Bridging the experience gap
November 15, 2008 10:17 AM   Subscribe

How to best handle dating an inexperienced woman?

So I just came home from my first date with a woman I've known for about two months now. We get along great, and we've been on the phone with each other for quite a while every other night for the past week, so that's not the problem.

When we met up tonight, we both immediately admitted to being nervous, but still had a good time over dinner, even if the conversation was slightly more stilted and forced that as is usually the case between us. Towards the end of dinner, she admitted that the reason she was so nervous was that she could count the dates she'd been on in her life on one hand.

Now, mind, you, this is a beautiful, absolutely brilliant, warm and funny girl with no glaring flaws, as far as I can tell. It just seems that she's suffered under sort of a "Diane Court" syndrome, where no one has really been willing to ask her out for most of her life (she's in her mid twenties, a few years younger than me.) We kissed after dinner on the way to the show we were going to, and maintained PG-rated personal contact throughout that, so again, no worries there.

The only issue is that, well, this date carried a huge start-of-something-important vibe, and I don't want to mess that up. I'm not a lothario by any means, but I've been around the block far more than she has. I of course didn't ask her about her sexual history, but I assume it's limited-to-nonexistent. I'm not in any rush to sleep with her, but we want to keep seeing each other, so it's likely to come up sooner or later.

So, beyond Dan Savage's invaluable "campsite rule" (i.e., leave them better than you found them) I'd appreciate any tips on how to best date someone drastically less experienced than yourself. I want to assure her that I'm not expecting anything more than she's ready for, make sure that I'm not inadvertently pressuring her in that direction, etc. All while not coming off as creepy as any discussion of this sort of thing is bound to.

Thank you all. I like this woman a lot, but I'm worried about this becoming an issue, and want to keep that from happening.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I don't get why you assume that someone who hasn't been on many dates is sexually inexperienced. It's possible that she was nervous due to not being comfortable in the high pressure context of an 'official' date. I've been on first dates that made me nervous/were a bit awkward after having had sex a few times with the person in question.

So, you might not need to worry about lack of experience at all, and might just be better off skipping the whole old-fashioned 'dinner and a movie' style date thing in favour of something much more informal. (Admittedly, I'm not sure how you'd find out if this was a better approach without having a potentially awkward conversation, and if you're right, suggesting she comes over to your place to hang out and have a few drinks one night could well put her off completely...)
posted by jack_mo at 10:43 AM on November 15, 2008

It's simple, be Lloyd Dobler, a nice guy.
posted by lee at 10:54 AM on November 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

It's only an issue if you get wrapped up in it and over think it. My wife and I were in essentially the same situation when we start dating, and it's not really a big deal, and really in our experience it was OK to talk about it as much as you're both comfortable with the discussion.

In the end it will be as big a deal as you let it become, confidence and being comfortable with your partner was the key for us. In my wife's (and i have no idea how this woman wasn't snapped up years before I met her) case she was nervous about "screwing something up", and well...that's just how relationships go.

Best of luck to you.
posted by iamabot at 10:58 AM on November 15, 2008

I've had a few pretty girls give me that line about how no one has had the nerve to ask them out and I think you should take it with a grain of salt. She still might have had lots of wild nights out. I'm not saying that's at all a bad thing, just that she isn't necessarily "drastically less experienced" and I think it would serve you to be a bit more humble in this area.

If you go on a date where you can both be awed by the grandeur of nature, just two tiny insignificant humans, then it might level the playing field in a nice way.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:09 AM on November 15, 2008

Don't go too far the other direction, where you bend so far over backwards to be Mr NiceGuy that you end up putting her on a pedestal and don't actually treat her like a (real, sexual, complex) person.
posted by Forktine at 11:19 AM on November 15, 2008

I want to assure her that I'm not expecting anything more than she's ready for, make sure that I'm not inadvertently pressuring her in that direction, etc. All while not coming off as creepy as any discussion of this sort of thing is bound to.

Treat her like an adult, instead of worrying whether you're pressuring her. It's nice that you're not in rush to sleep with her, very sweet, but since you really haven't talked to her, you don't know how she feels or what she's thinking. She might be sizing you up for a collar and buttplug at the moment and thinking "He ain't never met a bitch like me, I'm so going to own him in one week, 2 days and 3 hours. Shit, do I need a new battery for camera? I'd hate to have it run out so I can laugh at this naive ass later."

Get off the internet and stop thinking of her as a precious flower you must carefully water and nurture and do something radical, like talk to her.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:28 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do you have a dark kinky secret about you that your ultimate partner has to fulfill? One of those deal breakers that you need in your sex life but that not every partner might be a good match for? If so, introduce it piece by piece. Build up to the really dirty stuff slowly. If you need a bad girl, most girls have the capacity in them to be bad if they feel comfortable with their partner. If it's kinky your looking for don't be discouraged if she's currently a blank canvas.
posted by vito90 at 11:32 AM on November 15, 2008

I think it's important to evaluate you assumptions. Proper dating is not really done in many people's high school and college social circles. Quite often you hang out together in a group, hook up, and keep doing it until your friends announce you're a couple. At which point you go out to dinner alone for the first time ever but it totally isn't that nerve-wracking "dating" thing because you're already a couple.

In other words, it is entirely possible to be very experienced with both sex and relationships and have little experience with grown-up dating. I was over 30 before I ever went out on a "date" with someone I didn't know well at all, and I'd had three long term relationships and plenty of sex by then.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:43 AM on November 15, 2008 [7 favorites]

Every relationship is a whole new ballgame, with its own dynamic. I've actually found lots of experience in dating can be a liability. There's such a thing as being too jaded or too guarded to be open to the new experience and to seeing a new person the way he or she is. Just proceed as you would with any other relationship, carefully and thoughtfully and with an open mind.
posted by orange swan at 11:53 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't even know what the question is. I agree with DarlingBri that it's entirely possible to have had plenty of sex and even relationships without having had dated. Even if that's not true, I'd still be very offended at being treated like "a precious flower," as BrandonBlatcher states. If people have been handling her with kid gloves all her life because of her beauty and brilliance, maybe you can do her the favor of treating her like a real person.
posted by desjardins at 12:13 PM on November 15, 2008

I'm joining in with the assertion that being inexperienced with dating and relationships is not analogous with being sexually inexperienced.

All you have to do is let her lead in the sex department, be receptive and open to whatever she offers and you'll be just fine. You don't even need to bring it up.
posted by meerkatty at 12:35 PM on November 15, 2008

Be a nice guy, and do stuff that you both agree is fun. No need to manipulate anything. And as for conversation, "Say Anything." And I mean it. When I was dating I followed that principle and it worked; if you're "saying anything," it means and shows you're comfortable and makes her comfortable.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:47 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you are asking the wrong question. If you focus more on learning more about who she is - her emotions, her desires, her goals in life, and not at all about her "experience" or what she has done, you will have a much better time, in my opinion. Her experience doesn't matter, but she does...just enjoy yourself and treat her no differently if an "experience" difference really does exist.
posted by Nixie Pixel at 1:19 PM on November 15, 2008

I had my first "real date"--the kind where someone I had met asked me to dinner and then took me to dinner and paid for it--this year. I am 27, have had three serious relationships and some less serious ones and even been engaged once.

Nthing that being able to count dates on one hand does not equal being inexperienced in relationships. Talk to her.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:46 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think a discussion about it is necessarily going to come off as creepy. Since I'm not very good with nonverbal and subtle cues I talked about these things with my girlfriend a lot. You might be able to tell just from her reactions, though.
posted by losvedir at 4:16 PM on November 15, 2008

I have two very good friends who have been together for awhile now and they sound very similar to you two. She had never really dated anyone before, very inexperienced, while he'd been in couple serious relationships and had dated plenty of girls. I think the no pressure approach is definitely a good one. I also agree with your assessment of the situation. While the mere fact someone hasn't been on a lot of formal dates doesn't necessarily mean this, dropping it into conversation like she did is I believe her way of letting you know that she is inexperienced. Also given that you've known her for 2 months, I'm guessing you've picked up on other things that would lead you to this conclusion. I also don't understand why so many people think it's that unlikely that this girl is inexperienced, she's in her mid 20's they really aren't that rare. Not in the majority sure, but I have several friends that had no experience with men (or nothing more than making out maybe) until that age.

I don't really know what it means to treat someone as a precious little flower, but I don't think it's a bad thing to try and anticipate someone's needs and not push them into something they aren't ready for.
posted by whoaali at 5:22 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

"creepy" in my book means making unwarranted asssumptions like you are doing here. the only way not to be creepy is to talk to her. that would be true if she had three ex husbands, and it would also be true if she just got out of a convent.
posted by footnote at 5:47 PM on November 15, 2008

Agreeing that it would be annoying to have someone making assumptions about my experience level and further assuming that that means you have to have a big old discussion about it or otherwise treat me like the 40-year-old virgin. Even if you're right about her experience, that may not mean she wants to take things super slowly. It is possible that she moves at the same pace you do, just only for special people, of which you may be one. Get to know her further, let things take their course. If she likes how things are proceeding, she'll likely let you know, or you can ask -- is this good? Is this okay? How is that? (Maybe she's just nervous being on a formal date with someone she likes?)
posted by *s at 7:10 PM on November 15, 2008

I think you also shouldn't just buy into the idea the above posters are suggesting, that she might have had pretty wild times. It's more likely that she said that to you to give you a sense of how inexperienced she is. And I don't think it's offensive that you want to treat her kindly and not be the guy who ruins the idea of dating/sex for her. Be honest and kind and good to her.

But also be honest and kind and good to anyone you date, regardless of their experience level.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:33 PM on November 15, 2008

I've had a few girlfriends to whom I've been the first boyfriend (maybe that says something about me).

In my experience, some women are slow at the relationship learning curve, and some move into a relationship with facility.

My advice: keep in mind a few things:

1. If you two get to the point where she goes on the Pill, both of you should keep an eye on how her behavior might change. My current girlfriend decided to stay off it because it caused she got anxiety attacks sometimes when her period came around.

2. She might be nervous about some things that you got over long ago. For example, my girlfriend was way nervous to meet my parents for the first time; on the contrary, I've been through that shit often enough where it doesn't bother me any more.

3. Also, in my case, I'm so cynical about relationships that I stop caring about some things that might sound romantic to her, like doing other stuff the first time with you--going to movies; going a certain place where she used to go when she grew up; staying overnight with you.

I'm getting depressed. Laughing to myself. Okay, a couple more things:

4. When I had my first "the relationship's first fight," I overreacted--crying, thinking the world was over, rather be dead, etc. etc. So when this point comes for you two, think about how you can comfort her and remind her that relationships are often about getting through conflicts of all sizes.

5. Here I am trying really hard to not sound cynical. Try to think of how you fucked up in your last relationship ;) and fix it this time around. For me, this iteration I made it clear that I don't like to have to talk every night on the phone, I don't like it when we feel too dependent on each other that we have to check in all the time.

There are probably other things but I need to think about something else. Good luck. I wonder how it'll turn out.
posted by hpliferaft at 7:59 PM on November 15, 2008

I had only been on two real dates when I started dating my current boyfriend. I had 'hung out' and 'hooked up' with a couple more, but I was still very inexperienced and described myself that way. If I had been involved with a lot of guys, I wouldn't have considered myself 'inexperienced'. I doubt she would have put it the way she did if she had been seriously romantically involved before. Actually, the fact that she measured her experience in terms of dates would tend to suggest that she hasn't.

In my case, with my boyfriend? It didn't matter much that I was inexperienced. I was itching to meet someone and so was my boyfriend, so we started dating very quickly. After a few months he began to worry that it had happened too fast, especially given my lack of experience and the fact that he was rebounding, and we 'broke up', but after a little while we realized that we were still together all the time and got back together. It's been almost two years since we started dating, and I couldn't be happier.

I will say that, since every part of a relationship was new to me- first date, loss of virginity, meeting family, anniversaries, birthdays, fights, all that- I never knew what to expect, and I was very nervous about 'doing it wrong'. So, during our first year together, I would often hesitate, ask questions that came across as weird, or just behave slightly strangely in unfamiliar relationship-type situations. That will happen, so just anticipate it and roll with it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:12 PM on November 15, 2008

I like all of the advice here - the only think I would add is not start falling into the trap of treating everything like a 'lesson'. I had a guy do that to me once, who decided that 'inexperienced' meant 'zero knowledge in every area'. I remember getting annoyed once as he said something along the lines of 'condoms often come in packages of three' - in a voice reserved for 5 year olds. In my minds' eye, I think he spoke louder and enunciated, as if I was 'slow'.

He had to go.
posted by anitanita at 8:32 PM on November 15, 2008

I had my first "real date"--the kind where someone I had met asked me to dinner and then took me to dinner and paid for it--this year. I am 27, have had three serious relationships and some less serious ones and even been engaged once.

She may have this kind of silly, restrictive definition of what a date means (why do people think this way?!?!) and have more experience than you've assumed.
posted by orange swan at 5:59 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing what everyone else has said. Don't assume she has no experience. I have only ever been out on a 'real date' twice. Everyone I've ever dated or slept with has begun less formally than that (friends, friends of friends, drunk, etc). So yeah. Don't over-think it. Just get to know her.
posted by greta simone at 9:26 AM on November 16, 2008

I think a lot of you guys are seriously projecting here. If a girl is on a date, and says, "I'm nervous, I've only been on a few dates before!", I see no reason to assume an unspoken "...but I've been in several serious relationships" tacked on at the end. I know many relationships don't start with dates anymore, but come on. That is NOT what's going on here.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:09 AM on November 16, 2008

You didn't leave an e-mail for us to contact you at.
posted by mittenedsex at 10:54 AM on November 16, 2008

I was this girl with my current boyfriend (now fiance). I WAS really nervous. But he followed a lot of the advice people have given you above--just treated me like an interesting, normal human being he wanted to get to know, and kept the lines of honest communication open--and it was fine and great. I was pretty hung up about sex in particular--I felt overwhelmed, assuming he'd been with girls a lot more skilled than me--but he reassured me, loved me, made me feel good emotionally and physically, and it was the best gift he could've given me. Just be yourself and be sensitive. Listen to her each step of the way. And don't act too serious, don't load the "experience" conversations with a big sense of gravity. As BB and others have said, she is not a fragile flower...but she is a person, with confusion and emotions and all that. Just reassure her and be genuine.
posted by ifjuly at 1:35 PM on November 16, 2008

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