You can't hurry love... right? How to go slow without sending the wrong signals?
September 15, 2008 8:21 AM   Subscribe

How can I pursue a friends-first relationship in a deliberate-dating scenario without being seen as a non-starting cold fish for not getting romantic/amorous sooner? More hyphenated descriptors inside.

I'm starting what may turn into a relationship, and I want to do it right. I want to go friends-first and let it develop naturally if it's going to develop, not just kick in with the intimacy on date 2 or 3. My best relationships have developed from friendships almost accidentally. But in the world of deliberate dating where you basically ask out a stranger, it seems like if you don't sort of engage within a reasonable amount of time, you risk being seen as a non-starter and then comes "the talk" and she moves on. I'd appreciate your help and advice and insight on how to do this right. Now for the details.

I asked out a woman that jumped out and caught my eye. She's smart, friendly, interesting, and a knockout. I didn't know her but had seen her and had learned a bit about her through the grapevine. She said yes and we went, after a bit of pre-date emailing in which we learned some basics about each other and had some cute fun. It was a great date, things look promising, and we're going to go out again. I like her and am attracted to her.

I have been out of the relationship scene for a long time and haven't been casual dating either. I'm so out of practice that I can't quite remember how to do this.

It seems to me that when you know someone casually, whether it's because you work with them, run in the same regular social circles, are in school with them (a good while ago in my case), etc., you get to know them in a non-amorous, casual, friendly, no-pressure environment in which you can really learn who they are and come to appreciate them. And upon that, affection can grow and at some point you can make your interests known and things can/may go magic from there. I think that's the healthiest way to go, to have a relationship that is built on a platform of friendship.

But when there is nobody like that in your work or social circles or extended friend-of-a-friend network, but you don't want to just stay single, you have to go out looking. You ask out a total or near-total stranger and then, the usual way it seems to go is that within a few dates you're kissing and the overall theme is a romantic one. And you've missed all of that initial casual, no-pressure, friendly getting to know you that you'd have gotten in the above scenario. I think such relationships are really missing something. There's something vaguely high-schoolish about being strangers one day and then the next you're a couple, smooching in the gym before class.

I want that initial get to know you part. Yet I'm starting to date someone that I can really only see on the weekends due to work hours and geography, so it's not like we can just hang out in casual situations. It's got to be a series of dates. And so it's going to take a while to really get to know her that way. Yet I read and hear accounts from the other side, including right here on AskMefi, of women saying, "Why hasn't he kissed me? What's going on here? Why isn't this moving forward?" And you see answers like, "He's just not that into you." or "He's got issues." or "He's in the closet." or things like that. And the women often complain that they feel they might be wasting their time, and they've got their eyes on building something serious and hoping to have a family and all (more so as they hit 30).

So it seems like the understanding these days is that things get moving relatively quickly, not necessarily to sex right away, but on that romantic path and theme. Wooing. That seems forced to me, because it seems like romance and physical intimacy (unless it's a hookup kind of situation) need to come after emotional intimacy which really needs time to develop. I feel like the odd man out on this issue.

I'd like to have this conversation with her and tell her what I'd like to do - we're both smart, realistic adults - but kind of don't want to start with the analysis and heavy thought so soon and pop the bubble of what ought to just be fun time. Yet I don't want it to be this issue that hangs in the air between us, with her wondering what's going on or if there's something wrong with me or her. So I'm asking you guys instead and may use that to prep for talking to her at some point if needed.

How can I get to know her casually but well in these brief visits over time without the pressure of feeling like if I don't move fast enough, I'll sink my own boat?

If your answer is "you're overthinking this" well yes, I'm sure. But that's just how I am and "don't overthink" isn't an answer I can do much with, even if it's the best one. These are the things I think about and that are important to me, which I need to address so I can be comfortable and in fact stop thinking about them. So if you can answer within the above context, I'd love to hear it.
posted by Barbecue to Human Relations (25 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The friendly and romantic aspects of your relationship can develop concurrently. I'd tell her that you haven't been in a romantic relationship for some time, and you'd like to take things slowly. If you already "asked her out" and went on a "date," it's a little bit late in the game to put that aspect of your relationship completely on hold while you become buddies. However, that doesn't mean that you have to leap into some sort of advanced coupledom. Just because you share a kiss doesn't mean that you're going to be automatically obligated to kiss at every greeting or departure.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:35 AM on September 15, 2008

It's true that some women wonder, "why doesn't he kiss me?" It's also true that other women wonder, "how do I know that he just doesn't want to get in my pants?" A lot of women will be thrilled that you're not just humoring them in hopes of going to bed. If she's screaming about her biological clock on the first date then that's her problem, not yours.
posted by Melismata at 8:40 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I actually would find it quite charming if after a couple dates, the person I was dating told me that "look, I really dig you, but I want to take the physical part slow because that's just how I roll. I am attracted to you, but I just don't like rushing into that too fast, is that okay?" And if this woman is worth your time, I'd hope she'd find it charming too. Or she'll have a different set of preferences for the physical side of things, and she'll tell you them -- and then you'll be in a discussion about what you each find important, and that's always a good thing, because stating what you like and dislike is important too.

But there's nothing wrong with keeping things at just the occasional smoochie for a while, I'd say, as long as you're upfront about why you're doing it. The worst case scenario is that she'll think it's weird, but -- would you want to be with someone who thought your emotional preferences were "weird"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on September 15, 2008 [9 favorites]

Also, just because your "best relationships have developed from friendships almost accidentally," don't assume that's the only way it can happen. Sometimes circumstances demand back-asswardness. There's also the real risk of "friends first" turning into "just friends." As you've noted, those friendships turn into relationships "almost accidentally." Don't expect to be able to engineer that. So it may seem a little weird, but the choice may be between a relationship moving at a pace you're not entirely comfortable with and no relationship at all. Love is always some kind of awkward at first, and this may not be the One that Lasts anyway. You have to ask yourself, is it worth the risk of putting myself out there? Only you know the answer.
posted by rikschell at 8:47 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yes, have that conversation with her, then drop it and get back to the fun, flirty, getting-to-know-you stuff you've already been doing. It'll put her mind at ease as to why you haven't made a move. (By the way, I totally agree with you about relationships that begin as dating-style relationships [i.e. the kind you get via online dating sites] versus those that start out as friendship but evolve into romantic ones. You're doing what I should have done!)
posted by chowflap at 8:48 AM on September 15, 2008

It seems to me that when you know someone get to know them in a non-amorous, casual, friendly, no-pressure environment in which you can really learn who they are and come to appreciate them. And upon that, affection can grow and at some point you can make your interests known and things can/may go magic from there. I think that's the healthiest way to go, to have a relationship that is built on a platform of friendship.

Then you probably shouldn't go on any more one-on-one dates with strangers, including this one. I think that's a bad idea, though, to let your rigid ideas on how relationships are supposed to develop cancel out something that looks promising. Like solipsophistocracy said, you can develop a friendship with someone you're in a romantic relationship with, people do it all the time. If you don't want to, then you shouldn't. But don't go out on a bunch of dates with a woman and THEN say, oh, by the way, I want to rewind and pretend that we're only friends so my script of how love should go will be fulfilled. You're going to need to spin it better than that, for sure. The conversation needs to be centered on her and your personal relationship with her- that you like HER so much, that you want to get to know HER better, and here's the best way you know how to do that (and that's not the vibe I'm getting from your question at all- your question seems completely entered around you, how you want to implement your ideal love match situation). I would also suggest listening to her and taking her opinion into account. It is highly possible that she will not agree with your idea about the "best" way to develop a love relationship, and that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with her or her feelings for you. I hope the two of you can work out a situation that will work well, good luck.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2008 [9 favorites]

You aren't "friends" now. So this relationship isn't going to develop as "friends first" because you started it by dating.

Which is not to say that there's anything wrong with your wish to take it slowly in terms of physical intimacy. There's not.

But "dating and taking it slowly" is not the same as "friends first."

And yes, you need to tell her that you want to take it slowly, because she will not assume that's what's going on if you don't talk about it. And you need to talk about it before the third date, because the third date is expected by many people to be the "sex date."

I would suggest you talk about this before your next date.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This are very helpful perspectives, everybody. I'll be considering all of them. Keep it coming.
posted by Barbecue at 9:07 AM on September 15, 2008

I want to go friends-first and let it develop naturally if it's going to develop

I think you need to focus on the "develop naturally," and ditch the rest. Not every relationship follows the same path. Or what TPS said.

(Data point: I'm way out of practice, and probably shallow, but I would be decidedly un-interested in having a conversation during a second date to set out the chronology of a possible future relationship. But others say it would be charming, so, shrug.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:08 AM on September 15, 2008

Here's the problem. Women usually measure their date's interest via gauging their level of agressiveness. That's not to say that they want a pawing jerk, but men are socially expected to have made up their minds right away. Keep this in mind.

I second ClaudiaCenter and say let it develop naturally.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:31 AM on September 15, 2008

I would be decidedly un-interested in having a conversation during a second date to set out the chronology of a possible future relationship.

There's ways and ways of doing this.

Saying, at the end of the evening, "I'd love to kiss you. But I really like you, and I'd like to take things slowly. What do you think?" is charming.

Saying "MY PRECIOUS BODILY FLUIDZ. YOU CAN NOT HAZ" as the waitress is setting down your plates at the restaurant is freaky.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:35 AM on September 15, 2008 [7 favorites]

"Dating" intrinsically brings with it a romantic context. Thus, if someone is asking me out on dates, I will assume they are romantically interested in me. There is a difference between dating, but not getting physical and taking things very slowly, and just being friends and letting romance develop organically (and often surprisingly or out of the blue). Unfortunately, you can't really map the latter scenario on to dating, because dating is a romantic context where the possibility of romance is assumed - if there's no romance, people usually stop dating.

It's great that you know what you want and you should definitely communicate this (not on the second date though, as I agree with ClaudiaCenter I would think that to be presumptuous and weird - she may not be into you in a romantic sense, so don't jump the gun), so that she doesn't think you're hung up on your ex / gay / baggage-laden. But don't be surprised if she decides that she doesn't want to wait around, and would rather date people who are on a more similar page. For better or for worse, dating carries with it certain expectations.

Perhaps, if this doesn't work out, next time you should concentrate on how to widen your social circle to include more mixed-gender gatherings where you don't already know everyone in the room, like clubs, professional organizations, classes, volunteering, and other activities where you can focus on the task at hand (basketweaving, building playgrounds, rock climbing, whatever) and get to know people on a schedule that feels more comfortable to you.
posted by alicetiara at 9:39 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a girl with a similar perspective, based on similar experience. The relationships I've really liked have been ones where friendships turned into something more, and the times I've tried to date total strangers have usually felt incredibly awkward by comparison.

That said, a guy needs to be careful to continue sending "yes, I am interested" signals even if he wants to take things slowly. Personally I'd favor telling her that you want to take things slowly, without getting into the details of friends-first, no kissing until date X, etc. Then make sure you call, invite her out, email to ask how her day was, etc. Even if she wonders why you haven't tried to make out with her yet, she will be able to say to herself "he said he wanted to take things slowly" instead of assuming that you're not interested. When your amorous intentions aren't obvious due to fooling around, you've got to make it clear through other means that you enjoy her company and want to see more of her.
posted by vytae at 9:47 AM on September 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

Second alicetiara: It may seem obvious, but one angle here might simply be to find more ways to spend time together when you aren't one-on-one. This probably involves having/making other friends or getting involved in some kind of more formal organization. Try a local amateur sports league (e.g. the kickball league on the Mall in DC), etc., something that gets you two involved in a broader social setting. Hang out with her/your family. Join a volunteer organization. If you're both religious, go to church together (though if only one of you is, that's bound to be a problem eventually). Hell, make yourselves regulars at a local watering hole. Anything that gives you a common social connection beyond just you and her.

Actually, this can be pretty useful regardless. Relationships are never just between two people, and trying to "go it alone" with just the two of you is bound to be unhealthy. Not only will take the pressure off of the two of you--even adding one more person means you only have to talk 1/3 of the time instead of 1/2--but it will let you see how she acts around other people. You can get other people's impressions of her and of you and her together. Also, unless you're both really in to exhibitionism, the pressure to move forward from chatting to making out goes way down if you're hanging out in a group. Keeps you honest.

This is something I'd recommend anyways. People who are well-connected in a social group tend overall to just do better. Being alone sucks.
posted by valkyryn at 10:05 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's something vaguely high-schoolish about being strangers one day and then the next you're a couple, smooching in the gym before class.

Well, yeah, but there's nothing that says you have to do this. One (or two or three) date does not a couple make. You can both date other people too, which takes the pressure off of both of you and makes you definitively not a couple. (If you just recoiled at that suggestion, then it's already way too late to be friendsfirst.)
posted by desjardins at 10:25 AM on September 15, 2008

Yeah, for me, if you want us to start hanging out and become friends, but not really "date" (but you might like to date me in the future once we're friends so you'd prefer if I not date other people) would be kind of weird.

I empathize with your desire to be friends first, and indeed several of my closest relationships have developed (after months, after years) from getting to know someone as a friend.

OTOH, if my partner (who I met from an online dating site) met me at the coffee shop where we were having our first get-together and informed me that he was on the site to make friends because he wanted to be friends before he dated people, I'd treat him like a friend who had UTTERLY NO INTEREST in me beyond that.

To me, that's the code for "you're sure an interesting person and I'd like it if there was some way for us to hang out without me needing to date you or anything". I've certainly given that (or varients) to guys I've met on dating sites- people I knew I didn't want to date, but I liked or was interested in. I never said "friends first" but I certainly said "I like this site because it allows me to meet new friends". FYI, for the majority of those guys - the ones I thought were cool, but didn't want to date - they took "could we be activity partners?" as the brush-off that it kind of was. Only one of them is still friends with me.

I think you've got a method that has worked for you in the past and you want to stick with it: meet girl, become friends, start dating.

But I don't think you should exclude the possibility that a highly rewarding relationship and friendship can begin as a dating relationship. My relationship with my partner which started as "dating" rather than "friends" is really amazing and I wouldn't trade it for the world. In fact, if I lost him I might be tempted to ONLY go out on dates with people I didn't know . . . because that's how I met him. But that wouldn't be the right thing to do.
posted by arnicae at 10:32 AM on September 15, 2008

I think that "dating" in the typical sense is not right for you. There is simply no way to begin your relationship with someone by having a date, and then keeping that aspect of the relationship in the background.

What you need is to find a way to interact with girls in a non-romantic, non-sexual context at the outset. Like meeting them in a class, or a club, or at a party, or on an outing with mutual friends.
posted by bingo at 11:53 AM on September 15, 2008

This is something I'd recommend anyways. People who are well-connected in a social group tend overall to just do better. Being alone sucks.

You'd be amazed at how difficult this is in this day and age, especially in a big city and when the people aren't in college anymore. I belong to three different groups, and we never, ever hang out together, because everyone is always rushing off to their families or next group. As much as we would all like to meet someone "casually" as OP suggests, the reality is we have to bite the bullet and do the evil forced dating thing.
posted by Melismata at 11:58 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I, too, think that there are women who feel like you do and would love it if you just articulated what you said to us. This woman in particular might feel differently and that's just how it goes, but if it doesn't work out don't be discouraged. In other words, I think what you want is possible, there's just no way of knowing if it's possible with any particular woman until you try.
posted by Nattie at 12:35 PM on September 15, 2008

I think there's something a little wonky with your premise. As several have already said, friendships and dating relationships can develop concurrently. While the best relationships are also friendships, there's no reason why relationships necessarily have to be friendships first. If you feel like you're getting along in all ways with this women--including hitting it off with her as one would with a new friend--it would be shorting yourself to hold off on physical contact just because the friendship didn't come first.

As for the practicalities of this situation, you've already asked her out on a date, which is part of the wooing process which you find so false. That's misleading. If you were interested in her as a friend, you'd likely be asking her out in group situations before you ever asked her to hang out one-on-one. Sure, tell her you want to take things slow. But if you're continuing to going on one-on-one dates, there's not much you can do to negate the romantic connotations of solitary situations.

There's something vaguely high-schoolish about being strangers one day and then the next you're a couple, smooching in the gym before class.

Well, um, literally that situation wouldn't exist outside of high school, so that's a pretty silly thing to say. But more broadly, I don't know any adult who would assume that "smooching"="coupledom." You can easily kiss someone--or be romantic with them!--without being a couple.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:08 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel like the odd man

there's something wrong with me

You've created a false construct of "relationship rules" that doesn't represent reality, and you want to impose those rules on your new relationship, and worse, you intend to burden the relevant female with your wack ideas too. Just stop.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:56 PM on September 15, 2008

Response by poster: @PhoBWan - a few clarifications. I don't find wooing false. I just want to woo after I've gotten to know someone instead of before.

Also, trust me to know why I'm asking her out - I'm not just looking for a friend, I'm looking for more and long term but hoped to find a way to start as friends as worked so well in the past.

Also trust that I'd have spent time with her in group situations first if I could have worked it out that way per the main theme of my whole question. Due to our particular situation, this was my only way to do it.

I'm pretty sure you can see that the gym comment was a figurative and exaggerated comparison not to be taken literally.

But I am convinced by your and others' comment that there doesn't appear to be a good way to backpedal to the friend zone and that them's just the breaks given how things had to get started. I'll go for the parallel paths and see what happens.

Thanks everybody.
posted by Barbecue at 2:05 PM on September 15, 2008

Talk to her. Without going into endless detail, just tell her what you said here, which is (distilled): You're really swell, and I don't want to rush, does that work for you?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:04 PM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I just want to woo after I've gotten to know someone instead of before.

This is all fine, and more power to you. But asking someone on a date is generally considered part of the wooing process.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:08 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I like it angelboy. "Slow" wouldn't seem to throw up flags like "friends" might.
posted by Barbecue at 3:09 PM on September 15, 2008

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