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How to get through/past the first few weeks
March 25, 2011 12:50 AM   Subscribe

How do you stop yourself from caring whether someone you've just started seeing is sleeping with/will sleep with other people?

In the initial stages of seeing a guy (I'm a late 20s, straight cis female), before we're "official", I get an awful lot of anxiety about whether or not the guy is sleeping with other people, or will, or whether he likes me enough to only sleep with me until we've decided whether to have a proper relationship or part ways. I tend to feel like I'd be doing the wrong thing if I slept with someone else, but worry that I'm going to feel like an idiot when I find out that I've been taking their potential feelings into account when they've been out picking up. It's becoming a real problem and I don't know how to handle it.

I'm trying to work out what would bother me specifically and I suppose in a way I would feel hurt/insecure that the guy didn't think I was "enough". Some background that may be relevant: 2 years ago I left a serious (together 1.5 years, living together for 1) relationship when I found out the guy had quite deliberately cheated on me with several girls over the course of our relationship. I'd had NO idea. He confessed that before meeting me he used to be out 3 nights a week trying to take home girls. Prior to that experience, I had never been around that sort of culture, had never had a one-night-stand, went to bars purely to see my friends or a band (ie not to pick up). I think I had just been very naive (I had definitely had boyfriends, and sex, and even a holiday fling - but had never gone out to pick up). After that experience the whole world looked very different and I started going out chasing one night stands myself, and making sure I never went more than 3 weeks without sex. When I am interested in someone though (whether it be a friend, or someone I've met, or from online) and we start sleeping with eachother, I worry that they are out chasing sex on the nights I'm not seeing them. I know that technically they would be doing nothing wrong as we haven't agreed not to be exclusive, but I feel kind of disrespected and as if they're not really into me.

The trouble with this anxiety is that it makes me distance myself emotionally to protect myself, and I usually end up ending things with them, even, or especially because, I have feelings for them, and it makes me really depressed. In the two years since I left my ex, I have not managed to have a single real relationship because I've always bailed early/kept emotional distance.

I've thought about discussing it with them but always feel like if I were to ask for exclusivity so early in the piece it would
a) show them that I have feelings for them and put me in a weak position where they could hurt me
b) make them think I'm crazy and needy and they'd lose interest in me
c) encourage them to just lie and say they won't sleep with anyone else so they could keep sleeping with me, and then I'd really look stupid because they'd KNOW I wasn't sleeping with anyone else

I apologise if any of this doesn't make sense, but even just thinking about it now, and typing it all out, is making me feel very anxious. Last week I brushed off a guy I'd been hooking up with who I accidentally got feelings for, and still wish I could date, because of this, and I'm sick of it. If this doesn't stop I will never have a boyfriend again, but even that is preferable to the anxiety I get when I have feelings for someone. I'm just not sure how to handle it. Other people seem to be able to just go with the flow and I woul like to learn how. So... help please!
posted by Chrysalis to Human Relations (31 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think it sounds like you've gotten the uncommitted-sex thing out of your system, and now you're starting to want something a little more real. Try taking a few months out-- be celibate for a little while, just focus on being you and clearing your mind of your ex and other issues. With some time and a little distance from anxiety-making situations, your emotions and priorities will become more clear.
posted by oceanmorning at 1:06 AM on March 25, 2011


How do you stop yourself from caring whether someone you've just started seeing is sleeping with/will sleep with other people?

By making sure the sex I have with him is amazing.
By dating other people.
By thinking about his flaws so I keep a realistic attitude and don't put him on a pedestal.
By distracting myself with things that have nothing to do with him. It helps to enjoy alone time.
By shrugging it off -- "whatever, it's his life."
By being confident that I'm hot.
By being in the moment and enjoying that. Enjoy the time you have with people because no one is around forever.

It sounds like you're using relationships to bolster your self-esteem, but if so, you're looking for that in the wrong place. You could try taking a break to work on your self-esteem, or you could use your dating challenges as practice in becoming more detached, and observe your own reactions to what's going on. Write in a journal about what triggers your anxiety. And if people are treating you poorly, move on. Join a dating site and just meet men with no expectations.

The trend these days seems to be dating multiple people, sleeping with some or all of them, and proceeding to exclusivity if there is someone you really click with. So go forth and enjoy, and try to stop taking it all so seriously. It's supposed to be fun. Try to cultivate a more "friendly"and non-needy attitude toward people you're dating, rather than expecting traditional romance. This will actually make you more attractive.
posted by xenophile at 1:33 AM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


There's a really simple answer to your question. Don't fuck people you just met.
posted by phaedon at 1:46 AM on March 25, 2011 [33 favorites]


If this doesn't stop I will never have a boyfriend again,

If this doesn't stop you will never have a boyfriend again who doesn't respect you and share your values.

A funny thing happens as you mature, you start confusing sex with love and commitment.

It gets so bad that you get to the point where sex without love and commitment isn't even interesting any longer. It shocks and surprises you that you are becoming so conservative. You struggle against this, but you find that your body won't perform if you're heart isn't in it.

You bang your head against the wall and wonder what the hell is wrong with you?

And then you accept that this is what you really want, that sex is good only when it is part of a committed, monogamous relationship.

You become a square, but you are totally cool with it.

And then you meet someone who is on the same page.....
posted by three blind mice at 2:11 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know that technically they would be doing nothing wrong as we haven't agreed not to be exclusive, but I feel kind of disrespected and as if they're not really into me.

Phaedon is right. You're not into casual sex. It makes you feel unsettled and insecure. Why bother?

Having casual sex isn't a social requirement and it isn't for everyone. You prefer to be more certain about people before sleeping with them, and you want the answers to the questions you list.

Why not just be a person who's Not Into casual sex? There's nothing wrong with you -- it just gives you the willies. Nobody has to prove their modern sophistication by doing things that make them uncomfortable.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:19 AM on March 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


In all seriousness, I suggest therapy. It sounds like the issues you are describing are deeper than everyday garden variety anxiety.
posted by gohlkus at 2:30 AM on March 25, 2011


If it makes things any clearer... I would like to have a boyfriend if I met someone great... but it's how to handle the inbetween bit between from when you first start seeing eachother and when you decide you both want a relationship. If someone really interests you can you really ask them from the outset to only date you?
posted by Chrysalis at 2:31 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


can you really ask them from the outset to only date you?

That would be a fair request after a few dates if you really wanted to have an exclusive relationship with the person. It's not something to do after 1 date just to ease your wandering mind though.

I don't know if you're ready to be in a relationship right now. You have lots of trust issues and other things bottled up inside. Try to work things out internally a little bit before dragging someone through the mud. Talk to a friend, talk to a therapist, talk to some guy your sleeping with.

Other people seem to be able to just go with the flow
Just see what happens -- you're afraid of pushing someone away with your emotions so you're pushing them away. The end result will always be the same with one of your choices and with the other choice, you at least have upside. Open yourself up to get hurt again. That's what people do.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:47 AM on March 25, 2011


how to handle the inbetween bit between from when you first start seeing eachother and when you decide you both want a relationship. If someone really interests you can you really ask them from the outset to only date you?

>: "There's a really simple answer to your question. Don't fuck people you just met."

It's not really more complicated than that. Yeah, it's old-fashioned and conservative and square, but for some people this is what works best. There is nothing wrong with this, or with you.

The boyfriend you really want will only respect you all the more for it.
posted by three blind mice at 2:49 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You clearly care about whether or not he is sleeping or may sleep with other people. I don't see why you should deny these feelings, they are real. I would talk to him, about it. Ignore your fears that mentioning it would put you in a weak position. If he seeks to take advantage of this then I don't think he is the kind of guy you want to enter a relationship with.

However if you did mention it I would do so in a very soft manner i.e. not make it a black and white situation...like "I need you to promise me you will not sleep with anyone else!", and more like "I know we are not an 'item' yet, but I am going to lay off the sleeping with other people" (badly worded but something along these lines). As you say it is early days and full/over disclosure is probably not really appropriate right now.

All relationships have situations in which a discrepancy in values, attitude, or behavior causes discomfort and these situations have to be negotiated (or not), particularly in the early stages. Talking about them reasonably openly is healthy, rather than adopting an 'I don't care attitude' in an effort to gain the upper hand somehow. You should not feel bad about feeling bad. Don't issue you an ultimatum and don't over disclose but give him a gentle nudge about how you are feeling, leaving his actions up to him. Who knows maybe he is not sleeping with other people, maybe he is so sweet on you that he is playing it cool too. You never know unless you talk about.
posted by therubettes at 2:54 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


You could ditch this weird "dating" thing and do it like everyone I know does it on this side of the pond.

Make friends with people, get to know them better, hang out, refrain from screwing them just yet, and then start up whatever kind of relationship you both want as and when it becomes clear that you both want it.

I do not understand why anyone would go out with somebody in a romantic capacity when they don't know yet whether that is what they want. I also do not understand why people who are looking for a monogamous relationship would go about it by conducting non-monogamous relationships. You aren't the only person that thinks this is all a little bit odd.
posted by emilyw at 3:09 AM on March 25, 2011 [23 favorites]


You could solve this by only (and openly) looking for committed relationships with guys who are only (and openly) looking for committed relationships. Lots of people refrain from casual sex; try dating one of them.

(I also think therapy might help, because this seems all wrapped up in betrayal and anxiety and something that happened two years ago. As opposed to casual sex as I am, I still think "my last guy cheated on me" is a terrible reason to abandon the practice. It's also, I think, an unfortunate reason to have taken it up in the first place.)
posted by SMPA at 3:50 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


>I do not understand why anyone would go out with somebody in a romantic capacity when they don't know yet whether that is what they want. I also do not understand why people who are looking for a monogamous relationship would go about it by conducting non-monogamous relationships. You aren't the only person that thinks this is all a little bit odd.

emilyw, this makes me smile. When I moved to Sweden (from the US) 100 years ago, I was astonished to find out that "dating" - i.e., asking someone out whom I barely knew - was such an American thing and such a foreign concept outside of America.

The first time I asked a Swedish girl - in Sweden - to dinner she looked at me as if I was crazy. Even though I knew she was interested in me, I had to go about it in a less direct way that made her comfortable.

In the U.S. it is as it is and you have to play the "dating" game according to American rules.

It's not odd, it's only different. In Sweden once a girl has decided she wants to have dinner with you, she's pretty much decided she's interested in you. In America, the date is what you use to see if you are interested.

On the positive side, saying "yes" to a date in America is not a promise of sex whereas in Sweden it pretty much is.

Chrysalis doesn't not seem to have a problem with dating, per se, it's the sex before commitment part that makes her uncomfortable.

It seems her fear is that if she says to a guy "I don't have sex unless it is part of a committed, monogamous relationship" he won't call back for a second date.

I think that fear is unwarranted and any guy who thinks she is not worth "waiting for" is not actually the sort of guy she wants to know.
posted by three blind mice at 4:29 AM on March 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


If it makes things any clearer... I would like to have a boyfriend if I met someone great... but it's how to handle the inbetween bit between from when you first start seeing eachother and when you decide you both want a relationship.

Maybe I'm not the norm, but I've always dated women who, for fear or STDs or otherwise, suggested that if I was dating/sleeping with someone else, they weren't interested.

The period of non-exclusivity isn't set in stone; you could suggest on date one that, for safety reasons, you're not interested in another date if they're dating other people. That's not going to solve your trust issues, but keeps you from getting hurt without betrayal of trust.
posted by dflemingecon at 4:32 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're meeting people in the pick up scene, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the people whom you're meeting are interested in the pick up scene. More to the point, if you're having sex with people before there's any kind of even informal commitment, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the people with whom you're having sex are at least a little... flexible when it comes to that sort of thing.

If you want to date someone who won't sleep around, you should probably date people that don't sleep around.
posted by valkyryn at 5:04 AM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


So many relationship problems are caused by acting. We attempt to tailor ourselves to a potential mate, trying to convince them that we are a perfect match. Instead of trying to figure out if they really are a good fit for us, we try to get them to like us by acting in a way we think they want. This is a waste of time.

Stop acting and start communicating yourself to those you meet. You'll weed out the bad matches faster, and feel more self-aware and empowered in the process. Good luck!
posted by violinflu at 5:35 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I really want to answer your actual question (how do I deal with this situation I find myself in) but I tend to agree with the people who say your problem is probably that you are putting yourself in that situation at all.

But to be fair to your question, how to deal with the anxiety:
posted by londonmark at 5:47 AM on March 25, 2011


I agree with phaedon and valkyryn, this is really about limits you set and the type of people you date. I was kind of shocked, after coming back on the "market" after my divorce, how Hobbesian the dating scene had gotten. (Maybe it was always that way but it seemed different to me.) Dating seemed suddenly very confusing, with a sort of parallel world of hook-ups existing alongside the dating world, to the point that if you were dating someone you had to wonder whether they had a rotating cast of fuckbuddies they were "hooking up" with at the same time that you were going through the staid, conservative, traditional motions of dating them.

And it seems to some extent that you have bought into that, since you talk about a guy you stopped "hooking up" with when you started dating the guy you wrote this question about.

I don't know what to suggest except to say there are lots of us who find this very odd. There are reasons for this discomfort. Are you giving off signals that you are okay with that sort of thing? If I were dating a woman and I knew that she had a vibrant/colorful hook-up history, it wouldn't make me very confident in her as a long term dating prospect; I'd be uneasy for reasons hard to pin down.
posted by jayder at 5:52 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a straight, cisgendered guy and this is the ideal timeline for me:

1) 3-4 dates with various levels of kissing and touching around.
2) "Have you been safe in the past? Have you been tested?" conversation.
3) Hot (and safe and anxiety-free) sex.
4) "I like you a lot and think I'm going to take myself off the dating market for a while. Whaddya think?"
5) Even more hot sex.
6) When it feels right, "Hmmm. I've been bragging about how much I like you to my friends. Think I can call you my girlfriend or is that too much?"

A man who is not mature enough to productively have conversations 2 or 4 is actually a boy pretending to do manly things. Conversation 4 could even come as a segue into conversation 2.
posted by Skwirl at 6:27 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


If it's something I'm feeling awkward about I usually just throw it into conversation in a jokey tone. A great opportunity to do this is if the person forgets something about you or insists you told them something about yourself that is fully untrue. "Me? Vegetarian? Just how many women are you going out with, anyway?"

Every guy I have ever done this with has gone dead serious and said, "None, actually," in response. It's possible they're lying, I guess, but at least if they lied that's straight up shitty, rather than all that idle speculation about what is or isn't going on.
posted by Sara C. at 6:37 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a veteran of online dating, I got comfortable with the idea of guys dating me and other women at the same time. I drew the line at sex, though -- I made it clear that I was only comfortable with an exclusive sexual relationship. I don't think that makes me old-fashioned, I think it makes me someone who cares about my mental and physical health. I never got any weird push-back from the men I dated. It's ok to ask for what you want.
posted by chowflap at 6:59 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow, dating has changed a lot since I was last doing much of it. When I was in my twenties, it would have been considered rather odd to be sleeping with someone regularly and still to find the "are we actually dating" question to be really fraught. Hanging out a lot and sleeping together regularly was dating, and no one would get upset if you said "and blahblah my boyfriend who I've been seeing for six months" even if you hadn't had the talk.

This just doesn't seem sustainable, especially for you.

show them that I have feelings for them and put me in a weak position where they could hurt me

You are dating the wrong guys, or dating them too quickly, or need some serious therapy to unpack this. Seriously, that is a horrible thing to feel. (And I say this as someone who is very distant and has a lot of intimacy issues with friends, colleagues, etc etc.) Really, you shouldn't be hooking up with a guy who you think will seize on your feelings of affection (!) and use them to hurt you. You need to know the guy better first and you need to trust yourself more.

There's a world of difference between thinking "this could go wrong and it would suck and I would be sad" and "if I show affection this guy will knife me". This seems like a huge self esteem problem to me, like you don't feel that your affection has any value. Naturally, if you show that you like someone, they will be repulsed/angry/manipulative, because your affection isn't valuable and you don't deserve someone who is thoughtful and kind.

Listen, any guy worth the time will be pleased and flattered if you like him a lot, even if he has to reject you.

If you really are in some Hobbesian (good choice, Jayder upthread!) dating world where everyone is keeping big secrets in order to gain leverage (and that's what "sleeping with multiple people and viewing it as clingy/manipulative if one of them asks for details" is) you need a better dating pool.
posted by Frowner at 7:13 AM on March 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here is my timeline. Caveat: it will make some guys vanish like you never thought possible. However, those guys wouldn't meet my Number 1 Criterion for a relationship: that they want what I want.

1) 3-4 dates months with various levels of kissing and touching around.
4) "I like you a lot and think I'm going to take myself off the dating market for a while. Whaddya think?"
6) When it feels right, "Hmmm. I've been bragging about how much I like you to my friends. Think I can call you my girlfriend or is that too much?"
2) "Have you been safe in the past? Have you been tested?" conversation.
3) Hot (and safe and anxiety-free) sex.
4) "I like you a lot and think I'm going to take myself off the dating market for a while. Whaddya think?"
5) Even more hot sex.
6) When it feels right, "Hmmm. I've been bragging about how much I like you to my friends. Think I can call you my girlfriend or is that too much?"

I realized that I don't gain anything from giving in to pressure (from him, from peers, from supposed societal norms) to have sex earlier than I'd prefer. Anxiety + anxiety + anxiety + sex that is not even that great? No, thank you.
posted by thebazilist at 7:27 AM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


The early stages of dating someone you really like are often fraugt wig both excitement and anxiety. Leaving sex out of it can help decrease that - your own personal experience will let you know if it's a good idea for you, but I think to a certain extent you just have to accept the anxiety as part of the package and ride it out the beat you can, with the help of your friends, hobbies, distractions, etc

I think in the States, asking someone not to date anyone else after a first date, not because you were both so blown away by eachother that you wouldnt have time to anyway but as a matter of policy, is a bit much. On the other hand, connecting the sexual relationship to exclusivity is completely reasonable. People won't necessarily assume it, but it's absolutely fine to arrange that. Of course, that probably means waiting at least a few dates in before you get to the level of sexual activity that makes you want exclusivity, but one can't have everything.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:22 AM on March 25, 2011


N-thing the "you don't have to have casual sex" bit to get a relationship. You'll increase the likelihood of finding someone right FOR YOU if you proceed in a way that you are comfortable with.

Good Luck!
posted by PsuDab93 at 9:56 AM on March 25, 2011


Maybe I'm not the norm, but I've always dated women who, for fear or STDs or otherwise, suggested that if I was dating/sleeping with someone else, they weren't interested.

The above is the norm for me too and I've done a bit of online dating.

I think you should hold off on having sex until you start to feel strong emotions towards the person. There are plenty of guys who desire this too.

I am probably in the minority on metafilter, but I just expect that I won't have sex with someone until we become exclusive. I don't have sex with people unless I think there is a possibility we are going to have a future together. I take time to get to know the person before sex - a process that takes several months for me in general.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:59 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, wait to have sex before you get to know the person better.

This is not just a prudish, "you shouldn't have casual sex," admonishment, either.

You are still shell-shocked from what your ex did in your last serious relationship. That's totally natural. The problem is, you are projecting that onto future relationship possibilities. You are in this mode where you are thinking, "I will sleep with other people before he can! Ha ha, I win!" Or just, "I can't enjoy sex with him because maybe he will cheat on me, too!"

And the thing is, you really have to get to know someone, and trust them, and realize who they are to know that that person is NOT your ex. And then you won't worry so much.

There are, of course, no guarantees in any relationship. But every guy out there, believe me, is NOT like your ex. Wait until you find one you feel you can trust.
posted by misha at 10:42 AM on March 25, 2011


There's a really simple answer to your question. Don't fuck people you just met.

This is crude advice, but correct advice. Sex before a relationship is defined is by definition casual, and if you aren't OK with casual sex then don't engage in it.

(Defining the relationship doesn't need to be anything special, merely "if we start having sex, we can't have sex with other people.")

If a potential sex partner isn't on board with that, then they aren't the right person for you. There are plenty of people out there that have the same mindset as you do.
posted by gjc at 4:03 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, seriously, what's the worst thing that could happen if you ask whether he's sleeping with other people and ask for monogamous sex before y'all get totally naked? He bails?

If that's the worst thing that happens to you today, your life could be far, far worse.

(I'm not being flip; after having been there, done that, got the t-shirt, washed the car with it, I realized non-monogamous sex ain't my thing, and despite the quasi-self righteous "if-you-want-monogamous-sex-you-have-no-imagination" crowd I often find myself in, being able to ask for what I need really contributes to my mental health. Don't make excuses for what you need.)
posted by mostly vowels at 4:38 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


He confessed that before meeting me he used to be out 3 nights a week trying to take home girls.

It wouldn't hurt to find out a little about this sort of thing, upfront. Someone who is big into bar/club culture, the pick up scene, out several nights a week, meeting a lot of women, etc. is not going to become a one-woman man overnight. Similarly, if you're casually hooking up with guys you meet in bars, chances are it's not the first time that's happened for them.
posted by Sara C. at 5:42 PM on March 25, 2011


Look, there are always going to be people who will lowball you and they will try to convince you that's the best price you're ever going to get. It's this way across the board, dating, jobs, whatever.

What you do is, you decide whether you can live without whatever it is you're bargaining for. If you can't live without a job, you accept the low offer and take the job while looking for something better. We can all live without a relationship. If you can live without, you hold on until you encounter someone who isn't even interested in trying to lowball you and just naturally wants to buy you at the highest price (even in the job market).

These are people who aren't living in the "Hobbesian" world so appositely described above. I recognize the feeling that "if I show affection this guy will knife me" and guys like that do exist, but there is no kind of relationship I could possibly have with any of them. Literally, none. No interaction possible, not even hello, goodbye, please, thank you, because they live in their own weird parallel dimension where we can't understand each other. You seem to be frantically signalling for help after getting trapped in that dimension.

Just step over here next to me and mostly vowels and gjc and others. It's real, but only if you believe in it.
posted by tel3path at 7:49 AM on March 26, 2011 [11 favorites]


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