How do I read signals from someone who doesn't seem to have any?
January 18, 2012 2:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm involved in a new relationship with a guy that I like. He's what I would describe as very self-contained. Quiet, comes off as pretty shy, and requires a bit of effort to get to know. Things have recently started to get physical, but I'm finding myself frustrated because I have no idea how to read this guy's signals and moving things forward is up to me. What does complete silence mean?

We'd been flirting for quite awhile before things got to this point, and have been getting to know each other for several months. Things are still in the light making out stage, and I'm starting to get cold feet about having sex with this guy because I don't think I can handle the lack of reaction to anything I do.

I have talked to him on several occasions, enough to tactfully establish that this is how he usually is and (unless he's lying for some reason) not a sign that he's not attracted to me. He's made it clear to me that he has problems making the first move with someone and feels more comfortable with someone else taking the lead. He seems more willing to take initiative as his comfort level increases, which has been pretty consistent through all our interactions as long as I've known him.

The problem is that my instinct is to read his behavior as a neon sign flashing "Not Interested", and I don't feel comfortable progressing things beyond this point without knowing this is something we both want - and the physical signals and outside conversations are telling me two completely different things. Does he like kissing me? I don't know. Ears nibbled? No clue. Would taking his shirt off be moving too quickly, or am I frustrating him by not using my mind reading powers to determine that we should have been naked half an hour ago? Couldn't tell you. He tells me yes when we're just talking, but when the actual act is going on there's nothing to indicate any particular enjoyment of anything that I do, except that he allows it to continue. He's still really, really quiet, and as much as I've tried to look for other physical signals to follow, I'm not finding any. Breathing doesn't seem to change, pressure stays pretty constant, hands don't grab or press. No sighs, moans, groans, and absolutely no speaking. I've got nothing. Normally, I'd just ask a lot of questions, but I don't want him to feel badgered instead of sexy.

So, are there any other things I can use as a bit of a road-map for intimacy? Should I stop giving him the benefit of the doubt and just back off before I get too emotionally involved? Is there a tactful way to get him to alter his behavior enough that I don't feel like I'm trying to put together a fairly complex thing with instructions written in a non-Western alphabet and no pictures?

If it's important, we're both in our late twenties, and not virgins or escapees from a religious cult. I really like him, we get along well otherwise and, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he says he is attracted to me and interested. I'm very communicative, so he should have no doubt that I'm interested, attracted, and that he has a green light whenever he's ready.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Normally, I'd just ask a lot of questions, but I don't want him to feel badgered instead of sexy.

Fuck it, just ask the questions. It doesn't really sound like things could get less sexy for you, so you can stand to make things a little less sexy for him for five seconds to get some feedback and then things are sexier for the both of you.

Trying to read his mind/body is only going to lead to assumptions about what he likes that he won't have the temerity to counter.
posted by griphus at 2:26 PM on January 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


I think if you want the relation to continue you may just have to ask him when engaging in the acts if he likes them/wants more/wants to stop. It doesn't have to be a turn-off if asked in the right tone of voice.
posted by edgeways at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2012


He's made it clear to me that he has problems making the first move with someone and feels more comfortable with someone else taking the lead.

Well, that's cool as long as you're cool with it, and it sounds like it's not his lack of initiative but his lack of response that's the issue. Maybe you should specify that you're okay making the first move, but you need to see signs that he's enjoying it.

In a way, you both have the same problem; the only difference is that you're willing to go first. Maybe he'd understand a little better if you said, "You know how you don't like making the first move, but you get interested if I show interest? I'm actually the same way: if I can't tell that you're interested, I don't know what to do."

Sometimes sexy sex requires unsexy conversations.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:36 PM on January 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


he has problems making the first move with someone and feels more comfortable with someone else taking the lead

"Hey, you know what? I'm the same way! I really like you, and am definitely attracted to you, and it's great to hear you say that you're attracted to me, but it'd make things really REALLY great if you could take the lead sometimes, and when I'm taking it, to give me lots of signs of encouragement that you're enjoying yourself as much as I am. Deal?"
posted by argonauta at 2:49 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Things have recently started to get physical, but I'm finding myself frustrated because I have no idea how to read this guy's signals and moving things forward is up to me. What does complete silence mean?

Slow down. Draw him out by giving him space to act. This may be hard if you are both DTF, but there are many AskMeFi questions about how to retreat from this precipice once over the edge, so if you want a relationship with this guy you can channel your anxiety about the relationship into less anxious-producing activities and topics.
posted by rhizome at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2012


I agree with griphus, up there.

But is he like this in other situations? I mean..does he get annoyed, and you have to try to guess what the problem is? Because if not sharing what he's feeling is a general thing, and not restricted to sex, that might be a real problem. Not that forcing you to use your Jedi powers during sexy stuff isn't already pretty unfair. I don't think it's inappropriate to tell a partner that they have to respond, and also act themselves to arouse you. It sounds horribly like he lies there pretending to be dead while you try to arouse him, good god, you have to talk to him!
posted by thylacinthine at 3:23 PM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are you my girlfriend?

Seriously, I *am* this guy. One thing that helps is when she tells me what she likes and likes for me to do (in plain words). Sometimes it's harder for me to pick up on the fact that a simple eyebrow raise indicates I should drive 60 miles away, trade a Mexican woman a silver cross for a shaved ferret, and train the ferret to play her favorite song on an antique player piano.

Okay, I'm exaggerating (only very slightly), but you get my point. Sometimes we just don't know what we're supposed to do. Tell him "Take off your shirt, sexy dude!" if you're getting frisky, or ask him "Do you like it when I put my [redacted] on my [redacted] or in my [redacted] with your [redacted]?" I'm not the type to really be a go-getter when it comes to this stuff, mostly because I don't want to do the "wrong thing". I'm betting he's this way, too.

So, knowing exactly what you like (and 'forcing' him to talk about what he likes) will give him the confidence to grab you by the hair and throw you over the dining room table for a good slap-and-tickle if that's what you're into.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 3:27 PM on January 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is tough... because he's either that super quiet guy who is totally worth it... or just not that into you.

I think when you're first getting physical with someone, the best thing to do is to do what you like, and let them know when you like something. Kiss him how (and where) you want to be kissed -- moan when he does something right. But outside of that, definitely guide him verbally.

I'm going to put an important caveat though -- if it's not changing, he might not be the right guy for you. Sexual chemistry is part of a relationship, and if it's not at the level you want it (regardless of whether it's because he's shy or not into you), you might not be able to deal with it. Make an effort, but don't get too emotionally involved until you know that he is, too.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:38 PM on January 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm turning this around a bit to ask whether you're okay with his silence/non-response in the sense that he may always be that way - may never really grow into taking initiative and may shut down in the face of questions. I ask this because I was in a long-term relationship with someone who was like that - even completely silent during sex - and because that was "just the way he was" I tried to deal with it and be understanding... but as it turned out, it drove me crazy, made me feel insecure/unsure, and eventually dampened my interest. Not saying that's you, but if he's unwilling to accommodate or compromise (and I'm not necessarily saying he should) to make you feel more comfortable you might have to let this one go.

I think you really have to either ask him to be more communicative (even non-verbally) or be totally okay with just going for it every time without any real feedback.
posted by sm1tten at 3:48 PM on January 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


DoubleLune has beat me to it; if you can not deal with the possibility that it's always going to be this way then you might want to jump ship now.

Not necessarily for sexual chemistry itself, but because if this is reflective of his way of being - letting other folks take the lead - and it bugs you to have to take the lead then why won't it be annoying when it's about a restaurant choice or a vacation spot or where to have your wedding or what to name the kids?

I say that because I'm concerned this isn't about sex itself, it's about your sense of validation over someone else playing the aggressor, or at least participating at a level that you're comfortable with. Because, not to overly play the gender stereotype here, but when I read
Would taking his shirt off be moving too quickly, or am I frustrating him by not using my mind reading powers to determine that we should have been naked half an hour ago?
I think "how often does a man think things are going too fast?" I'm playing the odds here and assuming you're female but either way - do you really think you're going to pressure this guy into sex before he's ready or are you not happy with this dynamic?

Because the dynamic probably isn't going to change significantly. A reactive person - and I say this as one myself - may learn to work outside his comfort zone but he's overall going to fall back to this position. If it's not the way you want your relationship dynamic to be then there's no shame or fault in that, but you should accept it or move on.

Which doesn't mean you can't say "you need to give me more to go on here, bub" in this early stage before you get to know each other better. But that's going to be a temporary adaptation, not a permanent change.
posted by phearlez at 3:51 PM on January 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


What does complete silence mean?

In all seriousness, it probably means he has issues. The question for you is whether you want to deal with that. You're having to do all of the work and it's questionable how sustainable that is over the long haul.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:54 PM on January 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


One thing to think about is that while there's nothing to indicate that he's into something, there's nothing to really indicate that he's not into something, so why not try and push boundaries a bit and see if you can get any kind of reaction at all... Get a little kinky, I mean. Maybe he's got a thing that he's shy about talking about if he doesn't know you that well.
posted by empath at 4:22 PM on January 18, 2012


The problem is that my instinct is to read his behavior as a neon sign flashing "Not Interested", and I don't feel comfortable progressing things beyond this point without knowing this is something we both want - and the physical signals and outside conversations are telling me two completely different things. Does he like kissing me? I don't know. Ears nibbled? No clue. Would taking his shirt off be moving too quickly, or am I frustrating him by not using my mind reading powers to determine that we should have been naked half an hour ago? Couldn't tell you. He tells me yes when we're just talking, but when the actual act is going on there's nothing to indicate any particular enjoyment of anything that I do, except that he allows it to continue. He's still really, really quiet, and as much as I've tried to look for other physical signals to follow, I'm not finding any. Breathing doesn't seem to change, pressure stays pretty constant, hands don't grab or press. No sighs, moans, groans, and absolutely no speaking. I've got nothing. Normally, I'd just ask a lot of questions, but I don't want him to feel badgered instead of sexy.

Welcome to the guy's world.

he's shy, barge ahead. He likes you just fine.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:25 PM on January 18, 2012


I'm with Brandon Blatcher on this one. This might be pathological, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it might just be something you're not up for dealing with. It might be this is just shyness. It also could be hardwired. Either way you win because if he responds, great, and if not, you move on to meet someone who is a better fit for you.

Personally, I'd pounce on the guy and just tell him point blank that the hottest thing he can do is give you feedback aurally, and then go forth and, well, you know, do things. Fun things. YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:58 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're both in your late 20s, but how do you know you're both "not virgins"? He sounds inexperienced and shy to me -- and afraid of doing the "wrong" thing. I say just go for it and fuck him. He'll probably be like this the first time. I'm guessing he won't the fifth time (and if he is, end it).

Maybe this is a huge turn off to you and you just don't want to deal, which is fair and you don't need my or anyone's permission. But there's a real possibility that this is an issue that can be overcome with experience together in this area, and it sounds like you like him, so what do you have to lose?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:12 PM on January 18, 2012


Hrm. Have you already discussed this with him specifically and had him tell you to keep taking the lead, or did you infer from his responses to other, similar issues that he's more comfortable with someone else taking the lead?

Basically, what Brandon Blatcher said. This may not improve much, and only you can say how you'd feel if six months from now, you're still the one who does all the work.

Of course, the only way to find out if he will warm up is by giving him a test drive.
posted by OompaLoompa at 5:22 PM on January 18, 2012


He's probably afraid that if he reacts to what you're doing or tries to initiate anything himself, you'll think he's a "creep" or a "perv". Just tell him that that stuff's for guys that are viewed as unattractive (or old) and that since you obviously find him attractive enough to "get physical" with, he should forget all that crap and just try to enjoy himself (and help you enjoy yourself).
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:59 PM on January 18, 2012


Yeah, I'm this guy too. Have you tried getting him drunk? Speaking as a ridiculously reserved guy myself, I can happily vouch for how much the odd night out makes it all fall away - I go from sullen bookish emo in the corner to quip-cracking hilariously over-the-top centre of attention over the span of about three or four whiskies. Not that he should rely on it, of course, but if it gets him to open up he'll feel better about doing it sober, too.

I must also say I loosened up a LOT after my then-girlfriend and I got to the sleeping-together stage - as in she said it's like I was "a whole different person". I just have an annoying habit of worrying like mad about anything new or change-bringing until I have solid experience to back myself up with, and I'd imagine that's what he's doing as well.
posted by Fen at 7:20 PM on January 18, 2012


Hm. I must also clarify that I'm usually a quip-cracking over-the-top dude while sober, too, although only around people I know well. Because I just made it sound like I'm only tolerable when sozzled, which wasn't my intention :P
posted by Fen at 7:23 PM on January 18, 2012


While I certainly feel like people's reactions to getting some action are varied, no two people are the same, we all show our emotions and feelings in different ways, etc etc....

"Breathing doesn't seem to change, pressure stays pretty constant, hands don't grab or press. No sighs, moans, groans..."

Are you sure he's not asexual? Which certainly doesn't preclude him having lost his virginity (if that's indeed the case). It's just that usually, even when someone is nervous, or shy, or has no idea what to do or how to do it in a particular situation, making out with someone you're into usually results in some kind of physical reaction. And of course, most people assume themselves to be sexual creatures unless they've concluded otherwise, so it's not necessarily even obvious to him.

Maybe I'm way off base, but I couldn't believe no one else mentioned this yet, as it was my immediate thought after reading your post.
posted by hasna at 8:06 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have phone sex, without the phone. Teach him to use his words.
posted by ead at 8:57 PM on January 18, 2012


This reads like a control issue to me, and a form of intimate withholding.

I might try to force the situation by going ahead with intercourse, but this may cause you to become even more attached emotionally to someone who isn't safe for you.
posted by macinchik at 12:31 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, maybe my confirmation bias filter, but it does seem to be mostly women who are posting these "how do I crack the mysterious code of making this relationship work? should I tie myself into a reef knot, a granny knot, or a Gordian knot to accommodate this guy?" questions.

Some have made the valid point that there are people who just have to have it spelled out for them. But the OP isn't the only one who's not spelling things out here.

I don't so much have a specific approach as a suggestion that you let him know - in so many words, if need be - that he needs to meet you halfway or you won't meet at all. I confess that the thoughts "control issue" and "intimate withholding" went through my mind too, but there are many possibilities. The bottom line is that communication is a two-way process. You may be faced with someone who will never meet you halfway, whether through unwillingness or through inability, and you don't read like someone who can just be okay with that.
posted by tel3path at 2:55 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would also add that by being completely silent, and emitting no signals, he has not only you racking your brains trying to figure out what he wants, but a whole bunch of Internet strangers, too. All of us, trying to figure out what he wants.

There is a possibility that this is what he wants.
posted by tel3path at 2:58 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lead by example. Model good communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Give clear signs that you're enjoying yourself--I mean, authentic, of course, but when making out give those signs that let him know that his actions are wanted. I'm talking about the moans, the moving your body to meet his hands, using your hands to explore his body just because that's what you want to do and that's ok, you know? This does many good things at once: It eases any self-doubt he may be having. It shows him that it's ok if he reciprocates, and it shows him how. It establishes a pattern where easy communication supplants scary guesswork. And it's fucking hot, right?

I'm a big fan of verbal communication. But there's a point where you have to stop thinking in words and complete thoughts and just turn off the cautious, fearful, analytical mind. I'm projecting a hell of a lot, here, but that's something I had to learn, and it sounds like your boyfriend and I may be similar in that. A habit of unresponsiveness confers a certain safety; one can't be rejected if one doesn't open up. Show him that it's not just safe to be physical with you, it's also easy, and a hell of a lot of fun. To help him find his own voice, maybe ask some leading questions--the kind that start with, "Mmm, you like it when" and can only be answered with a happy, affirmative moan.

I don't feel comfortable progressing things beyond this point without knowing this is something we both want - and the physical signals and outside conversations are telling me two completely different things. Does he like kissing me? I don't know.
Yeah. Yeah, it's really important to have the kind of feedback you describe. It's not there now but you can build it. He isn't very good at his part yet, and so the signals you're looking for to tell you you're on solid ground aren't coming through. That makes it tough for you, no doubt about it. He said he wants it, but he can't show it. So for now, as the more emotionally advanced partner, my advice is to cheerfully shoulder that double dose of vulnerability until he catches up. Take the uncertainty he's giving you and give him clear, strong, affectionate signals back. My guess is he'll catch on pretty quick :).
posted by kprincehouse at 3:27 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
This is pretty much just a sex/physical intimacy problem. He doesn't generally expect me to be a mind reader, or get angry when I can't figure things out, and will answer anything I ask him, even if he doesn't usually volunteer information. Honestly, he strikes me as someone who is fairly reserved and cautious with people, and needs to feel safe to come out of his shell. That doesn't bother me, and I'm fine with moving at a pace he feels comfortable with. Outside of physical intimacy (which is too new for me to extend this statement to), he's been accommodating and concerned with meeting my needs. I am okay with the relationship and his behavior, and he's been worth the extra effort so far.

I also don't mind taking the lead. I know that I have quite a bit more experience with intimate relationships than he does, so that's not a problem for me. He's not lying there like a corpse, but he is...hesitant? Kind of methodical? Reserved? A bit of a cold fish? If he holds true to pattern, he'll loosen up as he gets more comfortable, but the silence has apparently always been a thing, so I don't think that will change with comfort. Maybe with encouragement, but it's possible it's here to stay, in which case I have to either adapt or move on. So, ways for me to adapt or encourage noise, talking or other physical signals and feedback would be most helpful.

Thanks for all the help so far. I'm definitely going to try out some of the suggestions from this thread at the earliest opportunity.
posted by taz at 6:17 AM on January 19, 2012


Is he sexually submissive? In the BDSM sense? ARE YOU SURE? This sure sounds like it, and you'd better find out ASAP if that's not something you're up for.
posted by desjardins at 9:58 AM on January 19, 2012


I think we all learn different/new ways of interacting with people, it's certainly possible and (better) for your partner to learn how to interact with you more. People train themselves into weird things sometimes, like the fairly obvious example of guys who train themselves to come very quickly after an early, solo, secret sex life - but anyone can "retrain" themselves (in your partner's case, to be more spontaneous, responsive, giving). I know it is sometimes tempting to feel a lot of sympathy for someone who is very reserved, but refusing to be open or responsive can be very selfish. Ideally, you'd want a partner to be generous and giving of their feelings, sexual and otherwise. Or what would the point be? There's plenty of inaccessible strangers, why bring that energy into your own bed?
posted by thylacinthine at 1:15 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


but it's possible it's here to stay, in which case I have to either adapt or move on. So, ways for me to adapt or encourage noise, talking or other physical signals and feedback would be most helpful.

I just want to point out that you said you'll "adapt or move on" and then immediately solicited ways to change his behavior.
posted by phearlez at 1:44 PM on January 19, 2012


From the OP:
For anyone following the situation, I've ended things and will be moving on. After some more development I've realized that no amount of advice is going to make this guy want to have sex with me, so worrying about decoding him is no longer a priority. Thanks for the help!
posted by taz at 5:33 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


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