Hi, and thanks for an awesome and helpful site!
My situation: I’ve recently begun a new relationship, and am experiencing some…friction. I’m having trouble telling how much of the issue is incompatibility, and how much is me being “rusty”/ungenerous/inflexible, and I would love some outside insight!
A bit about me: I’ve never been a big dater, and being in a sexual/romantic relationship has never been a priority for me–I’ve been happily single for long stretches, including recently. I know that I have some real trust issues and some sensitivity around body image and bodily autonomy, probably stemming from “Stuff From the Past” (nothing deeply traumatic, but still stuff). I enjoy sex, but I’m not a big cuddler or casual toucher, and I am strongly anti-PDA.
My new date-friend is *much* more oriented towards physical affection: his actions make this clear, and he has straight out said that touch is his primary “love language”. The way this has been working out in practice is that we have fallen into a pattern where he is always instigating or escalating different kinds of touch, or talking about my body, and I am always shutting him down/pushing him away. Examples: we were in the midst of a conversation (that I thought was going really well! we were having an emotionally intimate moment) and he kissed me mid-sentence, before I could finish what I was saying…Or, he wants to rub my knee during the entirety of a hour-long car ride…Or talk about my “sexy hips” in a family restaurant at 2PM. Or make out in a public place. Even his “thinking about you”-type texts are always touch/body based–“Sending you big hugs”, “I wish I could see your pretty face”, “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” (That last one I had a really visceral negative reaction to, and we did have a conversation about how tickling is NOT my thing…)
All these things make me *so* uncomfortable. I’ve tried to explain my boundaries/comfort levels, and I genuinely don’t think he is trying to make me uncomfortable, I think he just deeply doesn’t understand. To him, touch always feels great and is a sign of affection, compliments about my body are meant to make me feel good, etc. And he never makes me feel unsafe–whenever I have told to him to stop doing something, he stops right away. But I don’t like to have to keep saying “stop”! It feels shitty and mean.
I have also been second-guessing myself and my own feelings: I’ve definitely had the thought of “Don’t put your hands on my body in public like you own me” but I think that has more to do with my own current political rage, and less about him as an individual, and that seems kind of unfair? And then another part of me wonders whether I should be trying harder in general–maybe I’ve been single too long, maybe I’m too guarded, maybe I should learn to be more affectionate, maybe my hangups are getting in the way of me having something really nice, maybe my discomfort with touch is not a true preference but a result of all my past issues and it would be “good” for me to work through that a bit. Maybe it’s really sad that compliments about my body make me cringe, maybe it’s weird and cold and ungenerous of me to be like “touch me during sexy time, please, but omg can you just keep your hands to yourself when we are watching Game of Thrones?” Or, maybe we are just straight up not compatible and we will only make each other unhappy!
What do you think? (she/her pronouns are fine)
When I read that your new date-friend texted you the words “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” I yelled “NO!!!!” very loud and brought my knees defensively to my chest.
Then I thought immediately of this video of a sloth petting a cat:
Video Description: Something I can only describe as “lite-reggae-jazz” plays while a sloth aggressively holds a cat and pets it.
Some people would love getting a text like that and they watch the video and wish they were the cat. Some people (I am one of these people and I suspect you are also one of these people) cringe into their souls at the thought of this much physical contact from anyone. It’s not good or bad to be one or the other, but each of us should find people who give us the right sloth/cat/Tickle?/NO TICKLE balance for us.
There is absolutely nothing wrong or “ungenerous” with being a little bit reserved around wanting to be touched or not liking PDA. Political rage and past experiences quite reasonably inform how how our bodies experience and interact with the world. Where is it written that you have to be fair about enduring stuff that you don’t enjoy? Not on Captain Awkward Dot Com, so, at least you’re in the right place.
IF there is any eventual “loosening up” to be done on your part (big if), it will happen someday, with someone else, a future, different date-friend who is not draped over you like a cape. You’ll have space to decide if you’d like to take his hand in a public square or snuggle in closer during a TV show.
Right now, your scripts are:
- “I don’t like PDA.”
- “Please stop touching me.”
- “You know I don’t like that.”
- “Ask first.”
- “Please move your hand.”
- “I’d like to be the one to touch you first.”
- “I don’t like talking about sexy stuff in public places.”
- “I’ve had enough.”
- Him: “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” You: “I never want that.”
None of that sounds particularly flirtatious or warm but the problem isn’t that you are somehow unloving, the problem is that he keeps pushing and pushing and pushing you until there is no room. You say he always stops when you ask him to, but one cool thing that people who actually respect other people’s boundaries do is gain some self-awareness over time, like, “She keeps asking me to stop doing that thing, so maybe I shouldn’t do that thing in the first place, or I should ask first!” and NOT “She didn’t specifically say stop, so I will keep doing the thing I want to do and as long as she doesn’t say stop it must be cool.” “My love language is touch” isn’t actually a reason for him to keep behaving this way when he knows that you don’t really like it. His love language is touch and your love language is being able to finish your fucking sentences and watch your Sunday night stories in peace.
I feel on some level he’s decided that your reticence is a “challenge” and that it’s his job to fix you and oops, here we go, my knees are up my my chest again and I’m in a little defensive ball on your behalf, like so:
Video Description: A jazzy soundtrack plays (what is with the music on these things?) while some jerk keeps petting a cat who doesn’t want to be petted.
You call this person a date-friend (love this btw, consider it stolen) and not the love of your life, so think about whether you’d like to play the rest of this relationship on Hard Mode, with a warm, possessive hand on your knee during every car ride and the prospect of “Tickles!!!” in every text.
If it helps, think of it as freeing him up to find a fellow sloth to date. Look how happy these dorks are!
It is now time for the summer Captain Awkward Dot Com pledge drive, where I shake the tip jar in the general direction of all of you kind readers. If you like what I do here and are able to support the work, please visit my Patreon page or make a donation via PayPal or Cash.me. Thanks to your support, we’ve made the blog ad-free. My next goal is to take a sabbatical from teaching in 2018 and work on a CaptainAwkward book and other writing projects. Every little bit counts, and I’m grateful for it.
Edited To Add: Here’s an expanded, de-heteroified description of the Five Love Languages if you’re wondering what the heck we’re talking about Thanks @hypatiadotca/Leigh!