried rice all the time. (he still somehow cannot operate the actual rice cooker, though)

      3. Mine attempted to as well. Not long after we started dating he made an African stew that he’d found a recipe for and followed it to the letter, using exactly as many hot peppers and spices as the instructions called for. It was so hot it took us more than an hour to eat a small plateful. We still joke about that stew, more than 30 years later.

    4. This actually almost worked with my now-husband. He’s hugely food motivated and I knew it fairly quickly. We joked about it early on. The first time I made my homemade soft pretzels for him, I told him “now don’t propose to me because of these pretzels”. Three bites in and he asked me to marry him and we both laughed at the joke. Everytime I make him a particularly good dish, he still repeats the marriage proposal. And those pretzels are what I make him for special days (his birthday, anniversary, bad days at work, rainy saturdays).

      The thing is though if we hadn’t been having awkward/honest conversations about feelings and such before we got to the pretzel day, none of that would have worked. Lots of awkward conversations about feelings, but totally worth it. (And I might have been the one who was low key wrapping up some other casual dating things first without telling him.)

      1. Really, if you can’t have the awkward feelings conversations, it’s not gonna be good in the long term. Eventually you have to do the awkward. Everyone can’t be smooth all the time.

    5. It doesn’t work in the opposite direction, either, despite the prevalence of the “women love men who can cook!” meme. Sadly (or maybe not so sadly, considering that the world would have to operate along something like PUA rules for it to be true, which would be awful), there are no magic tricks to convince any particular or hypothetical person of any gender to be into you. Some people will be, some people won’t be, and all one can really control is getting out there to meet people (increasing the likelihood of meeting someone or someones who are compatible with one and looking for the kind of relationship one wants) and not behaving badly so as to send potential partners running from red flags. I think culinary skills are great in their own right, but they may or may not be particularly important to any given person, just like any trait, behavior, or skill set. 🙂

      I’ve found that a perspective change from, “I want to date this particular person,” to, “I want to find a compatible partner, and this particular person could be that person, but also maybe isn’t,” to be so very helpful.

      1. True dat. I’m a vegetarian with bonus weirdo pickiness thrown in just for fun, so hearing ‘I’m a great cook, I want to cook for you, what would you like me to make?’ (especially early on) frankly stresses me out because there’s very little that ‘counts’ as homemade food that I can stomach. (And I’ve learnt not to lead with the vegetarian thing, because THEN comes the dreaded ‘Oh awesome, I’m going to make this cool vegetarian lasagna JUST FOR YOU’ and I feel even worse.) All else being equal, I’d be happier with someone who can’t operate any culinary tools more advanced than a microwave or can-opener, ergo has fewer grounds to judge.

        tl;dr Indeed nothing is universal.

        1. So absolutely THIS. Someone offering to cook for me as an early date and not taking “I’d really rather not” as an answer is enough to make me think twice about wanting to interact with them in general.

          At one point it got to the point of “You probably will not see me eat in front of you for the first year or more than we know each other. I will not eat your cooking, nothing against you. Please stop asking, or I will stop talking to you.” Guess who I’m not talking to anymore?

          Then again, if they won’t take a no there….

          1. My issue is similar but a little different. Planning and making a good meal with someone is something I really like to do *once I know someone well* but I do NOT want to head over to your place and have you cook for me early on. It’s awkward and claustrophobic and he’s probably not that good a cook, and the whole thing comes with way too much “I have now done this ultimately awesome thing for you and you’re already at my house so you definitely owe me.”

            Nope nope nope.

          2. And, happily, if people can communicate about it it works both ways!

            Cooking for and with people, eating with people, and trying new cuisines and dishes together is very important to me. So when in the first early stages of dating a guy said, “Look, it’s nothing to do with you, but I only eat a limited number of things, I don’t really like being cooked for, and I am probably never going to want to try that new Ethiopian restaurant or whatever with you sight unseen,” it was extremely valuable information that this was not a good romantic prospect for me.

            (We’re still friends, we just do non-food things together, and I married someone who eats almost everything, which worked out much better for everyone involved.)

        2. Some women try to “fix” bad men with their love; there is still a part of my soul that yearns to save picky/non-adventurous eaters with the healing power of my spice rack (not a euphemism). I “But surely,” it cries out, “surely you can’t be happy eating bread and cheese and the same damn Chinese takeout place every night? Why won’t you let me help you? The roasted vegetables were perfectly caramelized, the gnocchi were fluffy little clouds, the cake was like velvet – and yet you rejected them! What did I do wrong?”
          I have learned to not let this voice actually speak through my actual mouth, it’s a bit embarrassing.

          1. Remind yourself that many “picky and unadventurous eaters” actually have food allergies or some kind of digestive or texture-based issue, and eat the way they do because changing it up makes them sick or uncomfortable. Even if they don’t, it’s not about you. 🙂

          2. “I have learned to not let this voice actually speak through my actual mouth, it’s a bit embarrassing.”

            Mine isn’t food-related but HUGE FISTBUMP to not letting the inner voice use the outer mouth 😀

      2. In my opinion the whole “women love men who can cook” thing is basically shorthand for “not being a fully functional adult is a giant red flag”. Being able to cook something that doesn’t come out of a single can or require 3.5 minutes in the microwave is a great shorthand for “has started to actually adult on some level”.

        1. Agreed. Meanwhile, after accepting a friend request from my work’s postman on facebook (a 20-something year old guy) I was within a day greeted with this lovely meme on my facebook feed telling us early 20s women that ‘our stock is running out’ because apparently not enough of us can cook or clean and so no man will want us. Immediate delete for him. I don’t need that kind of miserable negativity in my life. To all reading this, don’t let anyone make you think these sexist old stereotypes are dying with an older generation of men. 😦

          1. Ugh, I have seen SO MUCH of that from dudes in their mid-20’s/early 30’s. “WE have to learn to cook because this generation of women can’t!” Orrrr maybe you learn to cook because it’s a necessity of life and if you do end up married to a woman she’ll probably get really damn sick of planning and cooking everything forever.

          2. @many bells down, ran out of nest, but also: and because cooking in tandem with someone at your approximate skill level is also the MOST fun, and “fun” increases with skill level.

      3. My ex-husband told me early on that women were impressed with his great kitchen skills. (I told him that I would rather go out)

        I wasn’t so impressed. Nothing he cooked had any taste at all. To this day I don’t know how he managed that.

        (We separated for entirely other reasons, and I think he was, and presumably is, a good person.)

        In recent years, I’ve been dubious of men who cook for me early on. Not because I feared sexual coercion, but rather, because the state of their kitchens made it clear they weren’t really tidy enough.

        1. In general “people of my preferred gender really like it when I do x” kind of weirds me out. Less because it acknowledges they’ve already dated people of my gender, and more because if you’re going to treat me to a pre-formulated dating experience(tm), go whole hog and don’t tell me you’re doing so.

    6. OH GOD THIS. I have done some world-class baking and it has yielded me NOTHING. Really, only bake if you would have anyway. It’s much easier on everyone.

    7. I started to respond to this thread with a hopeful anecdote about how my now-fiance’s and my relationship became exclusive after he said “So, uh, do you want to be my girlfriend?,” thereby showing that you can be awkward and anxious and honest and still take the words out of someone’s mouth and have things go well for you. So, LW, I hope that even if you are awkward and anxious in your honesty, you still take the words out of Terrific Lovely Person’s mouth, and things go well for you.

      And then I got right about to this comment. I am a very good cook. I am especially a very good baker. My fiance is neither of those things, but he is a terrific appreciator of food. In my family of very good cooks and very good bakers, I Will Make You Food You Like is how we show love. Women in my family are Sailor Jupiters, we kick ass and bake cakes. So I thought, “Well shoot, this is meant to be. I’m going to Bad Romcom Sexist Narrative the hell out of this.” Aaaaaand that’s also how I learned that my fiance is also an incredibly picky eater.

      So even if you are really good at luring wild creatures into your clutches with artistically plated ANYTHING, it is not foolproof, and I 100% suggest the awkward and anxious and honest method instead.

      But Jane, I think between the two of us we could provide a hell of a potluck.

    8. I think there is something to be said, though, for the general category of Making An Effort. The first time I visited my now-husband at his place (we’d been dating long-distance) he’d taken the trouble to look up a vegetarian recipe, prepare said recipe, get a florist friend of his to do a flower arrangement, and serve everything on nice china. It wasn’t that he was such an amazing cook that impressed me – the food was decent, but not anything gourmet – it was just that he’d *bothered.* I’d just been through a frustrating patch of noncommittal, ehhhh I don’t know, sortakinda, I’ll call you when I feel like it but not before guys who were only around when it was convenient. Cooking and cleaning for me was a sign Future Husband was willing to go to some trouble, and that definitely impressed me.

      1. This is exactly how I felt about my SO when we first started dating, down to the long distance! I’m a better cook than he is and I enjoy cooking a lot more than he does, but damned if he didn’t still make the effort. The first time I went over to his place for a weekend he’d gotten one of his favorite recipes from his mom and cooked me this whole spread with candles, new matching plates, etc. It was 100% the fact that he’d *bothered*.

      2. Really, any action that says “I have paid attention to your likes and dislikes and I am willing to put some effort into making you happy” is a very good sign!
        I love this set of comments. There are so many happy stories.

    9. The last time I had a boyfriend, he didn’t LET me cook for him. Every time we got together – literally every time – we went out to eat. Which, sure, we only saw each other on weekends, so it’s not like we were going out every day, but I like cooking! I like cooking for people! I never did figure out how to tell him that I hated only ever going out to eat (sometimes, definitely! always? no….) and would rather stay in.

      1. If it happens again, I think this is something you can just be upfront about. “Hey, Boyfriend, I’ve liked going out to eat with you because I enjoy spending time with you, but I’ve gotta level that sometimes / / . I’d love to have a low-key date at home. Next Saturday, come over at 6 and bring / / / and I’d love to handle the rest.”

      2. And in fact, isn’t that the Captain’s point?

        If this is someone who cares about you, you can just say stuff, and you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Sure, don’t be mean, but saying, “I don’t want to go out to eat every single time. Can we eat at home?” isn’t an attack.

        And if you “can’t figure out how to say,” is that telling you that you don’t have a relationship worth having? Or, maybe that you’re afraid that’s the case, probably.

        And we need to set that aside and just dive in. Because if he cares about you, and you’re not mean, this isn’t going to destroy your relationship.

        1. I dove in by telling the guy I was dating that I couldn’t afford to go out for dinner on X night. I’d budgeted for 1 night out that weekend and we were meeting a group the next night. He promptly offered to pay but that started us on a good path for talking about weird or hard subjects.
          We’re married now and don’t talk about the hard stuff as much as we should But we know we can.

    10. In my rather bi experience, being a good cook is usually more of a draw for other women than it is for the mens, despite all the culture bs around it.

      As far as LW is concerned, I agree it’s hard to go against the cultural narrative, but someone who wants to be with you will be very happy to hear you say you want to be with them. Go for it! And best of luck!

      1. As an also bi person, for me it’s because that extra effort of being cared for and fussed over with food is so novel? I have never once had a man bring me homemade fresh from the oven cake in bed, but this became commonplace once I started dating mostly women and it’s AWESOME.

        1. Oh my goodness, that sounds like the loveliest gift a human could ever give another human.

          1. I have my breakfast made for me every day, and it’s the best thing ever. Partially, this happens because I am Not A Morning Person and therefore that’s the only way you get to see me in the mornings, but it’s also because I love it.

    11. I cooked for my roommates the first year in uni. I have made that effort for people I live with. I also once used a plate of extra pancakes (no, really, it was Shroud Tuesday and I didn’t know anybody in my dorm) to introduce myself to my neighbor (whose gender I did not know until they opened the door) (it was a dude. He invited me to dinner when he returned my plate to me. I made dessert. Then we had lunch once more, four months later, right before we both left the building. Literally – we were nearing the end of our leases and moving out.) I have since and after made baked goods for other people. Most of them my friends. A few times was during a round period in my life when I was brainwashed into thinking sugar is evil and tried working out alternatives (they tasted like cardboard).

      Did I hope, once or twice or ten times that maybe a certain someone would notice me because of my cooking? Oh, yes. But they didn’t. (It was probably for the best, because that particular crush turned out to be a Mr. Fat Shamer In-Between. Bullet-dodged.)

      Home cooking is awesome when it’s an expression of love and appreciation for the people in your life. I also happen to enjoy doing it. I am not doing it to impress people anymore, though.

      Also, like the Captain said, you cannot be a domestic god/dess 24/7. What happens on days when you’re tired, or sick, or just can’t be bothered? What happens when you need someone else to take care of you? Even when a partner genuinely enjoys (insert domestic task here) there are times when the other person has to say: Just chill, look after yourself, and don’t worry, I got this. And then follow through.

    12. I love this and also have done this but then as I was reading it I realized that on our first date, my dude mentioned he didn’t have measuring cups. I bought him some measuring cups from the dollar store (I was there buying something else anyway) and texted him that I had a present for him. He stopped by my house and I handed him measuring cups through his car window. The next day he came by and brought me cookies. So, I mean, it worked for him!

    13. My husband and I met over cooking, so I suppose I did lure him with that. The difference is, of course, that it’s a shared interest. My lover is no expert cook but he will do the whole catered weekend when all I have to do is sit on his sofa and work while waiting for food and chocolate to show up. I’m amazingly lucky and it’s largely due to not dating men who lack basic adult skills.

  4. this is my favorite captain awkward answer of all time and I am bawling and i didn’t want to get on twitter to tweet about it so my comment will live here forever

  5. Agreed! If someone is spooked by your particular brand of awesome? It’s prolly not the long term partner you’re looking for. Because if they cannot appreciate all that amazing at the beginning of a relationship, they aren’t going to be able to hold on to that sparkle on the days that are teh suck. Checking in, honoring feelings, all that stuff is the business – but not if it’s because you have to earn or qualify for the relationship – just because you’re both asking, “this is awesome, right?” in order for the other person to say “RIGHT!!!!” or “No, this milkshake is not the one that brings me to the yard”.

    1. So much this! If you being you is “ooooh, scary monster!” at the beginning and the whatever-the-hell-it-is continues, then eventually there’s going to be a “could you pls tone that down?” and related BS, and feelings of betrayal that you aren’t the person that they think you should be, and nobody’s got time for that. An ex once told me I needed to be less…something…because I was “scaring” his friends. Years later, I am happily partnered with multiple people who appreciate my particular brand of off-the-wall goofy, and he is completely out of my life.

      1. “An ex once told me I needed to be less…something…because I was “scaring” his friends.”

        Pretty much every guy with any interest in me ever has tried to get me to believe I need to be less scary-smart and/or less terrifyingly educated because something something vague and vaguer hisgonadswillfallrightoff.

        The most notable exception — well, we carried on an epic intercontinental torrid romance the like of which you’d only expect to find in books and movies, and it never got dull because there were always new worlds to explore and discoveries to be made, because that’s easy to have happen when one person isn’t trying to find ways to cut the other down to size.

        And LW, I didn’t worry about telling that particular gentleman how I felt about him. I just went ahead and laid it all right out there, early and often and with enthusiasm, and he would tell me with even more enthusiasm all about how he couldn’t believe his good fortune that, wonderful and dazzling as I clearly was, I chose him.

        When no one is trying to figure out how to cut someone to fit the mold they want, it gets amazingly easy to just lay out what you feel and rest assured that even if the other does not feel the same, your feelings will at least be treated with grace and dignity.

      2. The Ex once said to me, “Well, I’d marry you, but we’d definitely have to have kids, and you’d have to learn to be more musical*.” He said this like it was some sort of wonderfully generous offer, literally twenty minutes after I’d called marriage a bourgeois institution designed to reduce women to chattel.

        *He had this weird fantasy that he was going to replicate his entire childhood for his own offspring one day, right down to everyone in the family loving folk music and playing it all the goddamn time. I prefer The Clash to Bob Dylan; he considered this my worst character flaw.

          1. I really hope that if he ever does become a father, he figures out quickly and learns to make peace with the fact that children are human people, and that means they will have their own wills and desires and preferences. Even if you find a spouse who’s on board with your plans, the wee ones have the damnedest way of growing up to not want to go along with them.

        1. Jeez! And none of those are bad things, just…maybe date someone who is compatible with you? Just a thought?

      3. This is actually one of my biggest fears, so thank you so much for putting my mind at ease!

        In my case, the message comes from relatives rather than actual partners, but it is still the same brand of “be less of this, be more of that” so that I can be more “palatable”. Apparently, my ability to knit is not very attractive, and my doing martial arts is far more going to “impress” dudes. (Ironically, my martial artist teammates nicknamed me ‘Pitbull’ and frequently remark on how ‘scary’ I am, so there is that.) Of course, the matter with that is, while I tie myself into knots to be what I think other people want, I will never be able to untie myself enough to enjoy the experience of having a partner. Or friends. Or any form of social life.

        Which is my long way of saying: LW, showing your feelings is a good thing. It’s scary, but it is better than the constant guessing game of ‘am I sanitised enough for this person or do I have to kill my feelings any further?’

      4. Ugh. I have gotten this same nonsense of “be less YOU” from exes…and ex-friends…and my own dann mother. It is the worst.

    2. Thiiiiiis. Because what’s the alternative? “Glad I secured the affections of somebody who would have bolted if I hadn’t said the exact right words at the exact right time.” Eeehhhhh… yay? Not so yay.

      Which isn’t to say that a bolting person is bad, just that it isn’t a good fit. Still. “Whee, they didn’t find out that this isn’t a good fit because I cut off enough parts of myself.”

      I’m an Old, though. This “don’t label it, babe, you’ll ruin it” thing is mysterious and strange to me.

  6. Dear LW,

    I’m nthing speaking now in your words. Also how eloquently the Captain has put it.

    Again, if he’s one of the people with whom you could be happy long term, he’ll be delighted by your desires.

  7. I don’t know if you’ve read ‘Attached’ by Amir Levine, which is a good book for people with anxious attachment styles, but it gives a very good piece of advice:

    In a healthy relationship, you should be able to communicate your feelings and needs effectively. How the person you’re with deals with that is the fastest way to find out if they’re right for you.

    I hope I’m right in thinking that it sounds like this guy is into you because you’re lovely and he has the sense to appreciate that. If so, you might as well put yourself out of your misery and just say to him, ‘You know, I really like you. I feel like I’d like to make a commitment to being exclusive and officially a couple – where are you on that?’

    If he’s a good guy, the worst he’ll do is be straight with you rather than stringing you along – and yeah, that’ll suck at the time, but save you more pain long-term. And equally likely, he’ll say, ‘Yay! Hey everyone, look at my shiny new girlfriend!’, or some variant thereof.

    If he gets all weird about commitment … Let me take the wild-animal analogy and add some more much-deserved sarcasm: Easily-startled wild animals do not domesticate. At best, you’ve got a wild animal that’ll eat the food you offer as long as you put it down on the floor and back away without making eye contact, and then bite you in the bum some day when you have your back turned.

    To put it less sarcastically: you can twist yourself in knots to be the kind of person that an avoidant type wants to date, but that won’t stop an avoidant person staying avoidant. And while ‘avoidant’ doesn’t equal ‘evil’, avoidant-anxious pairings are full of conflict and don’t really suit either partner. Eventually you will need to untwist, and the problems you were putting off will happen anyway. You deserve, and can have, someone who’s actually happy about committing to you. This guy might even be that person!

    SO, some things you can stay instead of ‘I totally love you’ – though you know, there’s no law against saying that either:

    ‘I really like how things are going with us. I feel like we could work long-term. What are your feelings about that?’

    ‘I’ve been really happy dating you. I’d love to make it exclusive and start introducing you as my boyfriend. Would you like that?’

    ‘You’re such a great guy to be with. I don’t feel like I want anyone else. Do you feel the same way?’

    ‘I think I’m getting serious feelings for you. Can we talk about what kind of future we see?’

    Or even:

    ‘I’m kind of nervous bringing this up because I like you so much I don’t want to scare you off. But the truth is, I think I’m falling for you. Can we take a deep breath and have The Talk about this relationship so I know where I stand?’

    There’s nothing wrong with being nervous about bringing it up. If he’s a secure guy who sees how great you are, he’ll see that a sign that your feelings are real.

    If he deserves you, he’ll know he’s lucky to have you. And if so, then telling him you’re keen on him is good news!

    1. There’s a ridiculous amount of truth to this—–> Let me take the wild-animal analogy and add some more much-deserved sarcasm: Easily-startled wild animals do not domesticate. At best, you’ve got a wild animal that’ll eat the food you offer as long as you put it down on the floor and back away without making eye contact, and then bite you in the bum some day when you have your back turned.

      Oh the time I wasted in my youth trying to domesticate the easily startled Male Human. I ended up with more bites on my rear-end than I care to admit to.

      1. Finding out what he likes = harmlessly good;

        Finding out what he likes in order to twist yourself up to match that just so he’ll stay = nooOOOOoooo.

        If nothing else, there will inevitably come the point somewhere down the line where you massively UN-twist like some giant overstretched rubber band and it will be a epically messy.

        1. There was another movie in the early sixties. I think it was with Jack Lemmon and Shirley McLaine. She was crazy about some other guy and Lemmon was advising her how to catch him. Lemmon found out what the “love interest” liked and Shirley mirrored it. She actually dyed her hair blonde first and then started wearing green. I was pretty young when I saw it, but even I was shocked that a brunette would dye her hair an unnatural looking blonde for some not-very-interested guy. Of course, McLaine and Lemmon ended up together. Some sort of lesson for us all in there.

          1. @britpoptarts: That was the first movie that sprang to mind (because it’s the only one I saw with both of them), but no. In The Apartment, Shirley MacLaine’s character already had the attention of her love interest, but (without giving away too much) it was a bad relationship for her to be in.

        2. And also, sometimes what a person wants changes over time. Indexing yourself to someone else doesn’t prevent future incompatibility in a relationship. Because a partner can change in a direction that really doesn’t play nicely with either your skills or your established relationship patterns. Being a NPC in your own life makes it harder to respond resiliently to change, as well as making it harder to acknowledge that you may no longer be able to meet your needs in that relationship.

    2. Coming here to second that the letter write read Attached. I’m a recovering combo anxious-avoidant type and have read this book or parts of it about 3 times now. I really cannot recommend this book enough. It has helped me to recognize secure/avoidant/anxious behaviors (such as acting out by giving “the silent treatment”) in both myself and in others and to better understand where they’re coming from. And it gives practical advice on how to communicate effectively and confidently put your needs and feelings out on the table. Just…do yourself a huge favor and read it now. 🙂

      1. I suspect it’s a great book for what they describe as anxious types (basically people who tend to be accused of being clingy or needy), but if, like me, your anxiety and fear of rejection manifest themselves more as fear or avoidance, it might just leave you feeling even more aweful and shame-filled and paralyzed.

        Which doesn’t mean it’s not a good book, but I would suggest reading just enough to figure out if you have an anxious style or not. If you do, it’s for you. If not, maybe find other resources.

    3. To add to the suggested scripts:

      “Hey. I remember [amount of time] ago, I mentioned I wasn’t seeing anyone and you said you weren’t either. I’m still not seeing anyone else and have realized that it’s because I want to be with you exclusively. I was wondering if you felt the same?”

      If things have been going as well as the LW says, I think there’s a very good chance the guy will be relieved because he’s been wanting to bring it up, but wasn’t sure how, or if it was “too soon” or whatever. The cultural scripts where women must use their feminine wiles to get a man interested in them, but the man has to do all asking to initiate the relationship (“going steady”, “making it official”, and marriage proposals) are a massive bummer for everyone.

      1. Indeed: men are also warned that women will think they’re ‘pathetic’ and ‘needy’ if they show too much interest. The world is full of men in the process of falling sincerely in love and wondering how much longer they’ll have to hide it before they can fess up without looking too weak for a woman to want. It’s all just miserable for everyone.

    4. Omg (LW here) – yes yes yes, I am nodding along with this whole comment. Actually I read this book at the beginning of this year, as a response to dating someone (in hindsight, clearly an avoidant-type person) who was driving me up the wall with mixed signals. Going into dating the current person, I’ve definitely tried to implement a lot of the advice in that book, and it has completely changed the way I viewed things. Tbh, before I read Attached, I probably would have shied away from Gentleman Caller’s enthusiasm, thinking he was coming on too strong or something, but now I know that someone who’s enthusiastic and comfortable with affection up front is actually a terrific match for me.

      I love your scripts, so much! They are clear and concise and direct. I think I’m going to take your advice from downthread and use the words that I originally had in my letter. I trust that he’ll be kind no matter what his response is, so really, I know it’ll be okay. I’ve just been so wrapped up in trying to anticipate what he will say that it prevented me from just expressing myself.

      1. Good luck! You’ve got this – and remember that whatever happens you’re lovely. 🙂

  8. Amazing and beautiful advice, Captain.

    And – “Engagement Chicken”?!? (I expected that link to be from the 1940s-50s, but nope! 2006! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?) That said, it sounds delicious, am I ‘allowed’ to make it if I’m not interested in getting engaged? Or do you think it’s automatic – like a “make chicken, get ring” kind of thing?)

    1. Just be careful it doesn’t turn out to be the One Ring or something 😛

    2. There’s only one way to find out: host a big dinner party, serve it up, then tell us how many proposals you get at the end if the night. For science!

      1. I want to mash up Halloween Barmbrack/King Cake with this engagement chicken and hide weird stuff inside the bird.

    3. I made that chicken once because I like to cook and it sounded good – it’s actually kind of bitter (from all the lemon rind). Coincidence or hilariously ironic? Also, the dude I made it for/with is currently with someone else, so the science on that one is tenuous, at best. I’m still trying to figure out who to contact to get my money/time/energy back! (To be clear: made it because it sounded tasty, ridiculous name notwithstanding.)

      1. When I make a basic roasted chicken it’s about like this, but I cut the lemons into quarters. It makes it juicier and lemon-ier, in my opinion. But I was already with my spouse when I tried that recipe so it’s not a great experiment, scientifically speaking.

        1. I liked the chicken and the sauce that you make with the leftover juices, but I haven’t tried it again because I wasn’t sure how to get rid of the bitterness. I may have to give it another go with quartered lemons!

        1. Haha – that must be it! I’m sure the Glamour editors would agree, upon receiving my strongly worded letter that the chicken “does not function as intended.”

          1. You’ll get a reply back, “that’s not a bug; that’s a feature” (I assume dude ending up with someone else was a good thing)

          2. They could hoist you with the site’s own petard: just because you ASK someone to marry you using the language of roast dinners, it doesn’t mean they’ve AGREED to marry you.

          3. But then they should call it “Proposal Chicken.” “Engagement Chicken” does seem to imply that you will actually get engaged.

  9. My one piece of advice, as a former overthinker, is that this conversation goes MUCH better if you state what you’re feeling and what you want as straightforwardly and simply as possible. Trying to back into it or dribble out little bits of information in the hopes that you’ll prompt them to come out with it first tends to just confuse everybody and make things really messy. So, as much as you can, don’t strategize this conversation. Just say what you really think, which from the sounds of things is something like, “I really like you and I want to date you exclusively because I think this relationship has a lot of potential.” And then add, “What do you think?” so the other person knows it’s their turn to talk.

    I have tried this many different ways, and that is by far the least confusing/awkward way to do it. You can’t control the conversation, but you can prompt the other person to be clear and straightforward by starting out that way yourself.

    1. Agreed! As a current overthinker, if i go to say something that has lots of FEELINGS and hamsterwheel fueled thoughts behind it, I can sometimes start on this big long rambling story/conversation/thread that the receiver finds confusing or suddenly the get suspicious because it seems like I’m trying to “sell them something.” I do communicate best when I’m really to the point ie What I want, what I need, what do you say?

  10. I love this response so much that it’s making me really, really sad about the state of my marriage.

    1. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that and hope there are better days ahead, alone or together.

    2. BEEN THERE, Spinach. Jedi hugs if you want them. For what it’s worth, I think the same basic advice applies. Say what it is that you want, even if you can only say it to yourself right now.

    3. When my marriage was going badly just seeing couples together was like a rusty knife in the gut. Things can get incredibly better!. I don’t know what road you’ll pick, but pick the most adventurous, romantic looking one. You clearly have the nature to make the most of it…

  11. You, letter writer, deserve love, no matter how awkward and nervous you feel in addressing it with your man. Like the captain says, if he bolts, he’s not the one. The day after my first date with my now husband of 15 years, I called him and my first words when he answered were “I had so much fun yesterday and can’t wait to see you again! ” How’s that for playing it cool? Since he felt the same way, it turned out to be the right thing to say. 😉 Just be yourself. If it’s right, it will work out. If not, better to find out now than later. Sending jedi hugs and best wishes!

    1. I relate to this and agree.
      Two days after me and my now-husband’s first date, I asked him – acknowledging the question as premature and maybe absurd – whether we’d count [day the date began] or [day the date ended] as our anniversary. He kissed me and then answered the question – we both learned a lot about how we were feeling about our brand new relationship.

  12. Ah yes, 46 year old and cranky Jimmy Stewart just can’t commit to 25 year old vision of light Grace Kelly (!!!). Obviously, this is an absurd, laughable, and possibly sadistic and/or misogynistic (A. Hitchcock) fantasy, unless Jimmy is suffering from unexplained war-time brain trauma. That said, it’s also interesting to consider the trope from the reverse side, which is saying that men should never take the lead in wanting an exclusive and long-term commitment, are frightened and helpless around relationship talk, and are basically big selfish babies. I don’t know, seems like that model doesn’t help anyone.

    As far as this situation, I totally empathize. I think it’s one of those things where separate from finding the right words, you have to A) Accept that you will feel fear because it is a vulnerable question, B) that embracing (accept, allow, appreciate) your fear and acting with integrity-which means, doing what is best for you, being truthful about yourself-will make you a stronger and better person regardless of the outcome, helping you to learn that despite the fear, you can handle it, and C) being honest and direct with your feelings is not only great for your well-being but your relationship as well (however long it continues). And D) You have a right to your feelings and you have a right to express them.

    1. Obviously, this is an absurd, laughable, and possibly sadistic and/or misogynistic (A. Hitchcock) fantasy

      See also: Woody Allen movies, Plot of all
      See also: Beautiful young women, The getting of by a gross, unattractive quasi-incestuous old man

  13. Dear LW, after I had been dating my now-spouse for a couple months he started the “heyyyyy I really like you and want this to be forever” talk. My response was basically, I just met you but I like you lots too, can we get back to the forever part later? So this is just to say, different people need different amounts of time to get to the same place sometimes but there is value in having the conversation. (We have now been very happy married for 12 years; a few months later I told him I thought we should get married, and then we did.)

    1. I also had this side of the conversation. When I met my partner, I was superfresh out of a 4.5 year relationship with someone much more reserved than me (I used to think of him as the German word for reserved, which literally means holding back). The last two years of that relationship had been the couples equivalent of constructive dismissal, so shifting gears to someone who was actively enthusiastic about me, my body, and spending as much time together as possible was…tricky at first.

      I had to say to him something like: I see that you are careening fast down the path marked Love, and I think I’m on that same path, but I’m going to need a bit more time to get there, and can we slow it down, please, because it’s freaking me the fuck out.

      I really did not want him to be rebound material.

      Spoiler: he wasn’t. He reined it in a little, and we are heading to our 14th wedding anniversary next week, and past our 19th anniversary of being together (except we don’t celebrate that because we forgot to check the date of our first date).

      Shit, we are old. But happy.


  14. I have so much sympathy for you, LW. I have definitely been there.

    Best Boyfriend and I had a lovely conversation the other day, when in talking about a Relationship Milestone from a year or two ago that I had initiated, he said “I know that you bear the burden of bringing this shit up. I’m sorry about that. I tend to stew over things more than you, so while you’re bucking up your courage and just saying it already, I’m agonizing about it for weeks or months until “the time is right”, which turns out to be twenty seconds after you’ve already said it.”

    It’s nice to have it acknowledged when one is doing some of the heavy milestone lifting, but I also really liked that he gave me important info about what goes on in his head around this stuff. I don’t feel bad about being the impulsive one who Says The Thing anymore, because we really are in tune, we are on the same tab, and when I Just Say It, it always turns out he’s been thinking about it for a while too. It just so happens that I have a lower threshold of tolerance for worrying at a thing without seeking feedback from the other party in the thing. 🙂

    Scriptwise, I have had a lot of luck with “So I feel like [thing I feel or want]. What do you think about that?”

    1. I once complained to a boyfriend that he never reached for my hand when we were walking together, and he said “You never give me a chance”. So I started waiting a little longer before reaching to take his hand and whaddaya know, he did indeed reach out for me fairly often. It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to hold my hand, but a matter of us having different internal meters for “too long has gone by without us being in contact”.

      That relationship flopped for other reasons, but I’m really glad I got that positive lesson in separating strength of interest (in holding hands, broaching difficult topics, etc.) from degree of urgency (which can come from an insecure place as easily as from a passionate place).

      1. “I’m really glad I got that positive lesson in separating strength of interest (in holding hands, broaching difficult topics, etc.) from degree of urgency”

        THIS. Thank you, I needed this. I think I will keep this in mind especially while texting (or waiting for a text, to get my whyyyyyyyyyy hasn’t he teeeeexted me yeeeeeeet monster to chill).

      2. Wow, story nurse, that is kind of a mindf*k for me… I will be considering how to incorporate this gem into my worldview because honestly it sounds like it could save me a lot of internal strife. I’ve never actually separated the concepts.

      3. “separating strength of interest (in holding hands, broaching difficult topics, etc.) from degree of urgency (which can come from an insecure place as easily as from a passionate place).”


  15. This whole thing gaves me the sniffles (in a good way) but I laughed so hard at “I got you a present for Christmas, Christmas that is six weeks away – do you want to open it now?“ because this describes me so well. For my favorite people, I have to wait until the absolute last minute to make or buy gifts or else I make them open it early. Thankfully, my favorite people also find this habit hilarious.

  16. I think the best ways to express what LW wants to express is to say what she wants in the simplest possible way, in her own voice. As a chronic overthinker myself I’ve found that to be very effective in keeping me from having entire conversations in my head. “I’ve been really happy with our relationship. I’d like to see it continue and I’m not interested in seeing other people,” would be how I’d express that idea.

    For me, “I feel” and “I want” and “it would make me happy if” are good, simple ways to say things to my partner. It can be hard to open up the risk to hear a rejection of a request or be told that what they want isn’t what you want, but I personally believe that it’s better to know – both me and them. And if they freak the eff out at hearing things like that, I think that’s better to know right away too.

  17. I love this response so much and again lament the fact that my younger dating self did not have access to the Captain’s infinite wisdom.

    LW, just go for it. If he’s feeling the same way, going “too fast” will not “ruin” it and if he isn’t feeling the same way, best to be armed with that information before you get even more invested. My husband and I blurted out “I love you’s” on our third (second?) date. (We’d known each other and worked together for a year before that, but we still didn’t know that much about each other before actually dating.) Most people would say that was Way Too Soon, but we were really feeling it. We’ve been together for 12 years now, married for 9, and still very much in love.

  18. 3 things, dear Captain:
    1) your pictures are marvelous, it makes me sad i don’t have a background in film.

    2) the myth of the Exact Right Word is alive and well in ‘please can you(m) do this chore’ and ‘please can you(m) not insist on getting laid when I really really don’t want to.’

    3) anyone who enjoys the Vorkosigan books with you will, if nothing else, be good for some fun conversations.

    1. On your 2, I just last week had to deal with the fallout of a personnel situation in which the complainant, robbed of the opportunity to complain that the employee she was complaining about had given her incorrect information, defaulted to complaining about her “tone”, as if telling the complainant “No” would have been fine if only she’d found the Exact Right Way to say it.

      The fallout consumed most of an entire day of my time, and I have never been so irritated. Luckily, that was literally my last day in that role, so I spoke my piece, dusted my hands off, and waved that team goodbye as they transferred departments.

  19. True story: one day my (long-distance) best friend came home from therapy, got on skype, and sent me a message saying ‘my therapist asked if I see you in a romantic way because I talk about you so much and… I said yes…?? Thoughts?’
    And that’s the story of how we started dating. I (an ace person with a bad experience of not being ‘good enough’ to date because I’m sex-repulsed) was so happy I cried at random moments for like three days. It was awesome. We just had our four year anniversary last month. I am basically 100% sure I wanna marry her someday.

    I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that just putting your feelings out there is basically always the best policy. My relationships have only ever become messes when someone was hiding something, and only ever become better when someone admitted something.

    1. I have nothing to add other than SQUEEEEEEEE!!!! This is so. damn. cute! I’m so happy for you both!

    2. “I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that just putting your feelings out there is basically always the best policy. My relationships have only ever become messes when someone was hiding something, and only ever become better when someone admitted something.”

      Hooo, boy. A lot of comments in this thread have really been ringing true for me–not from a romantic perspective, but for a friendship that used to be very close and has now sort of drifted apart. I’ve been sitting on a lot of anxiety about the friendship for, oh, eight months now? I brought up some of the issues to the larger group and got basically dead silence in response (hooray internet friendships, where you can toss your heart out on the floor and no one responds and you’ll have no idea why!). So I’m mentally gearing up for a Capital-C Conversation with this friend to figure out where we stand and it’s stressing me out a lot. A looooooot. But this particular line is making me feel… I don’t know, a little better? I’ve been hiding a lot of stuff for a while, and if nothing else, I think it’ll be a relief to get everything out in the open. The uncertainty is what’s killing me now. The relationship will either get better or it’ll end, but at least I’ll *know.*

      Sorry, this is kind of a derail, but I just wanted to thank you for the wisdom of that advice. Hopefully I’ll be able to carry it through this big scary talk.

      1. Sending you good luck and happy thoughts! If my little bit of hard-earned life advice helps, I’m so glad.

        Big scary talks are big and scary, but you got this, a random internet stranger (me) believes in you!

      2. Ack ack ack, *jedi hugs* if you want them.

        I had a possibly-not-all-that-similar situation a few years back, in which a very dear friend stopped talking to me very abruptly – she said that she needed space to think through some things, so I accepted that and didn’t contact her for a month, and the uncertainty of that month was HORRIBLE. I pretty much broke after one month and sent her a message to check in, and she responded that she’d decided she couldn’t be friends with me, and the first few months after that were really, really hard, but there was a certain peace because at least I knew what I was dealing with. (Also I eventually figured out that our friendship had become really codependent and unhealthy, and I am happier now and like myself better than I did back then.)

        I am really really sorry if you are feeling similar things. It sucks. But I think I lived through your worst case scenario, and it was awful but bearable. Much more bearable than the uncertainty.

        I hope things turn out much much better for you, and I also hope regardless that you will be very kind to yourself and remind yourself often that you’re great and worthy of love. *more jedi hugs* if you want them!

        1. Thanks everybody. I kinda tried to have the conversation tonight, but couldn’t quite work up the nerve to actually be like “hey we’re not very close anymore and that makes me sad.” But then she bought me an early birthday present? I’m confused, but I think I’m starting to make peace with the idea that we can stay friends while not being as close as we once were. (And perhaps after a few more weekly therapy appointments, I can actually be brave enough to be honest.) But for now, I’m feeling a little bit better. And I truly do appreciate your words of support–I had this comment thread open in a tab while I was preparing to start the conversation. *jedi hugs and fistbumps back at you*

  20. I can’t get over the “marry me juice” in the recipe. It just bring so many things to mind.

      1. I know this is a huge derail… And hopefully isn’t too inappropriate to mention… But… A cookbook does exist (touting the health benefits of eating, erm, “marry me juice”). Curious parties may Google at their own risk.

        Signed, someone who stumbled upon said cookbook and proceeded to giggle about its existence for… gosh it’s been years now and it still cracks me up!

  21. Question : what do you do if you’re a total believer in the “enthusiastic and demonstrative”, clear, upfront approach for ten years but have exclusively startled away the objects of that affection? What if you’ve had literally zero success and way more heartbreak than is strictly necessary? What if you are starting to lose energy and faith in the approach and have maybe recently started thinking about giving up altogether because they never ask you and when you ask them they, without fail, say thanks but no thanks?

    Please send encouragement.

    1. 1) I’m sorry, that sounds really hard.
      2) Look for people who are also enthusiastic and demonstrative, even if that means changing up your “type” (for example, Strong & Silent type men are great for others but do nothing for me

      1. I totally agree with 2 here. If you aren’t having any luck, change up the kind of people you meet. It’s not an immediate resolution, but mixing it up can really help. You’re still going to go on a lot of first dates that don’t go anywhere, but that’s what dating is like most of the time, in my experience. I do have a type, but it turned out that it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, when I started dating again. 🙂

      2. This is a good point. I’ll go back to ‘Attached’: Levine points out that we can get so used to relationship stress that we sometimes don’t feel attracted to emotionally available people because they don’t send us into a tizzy of anxiety – and hence we assume they aren’t exciting. I don’t know if that sounds like it might be familiar, but if so, giving people who don’t immediately set your pulse racing is worth a try. (Not actual bores, of course. Think the kind of person where you’d usually think, ‘Yeah, they’re great and all, I just don’t feel that rush.’) Excitement can build over time with some people.

        Also – if you’re getting emotionally exhausted, it’s totally okay to say ‘I’m gonna take six months to rest, do as many cool things as possible and focus on stuff I know will make me happy’ without declaring that you’re giving up entirely. You could just take a break to recharge your batteries: it’s a more optimistic framing, and might even encourage you to make the most of your time. 🙂

        1. Dang, Ice & Indigo, your comments on this post have convinced me to find and read Attached!

    2. This was me. For 15 years. Sometimes it got to the dating phase, mostly it did not. My now-husband was the very very first person who was into my enthusiastic and demonstrative energy, totally for it, excited to experience it. I did do a few things differently with him — I returned enthusiasm but didn’t escalate, and I waited for him to say I love you, for example.

      I had realized in hindsight that sometimes (only sometimes!) my enthusiasm and demonstrativeness were actually big fake moustaches to hide my certainty of being rejected — I would push things hard, be pretty over-the-top, and then when the object of my affection pushed me away or said no thank you, I got to revel miserably in my self-fulfilling prophecy while blaming the dude for not being able to hang with my cool emotional openness, maaaaaaaan.

      Before I met my husband I figured I was going to put as much energy into a relationship as it merited, and no more. I was going to stop putting effort in where none was returned. That made the transition from casually talking to seriously talking to dating to seriously dating to engaged to married a LOT smoother than if I had been trying to nudge it along.

      Best of luck to you.

      1. “I had realized in hindsight that sometimes (only sometimes!) my enthusiasm and demonstrativeness were actually big fake moustaches to hide my certainty of being rejected . . ”

        Oh, boy, did that ring home for me! Thank you for your insight and honesty. Yes, I was terrified I might be liked (and oh, the obligations! the fear!) so did just the right amount of too much, too soon, to destroy any chances I might have had. Hah.

    3. I think they definitely weren’t right for you and as hard as it was, asking that question saved you wasted time and more heartbreak. It’s a great post-feelings filter. You did well! You just need an equally good pre filter. These are mine, feel free to tailor them if of any use.

      1. Who’s choosing who initially? I like to make the very first ‘move of encouragement’ but then sit back and see how much time/effort they lob back.
      2. Meeting online is a good way to meet others with similar, directly stated relationship goals. It’s easy to get stuck in a social current where everyone wants the opposite to you,I.e casual vs commitment.
      2a. If meeting online, I will meet them in RL within two weeks to make sure I’m not joining a virtual harem. Being called a ‘princess’ within days is a big flag here. Is that just the losers I meet?
      3. Do you see their eyes visibly light up at your conversation, jokes, awesome activities? It’s commonly not the case. But you have to really SEEK s/he-who-gets-you.
      4. Date a lot. Like a different fresh prospect weekly for a year if you can. It’s a process of elimination and you’re doing it right if you’re crossing off those prospects and getting nowhere fast.
      5. Take good long breaks. It’s a bloody battlefield of rejection and it’s hard.
      6. Have fun. The unknown is exciting and there are few things as guaranteed to give you good stories as bad dates.. except maybe good ones?

    4. I also wonder if it might be helpful to keep the clear and upfront while doing a little bit less enthusiasm? I know that I personally find directness helpful but if it’s a vulnerable situation like this sort of conversation then keeping it low-key makes it easier. I also like the Captain’s idea of trying different types of people than the ones you’ve tried before.

      Jedi hugs! That sounds so hard. May you find the right person.

    5. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this, I am so sorry and I am sending Jedi hugs if you want them.

      I would also second the Captain’s 2) and add – I spent many a time living out a relationship in my head and hoping that smoke signals and vaguebooking and LITERALLY EVERYTHING OTHER THAN COMING OUT AND SAYING ‘I LIKE YOU’ would make my crush interested in me enough to make the first step. I was scared of the answers that I might get if I worked up the nerve to say it. Those delays did not make the rejection more bearable – they just made me feel more ashamed in the years (plural) after when I overthought everything and beat myself up over ‘making a fool of myself, because who would ever want you, blah blah insternalised mysoginy blah’ .

      On the flipside, when I went out there and just made my interest known and let the other person respond… even if they didn’t reciprocate, I didn’t feel as hurt, or stew over it (because I didn’t give myself a chance to get invested.)

      Conversely, when guys have shown enthusiastic interest in me, it gave me the spooks because it was not what I was used to and went against my personal narrative (of that I am a blah blah blah mysoginistic slur blah that nobody wants and has to work hard to attract others.) Maybe that is not true for you, but it is for me, and ironically, having someone show enthusiasm for me was one of the things I was really hoping for with all the Strong Silent Types I previously hoped would notice me.

  22. I kinda had to add my story to this. Two months into a dating relationship I told the guy that I wanted to be his girlfriend. He ran away… Only to return three weeks later asking what having a relationship would entail and telling me that he was hella scared but missed me a lot and wanted to do things right. We’ve been together 5 years and it’s awesome.
    I think that a good person, even if they get scared shitless and run away at first, will do their part to make it work. I hope they are honest to you, LW, and I thank the Captain for being so awesome.

  23. I am a person who has done lots and lots of dating in the past 4 years. I have never yet been the one to first bring up exclusivity or other relationship milestones” first for various reasons (a primary reason is that I am a coward when allowed to be). I am also commitment-phobic, which actually turns out to mean I hold out for somebody who really, really does it for me: no settling for less than the best match for me. Sounds like you’ve found that for yourself, so congrats to you!

    Twice, people I’ve dated have said a version of “I really like you and would like to be exclusive with you now, what do you think?” And twice, I was all “OH BOY ME TOO” and it was excellent. Other times, people have mentioned exclusivity and it went over like a lead balloon and I excused myself from those relationships soon afterwards. It was a clarifying moment for me, either way.

    The exact wording mean nothing whatsoever – it had nothing to do with how nervous or confident they were, and everything to do with the gestalt of my interactions with that person so far. Several months of lovely dating, and a continued desire to see that person whenever I could, and a growing delight and respect for them – these things can’t be negated by an awkwardly stated declaration of interest in exclusivity.

    I guess what I’m saying is, what you said in your original letter sounds great to me – “I’m at the point where I would like to have a low-stress check-in about how we’re both feeling regarding exclusivity and commitment” followed by “I’d like to be in a committed relationship with you.” Perfect! Says it all! If he feels the same as you he’ll let you know, and if not… better to know sooner rather than later, probably. And best of luck to you. : )

  24. Ugh this hit me in the feels.
    I’ve never dealt with this in the context of actual dating, but it is my forever state of being when I am interested in someone and flirting and it is unclear if they are also interested. Part of the hesitation of trying to clarify, for me, is that when I have been more direct and tried to clearly establish if we are flirting or I am delusional … they never like me. And it is more fun and entertaining to have a maybe-likes-me-back crush than to know for sure that you’re just fooling yourself.

  25. As with much bad advice, there’s a grain of good sense to the “don’t startle the Wild (Male) Human” notion. It’s basically the same deal as avoiding FEELINGSBOMBS: this is a conversation that might have been casual and curious two weeks ago, but you have now been obsessing over it for two weeks, guessing their responses and second-guessing your lines and, essentially, Making It Weird. Don’t have that conversation, it’s bad!

    I say this as a Male Human who has indeed Startled a woman or two in my day. Personally, I never had much luck trying to paper over that: it’s all still there, and the sort of woman I’d find myself liking enough to have these conversations with could tell, so she knows there’s a FEELINGSMINEFIELD in there somewhere. It worked better to just be transparent about it: Yes, there are FEELINGS here, I am an adult and I can manage mine, how is this relationship working for you and where would you like to see it go?

  26. God, I wish this had been posted a week ago!
    Me: Awkward question time! Are you dating anyone else?
    Him: um… no, not really.
    Me: oh. Are you intending to?
    Him: ah, I don’t have any plans made with anyone else.
    Me: ok, just checking, cos, like, I don’t wanna NOT be dating other people if you are running around dating other people.
    Him: well, the little amount of free time I’ve had lately, I’ve been spending with you.
    Me: oh, ok. Cool, all good.
    Me: *feels stupid and entirely unsatisfied by this answer*
    I should never try to communicate without a script.

    Hey, general question if anyone cares to weigh in – if a guy doesn’t text every day while he’s working away and it bugs me, does that mean he’s not that into me or that it’s ‘different communication styles’ and I need to woman up and ASK him to text me more?
    Cos honestly, asking him feels a little pathetic and whiny at this early (four dates and 1 sexytime) stage. In my heart of hearts I feel that he would if he wanted to.

    1. You’re probably right that he would if he wanted to, but the question is, does he not want to keep in contact with you/maintain closeness in general, or does he just not like texting in particular? I think the only way to answer that question is to ask: “I’d really like to keep talking while you’re traveling, and texting works for me – would you be up for that?” And then if the answer is no for whatever reason but he likes you and wants to keep in touch, he can propose an alternative.

      I don’t think asking is “pathetic and whiny” at all.

        1. Another tip: if you call it an ‘awkward question’, you may be priming to expect a problem. Liking him isn’t a problem. I’d be more direct: ‘I’m a bit nervous asking this.’

    2. He would if he wanted to, but whether or not he wants to text you and whether or not he likes you are two different things. I’m not in the habit of recreationally texting, and will only do it if someone else initiates, and I like them enough to humor it. Have you tried texting him? If you text, and there’s no reply, that’s a bad sign in my opinion. But a lack of texts, that could just be a communication style thing.

      1. He would if he wanted to, but would knowing it mattered to you make him want to? Candid question is the only way to find out.

      2. Yeh totally, and he did tell me that he doesn’t like to spend a lot of time on the phone.
        He will always reply when I text, I just didn’t want to always start the conversation/offer to catch up as it made me feel like I was doing all the initiating, which is never fun.
        Anyway, he did message me earlier! So there you go ☺️

        1. There you go indeed!

          If you just want to feel like you’re not having to make all the running, you could ask him to just send the odd very quick message – say, just sending ‘xxx’ or an emoji. That way you din’t feel like you’re chasing and he doesn’t feel like he has to spend ages on the phone?

    3. Yo, it sounds to me like you super left that up in the air. “Just checking, because if you’re dating other people, I don’t wanna be turning other people down. No other plans? Cool and rad” just sounds mega noncommittal. If someone had said asked me in this way, I would probably not have assumed they were asking if I wanted to date only them; I would have assumed they were asking what they were saying, and what you said was “I don’t want to abstain from dating other people if you are dating other people.” If what you want is to be in an exclusive relationship with him, saying “Do you want to be in an exclusive relationship with me? I want to be in an exclusive relationship with you” is how you figure that out.

      Asking for more frequent communication is the same thing. If you have a minute to chat and you want to spend that minute chatting with him, text him and ask if he has a minute to chat. It sounds like you’re really excited about this budding relationship and it’s making you a little antsy. That’s ok! It’s cute! If he likes you, he will also think it’s cute. And if he’s spending his free time with you, he probably likes you.

      1. Yeah lol, I was trying to sound upfront but also ‘cool’… ugh, I shouldn’t try, I have zero chill. It’s pretty early in the relationship so I truly did want to know if he’d prefer for us both to see each other only, if he was dating other people I wouldn’t have been thrilled but it wouldn’t have surprised me either. He’s a very attractive guy in both looks and personality, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who swiped left!
        Funny thing is, he actually texted me first after I posted this and we’ve been texting all arvo. So maybe giving it a little space and letting him make the first move was the right thing. Sure made me feel more secure about it, anyway.
        I do like him, lots, and I’ve struggled to find anyone that I really like in the past year, so that is making me more nervous then usual.
        Thanks for your advice, appreciate it.

        1. That script read less like “i want us to be exclusive” than like you wanting to be sure you have as much flexibility as he does, to avoid being unpleasantly surprised later if he mentions dating someone else while you haven’t been dating other people because you were giving him priority. That’s also a reasonable position, whether it comes from thinking it’s too soon for exclusivity or from wanting to find out now if he’s the kind of man who thinks it’s important for women to be monogamous but doesn’t see why that should cramp his style.

          He may have read that, not as wanting or offering exclusivity, but as telling him it’s too soon for that.

      2. Did my reply to this disappear? If so, the gist of it was, yes, trying to act chill does not work for me and I’m a little nervous cos he’s pretty awesome. And thanks for your advice, appreciated.

    4. I hate texting sometimes and will just ignore my phone – especially if I can’t think of anything that I really want to say to someone. So it might just be his way. Does he text other people when he’s around you or have you basically never seen him hold a text conversation with any of his friends if it’s not specifically making plans for something?

      Anyways, regarding the main issue, I’d either talk to him next time you see him and go “hey, so we sorta left it hanging, but I wanted to ask: do you want us to be exclusive?” Alternatively, you could text him “Do you want to be exclusive, y/n?” But if you’re an anxious sort and he doesn’t answer texts quickly, that could be stressful for you.

      1. This is strange, only half my comments seem to appear. Wonder if it’s just not working or if some went to moderation for some reason?

        Anyway, apologies if this appears twice. He only uses his phone briefly and for work/kid related stuff (which is actually awesome), doesn’t use social media and is 10 years older then me, so it could be that this is somewhat of a generational thing.

        I’m feeling ok about the exclusivity thing. Even though I didn’t handle it in the best way. I think I have possibly been rushing things a little bit and need to let things unfold in their own time.
        Thanks for taking the time!

    5. Depending on the reason why they’re away, person-who-is-away may have a full schedule, forced socialising, lots of new things to learn (and more to cram into their head during ‘downtime’, no access to good cell signal or free, reliable wifi – plenty of reasons why they don’t communicate all of the time.

      I think I’d say ‘I always enjoy hearing from you, even if it’s just a short text’ and leave it at that. And yes, it *is* early days. What works for me and my partner is to point out funny/weird events a couple of times a day (occasionally in haiku) – very much a ‘I saw this and thought of you’ moment.

      And even with that habit firmly established, I’ve been on conference trips where I barely texted my partner once a day. I wanted to… but was out of spoons, and then it was midnight, and…

      1. All true, all good points, you are wise. He works shifts so weird sleep patterns also.

    6. Four dates in? Be ruthless with the rejection bin. You’re not loving the way he chooses to interact – who cares why? I wouldn’t necessarily say anything just direct my energies elsewhere. It will only get more annoying with time.

  27. The grain of truth for me as a woman who has bolted after this kind of conversation is… if you try to do this conversation in about the first or second week we’ve known each other, I probably will think you’re trying to fast-forward me through actually getting to know you and feel pressured to make a decision based on limited experience. (Especially, if it’s in a “Want to be my girlfriend?” “Umm…” “Now you are my girlfriend, so we must sex!!” kind of way). I have a lot of experience, personally, of a potential match being able to pretend to be one way for about 24-72 hours and then turning out to be someone completely different. This has happened to me too often to want to commit to anyone I’ve *just* meet. But YMMV. Some folks are you-just-know-when-you-know folks.

  28. Ahhhhh, I love all of this! I remember the first “I love you” I said to my partner. I told him I wanted him to know how I felt, and that he didn’t have to say or feel the same thing I did, just that it felt silly to not tell him. And part of what made it true for me was that I felt that he cared for me–he showed me all the time! So it didn’t worry me if we weren’t on **exactly** the same page, because I was pretty sure we were in the same chapter. And you know what I’m realizing? Even if my read was wrong, and we weren’t in the same chapter or even the same book, it wouldn’t have made sharing my feelings a bad idea. Not sharing the feelings doesn’t make the feelings less big/real, and doesn’t really make us any less vulnerable, in the end.

    Best wishes in all your exciting and scary and vulnerable pursuits, LW! We’re all pulling for your continued joy!

    1. “Not sharing the feelings doesn’t make the feelings less big/real, and doesn’t really make us any less vulnerable, in the end.”

      This is brilliant.

  29. LW, the way I suggested being boyfriend/girlfriend to my partner (of nearly twenty years now – twenty year anniversary at the end of this month, in fact) was by buying him a card which described this great guy I was seeing who was funny, witty, intelligent and so on, and which ended with the line “he’s reading this card” at the end of things. We’d been friends for the better part of a year, and seen a couple of movies together, but hadn’t been formally “dating” or anything like that. Turned out he was just as interested in a relationship with me (which stunned me clear out of the sky) and like I said, we’ve been together now for twenty years. Our relationship (which has never shifted into marriage for a number of reasons) has out-lasted three marriages (two for his siblings, one for mine) and while we’ve had our ups and downs, and we’re still capable of annoying the dickens out of each other, we’re also still best friends for life.

    He never ceases to let me know he appreciates me, and that I’m worth it for him. I don’t do the reverse anywhere near as often as I mean to.

    I wish you good luck with this, LW, and if it works out, many happy years in the future.

  30. I just recently watched Rear Window, on the recommendation of a friend (male) who said he thought Grace Kelly was the best. And here was me, watching the movie, in re her bestness: “?? …. ? ….. ?? ….?” So I was greatly interested in your comments on it, and went back and read them all twice. And then, THEN, there was more of the Captain and Mr. Awkward love story, so this was a treat of a post.

    1. I maintain she IS the best, and maintains her intelligence and acumen through the entire film. (Also fashion sense.) It’s L.B. Jeffries who isn’t the best. Could definitely be better.

      Actually maybe Stella is the best.

  31. Captain, thank you for sharing your story about Mr. Awkward. Adventuring stories and decades of ardent pining are so boring to me – this is the kind of love story I dream about. I’m so happy for you and I can only hope I’ll find something remotely similar someday.

    My mom dated this guy for three years before she met my dad. Three years! And it never progressed anywhere. She met my dad, they dated for nine months, and then they got engaged. They got married two months after she graduated from college. They’re both really levelheaded, cautious people, so I asked her about it. She said, “I don’t know. It was weird. It just felt different, I guess. I just knew from the start it was a different relationship.” My dad didn’t spring a proposal on her: they discussed it for a few months beforehand and decided to become engaged, together. What’s more romantic than looking before you leap, and then taking your partner’s hand and leaping together? Knowing exactly what you’re doing, choosing each other, is the ultimate romance for me. I want nothing more and nothing less.

    LW, I think that if you want to be in an exclusive romance with a person, you will want to choose a person who wants to be in an exclusive romance with you. It is scary. But you need to find out if this man is in your zone. A dude who doesn’t want to exclusively romance you is not the dude to exclusively romance. “I like you a lot! I’m pretty interested in dating only you right now. Is that cool?” Romantic relationships are intimate by nature, and intimate relationships suggest that you say what you’re feeling, when you’re feeling it. I wish you luck and love.

  32. I would like to love the heck out of this whole thing, and the stories, and it’s true. The awkward conversations are totally worth it. And this phrase, “Hold these days like honey in your mouth.” is perfect, and true. Cherish and savor those delicious, wondrous, heady moments of ding ding ding jackpot perfection. Good luck LW, and just do your best. All the jedi-hugs and best wishes to you.

  33. You know something, LW? I think you’re better at finding the right words than you think. Because,

    “I’m at the point where I would like to have a low-stress check-in about how we’re both feeling regarding exclusivity and commitment.”

    … is a perfectly good way of saying what you want to say to him!

    Seems to me that when you aren’t worrying too much about the effect your words will have on the listener, and making yourself feel worse by reading numbskull advice from columnists you have better sense than to take seriously, you’re actually fine at this! I’d say you just need a little faith in yourself. 🙂

    1. Ah! This is a very good point. I think I will try to use those words 🙂 Thank you 🙂

  34. It is worrying that the advice from the 1950s is still the first thing coming up for women googling now. I followed it religiously for a while in the 1990s (I *know*) but I can say this for it: it did stop me from shredding my dignity chasing people who were running away, and from getting used by ad hoc booty callers. However, the premise that “it’s his job to do the chasing” is so crass and wrong. One does have to notice what’s really happening and be aware of the other person’s behaviour and attitudes rather than making excuses that they’re “shy” and “have been hurt in the past” and seeing what one wants to see. It isn’t an act of courageous vulnerability to declare undying love to someone who is in the process of fading … well I suppose it is, but masochistically setting oneself up for humiliation is taking courageous vulnerability too far. It sounds as if he is into you, LW – best of luck with the reasonable risk.

    1. everything about this comment is on point. don’t have much else to add besides that sorry

  35. Great advice!

    What I liked about my boyfriend from the start was that he was open and honest that he was looking for something serious with me. Early on we had a conversation on the stupidity of culturally coded rules of pretending and established a “no bullshit rule” — that we can be open with each other about our feelings and say things when we feel them, not when it might seem “appropriate” to do so. It has been working brilliantly so far:)

    BTW, we recently tried to pinpoint the moment when we became “official”… He said that he knew that I was seriously into him when I brought him some choriso from a conference in Spain (I could bring meat — I’m in the EU) that I attended after two weeks of dating:)

  36. Oh lord yes, just bring it out into the open and if he runs, thank your lucky stars you know things really stand.

    I got into an extremely dysfunctional situation where the guy just didn’t seem capable of being honest about what he wanted, and when things all fell in a heap he convinced himself that it was all my fault, that he was a helpless innocent and I was some sort of evil seductress who’d lured him into marriage with my good cooking and feminine wiles: I went out with him for a few months knowing he was about to transfer to another city, I followed him when he moved, and then after about 12 months of dating I was sure I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him and was ready to ask about marriage. He had worked this out, but decided that *the way things were done* was not to actually have a discussion, but for him to propose to me. Once he asked, I naturally assumed that he truly did want to get married so of course I said yes, and at my suggestion we had a fairly short engagement because we were both up for military postings in about six months and if we were already married it meant we could be posted together with a full removal and a whole lot of other benefits that we wouldn’t get if we were only dating or engaged.

    It turned out that he actually WASN’T sure at all that he wanted to marry me. But instead of discussing it, or letting me ask and saying “no” or “I’m not sure, can we give it a while before we make that sort of commitment?” he decided that he could have the best of both worlds by just having a really long engagement while he made up his mind (with added benefit that he could ‘continue browsing’ if we did end up in a LDR during that time). He more or less dug himself into a hole because he couldn’t explain why he was prepared to forgo the tangible benefits of a short engagement without admitting that he wasn’t 100% ready for marriage.

    The marriage eventually failed (for reasons which basically boiled down to ongoing dishonesty), and after the divorce all of this came out. But he STILL refused to own his actions, and came out with the super hypocritical and gaslighty claim that “he had felt pressured into proposing”.

    A whole world of hurt would be avoided if people would just use their words.

    1. god, that’s terrible. i’m so sorry he did that to you. i hope so much you didn’t take any of that to heart.

      1. At the time I did. After many years and a lot of therapy, I accepted that he’s a dickhead and what he said was the marital equivalent of “she ran into my fist”

  37. I had a thought the other day. The Child is 11 now and may think about dating soon and I have been trying to think of how to download my fifteen years of dating experience into conversations. I mean, I model good relationship with SirB but a good 20 year marriage is a different beast than a dating relationship. Then I realized that I should print out all of The Cap’s dating advice and bind it and hand it to her. This may be the first one in that book.

  38. This is a wonderful answer. The advice is solid, the insights profound, the true-life love story heartwarming, and the film essay entertaining.Would anyone else also like to take the Captain’s film class to enjoy her insight on film language on a regular basis?

  39. All of this is spot on. Also I really love when you post poetry links. So good.

  40. Long time lurker, almost never commenter, de-lurking to say – this post made me tear up. I immediately sent it to my partner (after defogging my eyes). So happy for you, Captain, and so hopeful for you, LW.

  41. LW here. I love everything, everything! about this answer and the comments thread. Thank you all so much for your kind and insightful advice.

    One thing that’s crystallized for me whilst reading this post and comments was that much of my inner battle was in trying to pre-emptively manage his response… I would think “hey, maybe now is a good time to bring up the conversation about how we fit into each other’s lives”, but I’d be so busy trying to find a way to say “It’s okay if you don’t feel this way, I’m not trying to rush anything” (not startling the male human) but also “I just need to know where I stand” (Oh god does that sound needy??)… eventually I’d get so caught up in try to pre-empt his response that I’d lose my nerve entirely.

    Thank you all for reminding me to use my words to express MY thoughts and feelings. I need to trust him to be able to assess his own feelings and be honest about them, not try and micro manage that for him.

    It’s a conversation I want to have in person, and I won’t be seeing him until next week, but I’ll keep you updated 🙂

    Captain, the advice to “hold these days like honey in your mouth” is just perfect, such a beautiful thought. The poem you LiveJournaled is amazing and lovely. I’ve had a poem swimming around in my head with the guy I’m dating (and I actually instagrammed it after a particularly delightful date). It’s not published online, so I hope it’s okay if I write it here? It’s called Late Summer Dew by Elizabeth Smither.

    Some measure whose meaning we defer
    something passing between sky and grass
    like a hand pressing lightly on a head of hair

    some love or liking daily growing more definite
    the drenched grass silver in dawn’s light
    and we humans between, walking on air

    1. “hey, maybe now is a good time to bring up the conversation about how we fit into each other’s lives”,

      See? Another good way of saying what you want to say! You’ve got this. 🙂

  42. This was incredibly encouraging and entertaining to read. Thank you. Also thanks for reminding me that (aside from the weird sexist 50s stuff) Rear Window is a really fun movie.

  43. You’re so right and I agree entirely, but more importantly: GOSH, this was a cute response. You and Mr. Awkward sound absolutely precious, I can feel that love shimmering out of every word you wrote. I’m glad I read this, it warmed my heart!

  44. I have to second that if he’s the right guy, he’s not going to mind an enthusiastic “Hey, let’s date, if you want to?” If you are a megadork like me, you need a person who understands being a dork.

    I do think there’s a level of enthusiastic that can scare away a legitimately nice partner, but I don’t think you’re at that level. “Let’s talk about our baby names as if you were already pregnant, Second Date Person, even though we’ve never discussed babies,” or “Hi, my name is Chris, pick out wedding stationary with me?” are pretty terrifying, but they’re levels above “I like you a lot!”

  45. Love the Mr. Awkward story. Related: VORKOSIGANS ROCK! Is there a Captain Awkward list of book recommendations anywhere about?

    1. Aw, no official book rec list list – I read whatever my taste is, for fun, and every time I’ve rec’d books I enjoyed here it’s leads to a whole “That’s problematic”/”No it’s not” discussion I can’t rock in my free time. I’m sure the nice folks at the forums will talk books with you all day, though!

  46. My partner and I spent a solid week telling each other “So I’m feeling a four-letter word that starts with L, but its seems premature. How do you feel?” “Strange, I am also feeling a four-letter word that starts with L. Hmmm…” At that point, we had only been dating 2 weeks.

    I eventually broke before they did and used the word 5 minutes into a date. They confessed that they decided to tell me they loved me on that date, despite how soon it was. We now text or tell each other “I love you” every night before bed.

  47. I would also add that I find checking in not too far in, say after 3-4 dates, is helpful. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 30’s and ready to get serious, butt my feeling is that I don’t want to waste each other’s time if we’re not interested and that’s enough time to start getting an idea about interest. But then again I pretty much only do exclusive dating bcs I’m an introvert and who wants to go meet MORE people if you found a good one? I’ve also dated other introverts who felt the same way.

    1. (I hate writing on my phone and realized later that I therefore was too vague in the last statement; what I meant was that I tend to go for checking in after the first few dates and then dating exclusively for as long as we’re interested in each other is what has worked for me in the past. Dating a lot of people all at once [say, more than 1] is not for me because I’m too introverted and can’t deal with maintaining multiple relationships. Thankfully, my dates have felt the same way.)

  48. Yes, yes, yes, this is a perfect post. I did something like this when my now-husband and I met…I was so totally over pretending to care less than I did when it came to love and relationships. I had done that before, in my first three relationships (and multiple flings), and so did the dudes, because we all got the same advice, and all it did was create anxiety. I was sick of being “cool” and “tough.” I told my now-husband that I thought he was interesting. I…invited him to do things. I asked him, directly, if he wanted to be my boyfriend, eventually. And just broaching the question felt good. Getting the answer I wanted was perfect, but owning my feelings was a necessary thing and I’m so glad I somehow got to that point.

  49. I love everything about this answer (including all the film analysis) so very, very much and I am bookmarking it forever. Thanks for being you, Captain.

  50. I’m here rn too LW, and I’m having a hard time. That talk is like half done and I think we are dating and he actually said I love you already but somehow I feel uneasy still from time to time. We haven’t really pinned down what to do with exclusivity and I met like 3 of his exes in the same week recently (coincidental, not bc of anything he deliberately did) and anyway stuff feels weird and hard but I want to keep going somehow for a little bit longer.

    Anyway, comment of solidarity, best wishes and I hope it goes ok.

  51. How a broken water heater brought us together:

    My Female Woman Wife and I (also a woman) had been dating a while. Then my home’s water heater failed.

    I crabbed: “That’s a lot of money, especially considering that if things work out like I hope, I won’t be living here much longer.”

    {{{long pause}}}
    {{{long pause continues}}}

    {{{big grin}}}

    Reader, we moved in together three months later, and just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary.

  52. Your perfect person will not want you to be the Coolest and Most Chill Girl- they will be delighted to hear that you are into them, because they will be equally into you! My partner and I had zero chill when we got together. We’d been best friends for years, and when we realized we wanted to be together romantically, we decided to be exclusive, be boyfriend/ girlfriend, and said “I love you” in less than 24 hours. And we were both deliriously happy with all this, as wildly out of character as it was for both of us. This is not meant to be prescriptive or to say that everyone should move this fast! Just that the right person for you will be happy to hear you communicate honestly and will be on the same page or chapter as you. Good luck, LW!

  53. I have a story about a (different) awkward feelings conversation that made our relationship so much better.

    when I first got together with my girlfriend there was a sex act I Was Not Comfortable With. now, no one should feel they have to perform any given sex act, but for my own reasons I wanted to try to get over the squick factor with her. so, I awkwardly brought it up. she was happy for us to avoid [sex act] if I was uncomfortable, but as I wanted to try, we talked about what that might look like. she reassured me, I felt like maybe I could try…

    …and then I tried it and it was fine. I now really enjoy [sex act] largely because I associate it with that conversation where I was vulnerable and awkward and she made me feel so loved. LW, relationships are built on the terrifying, awkward, vulnerable conversations. give him the chance to make you love him even more.

  54. YES YES YES. I actually teared up reading this response. I spent years of my life feeling like I had done something wrong or come on too strong in relationships. Now I have a decade of adult dating behind me, and I realize that the men I was with (most of whom I still know) have real issues when their current partners, as well as other exes, assert themselves. That’s not what I want.
    In my current (and also immediate last) relationship, I realized that not wanting scare men off is such a crappy position to be in, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Wholeheartedly on board with both the advice and the general ethos here.

  55. Thank you about the ring thing! There is so much of a cultural perception that it is the dudes job to pick out a ring and the girls job to happily wear it for the rest of her life without complaint or else she is somehow the worst. I hated my engagement ring SO MUCH, and he had fricken designed it himself and had it custom made. He was sooo proud of it too – he had made it so it wouldn’t catch on anything (spoler alert: it caught on EVERYTHING). I wish I had some great scripts for how to get rid of it, but I faked liking it for two weeks before we sent it in to match the emeralds for his ring and the courier got robbed and it went away. I still feel gulity because the courier ended up in the hospital – but I was so very grateful that it was gone. At that point he said “you didn’t really like it did you” and I said nope and we got something different . But – there was so much pressure from everyone to love that horrible thing – and no social room to renegotiate.

    1. I was on a forum the other day where a woman posted about not liking her ring, that her fiancé had noticed and offered to exchange it, and that she wanted to but felt guilty. The commenters ripped her to shreds and told her that she was awful and selfish and didn’t deserve the ring or her fiancé. First of all, the guy clearly disagreed since he a) proposed in the first place, and b) noticed she didn’t like the ring and offered to exchange. And secondly, last week I found teething rings, which are made for BABIES, that were pink and shaped like a diamond ring! It is so ridiculous to me that we teach girls from infancy to value the ring, but then vilify them when they do!!

  56. Captain, I have been your fan for a long time and this is the best one ever. I love your love story. Thank you. Thank you.
    Much love and admiration.

  57. Not sure if anyone is reading this thread any more but I said I would update, so here goes 🙂

    Well, I did it. I asked what his thoughts were on being boyfriend and girlfriend. The short version is he said he’d been thinking about it, and he still needs to. He seems to have a lot of reservations about “defining the relationhip” in that, in his previous experience, it’s resulted in a set of implicit, not-agreed-upon expectations of each other’s behaviour in the relationship and things have gone to shit. He’s been unhappy because of a lack of communication in previous LTRs. He sees many people he knows unhappy in LTRs because of a lack of communication. He wants to be able to be honest and explicit about how we fit into each other’s lives, and what makes each other happy, and he’s not had that before. He’s willing to keep an open dialog. He doesn’t think it’s healthy for a couple to share everything, all of their time together. These are all good things, and although I know they sound obvious, it sounds as though he’s only just started figuring this stuff out for himself.

    He also said he’s not trying to keep things casual to sleep around, he’s only seeing me and he’s not intending for that to change, and he said he would be honest if that changed and that he would never do anything behind my back.

    Less encouraging things he brought up were: He’s not sure if long term relationships will ever work for him, his reasoning being something about how if I knew the things he likes to do on his own, I would think him sad and boring. He thinks that, for all of his relationships (including friends and family), it’s better to see each other less frequently, but for more quality time, than to spend a whole bunch of time together and run out of things to say and get bored.

    On the one hand I understand that separating the whole “This is What Being A Couple Means” cultural script, from the reality that it’s always best to discuss and agree upon what two people actually want from their relationship, is a process and all the things he said about that were pretty much in line with my thoughts.

    But on the other hand… I want a long term relationship. If he doesn’t want that, well, that’s really fucking disappointing.

    I’m feeling pretty sad, to be honest. I’m not yet at dealbreaker stage, but… it’s close. And it sucks to have such an amazing connection with someone and not be relationship compatible.

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