What we have here is a failure to communicate.
January 23, 2009 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I find myself longing to be blunt about how I'm feeling and what I want in relationships, but I worry that I'll shoot myself in the foot if I don't play the dating game. Should I stop trafficking in ambiguity and try some plain dealing for a change?

I am an honest, straight-forward person who believes that life is a whole lot easier if you just say what you want/think and hope that the people you're talking to will respond in kind. I've managed to stay pretty close to this ideal in my friendships - however, when it comes to relationships, sometimes I worry that my style of communicating comes off as too pushy, clingy, unromantic, etc. I guess I've kind of internalized the negative stereotype of the nagging girlfriend who wants to talk about the relationship all the time. But does that stereotype exist for a reason?

To be clear: I realize that for a long-term relationship to be healthy, people's communication styles have to be compatible. But I'm wondering what the norm is. I don't want to weird anybody out! I'm particularly interested in that early, ambiguous time at the beginning of relationships.

Some examples:

A few months ago, a friend of mine who I'd had a crush on for a while dumped his long term girlfriend. Said friend and I went on a couple of ambiguous outings before I finally decided to just tell him I liked him. He said he wasn't ready to date again, but we did enjoy a month long period of flirting and sexual tension. When he decided to get back with the ex, he stopped messaging me, texting me, and inviting me places. This was for the best, as I needed a little while to get over him, but now I want to be friends with him again, and he's still keeping his distance. My impulse is to just ask, "Is there something up? Because I get the feeling you're uncomfortable about something and I want to let you know that I'm totally fine with being just friends with you." Is that out of line?

Another example:

There is a new guy I like and who seems to like me. We went out on a date (or rather, we had dinner - who knows if it was a date) last week and I thought it went well, but my guy is the socially awkward type who I don't think would ever make the first move. Is saying "I like you. Do you like me?" unromantic? Pushy?

I feel like I frequently keep myself quiet about how I feel and what I want to say/do/know, and I wonder if that's actually for my own good. Maybe my straight-forwardness is an attractive quality to most people? (I know I love a guy who will just tell me straight-up what he's thinking.)

Or is the fact that this is even an issue a sign that I'm chasing after the wrong guys - that if we really clicked, chemistry and instinctive body language would do all the talking for us?

What do you think, HiveMind?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Just kiss new guy.

Or is the fact that this is even an issue a sign that I'm chasing after the wrong guys - that if we really clicked, chemistry and instinctive body language would do all the talking for us?

Not at all. That's often a prescription for ending up in a situation where a guy who doesn't give a hoot about you but is very aggressive winning your heart.

I've never understood why the gender who is generally considered to be the most tuned into social cues and body language is the gender who is expected to wait for the first move. Don't.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:55 AM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Be who you are. That's the only way to find compatible friends and lovers. It doesn't mean everyone will like you or appreciate you, but it does means you will ultimately end up happy and isn't that what's most important?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2009

Go for the honest, unambiguous approach, but know it will come with a lot of guys who get freaked out by it. The good news is that once you find someone who is not freaked out by it, you don't have to play mind games and the whole experience is a hell of a lot more enjoyable.
posted by piratebowling at 9:11 AM on January 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

In the first situation, your impulse is definitely not out of line. Remember, though, that you can't control how the other person will react to it, and he might perceive it as pushy even though a bunch of strangers on the internet tell you it's no big deal.

In the second situation, how did you two end up having dinner? I mean, I assume one of you asked the other. So that seems like a date to me. Try asking him on an official date and see how that works. There's no shame in making the first move, especially if you like someone.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:15 AM on January 23, 2009

Is saying "I like you. Do you like me?" unromantic? Pushy?

If he doesn't like you, it would be an unromantic but welcome move beyond the ambiguity. If he likes you, it would be a romantic and welcome move beyond the ambiguity.
posted by newmoistness at 9:16 AM on January 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Example 1 - just say it
Example 2 - he may have no idea if he likes you or "likes you in that way" Don't force him to figure it out - just ask him out an a date (and call it a date). That will make a clear what direction you are interested in going and he can say yes to date without labelling the relationship.

On the balance saying what you are thinking is good but try to keep mostly to specifics. (I like Chinese but I would like to try something else tonight) and be sparing with relationship conversations - not saying don't have them, just have them when needed until you get the measure of the man and his ability to articulate his side.
posted by metahawk at 9:21 AM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was surprised to read that someone as straightforward as you would go on ambiguous date-like outings with people you are interested in. Why not be straightforward from the start and make sure you're both on the same page as to whether it's a date or not before the date/non-date/whatever? I think sometimes some women get into trouble with the nagging girlfriend stereotype when they go along with ambiguity at the beginning, and then once they realize they've paired off with a guy who won't man up and be clear about his feelings or motives, they start to want to have "state of the relationship" talks all the time because they're over-functioning for the guy when it should be a two-way line of communication.

On the face of it, that might sound a little old-fashioned and un-feminist, but that's not how I mean it at all -- my point isn't "Follow The Rules and your relationship problems will end." Rather, my point is, if you want clarity upfront, and you want to talk openly about what's going on and where your relationship is heading, you might do well to seek out a man who is willing to ask you out on a proper date OR ask a man out on a proper date yourself. I really think that how you start a relationship can have a big impact on how communication progresses within the relationship.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:27 AM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm with piratebowling. I used to be in a lot of relationships where I had to guess what was going on and wonder and create artificial drama in my head. When I decided that I was done with playing games and hiding who I was in relationships my life got a whole lot easier.

Sure, you may scare off some guys who don't know how to operate outside of game playing or direct communication, but the ones that are worth it will either catch up or start out that way to begin with. When I met my husband we had an acclimation period where I had to be very direct with him and confronted him when he was trying to dance around an issue, but now our relationship is based on honesty and mutual understanding for the most part. It's a wonderful thing.

You deserve to have a relationship that you're comfortable in that is compatible with how you communicate. Settle for nothing less.
posted by Kimberly at 9:27 AM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't be so anxious to define your relationships in words. Just make plans and make moves as you see fit. It doesn't have to be expressed in language though, you seem pretty smart, you can figure it out based on their responses.

But yeah, it sounds like you should go for more expressive guys. There is someone out there with all the qualities of your crush, with the added benefit of communicating the way you like. Go find him. Kiss some frogs.
posted by rhizome at 9:28 AM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Absolutely communicate with the first guy. You've got nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

It's harder to make a call on the second situation. There's a lot to be said for just being yourself and weeding out potential partners that way but sometimes you just want what you want when you want it and therefore playing the game a bit is a good idea.

Although I'm really direct and very independent, I generally always wait for the guy to make the first move. It's just easier all the way around.
posted by smallstatic at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2009

I agree with Meg Murray (with an exception that I'll explain below). You shouldn't be in a position in the first place in which you're wondering what's going on, is this a date, how does he feel. You are right that you're involving yourself with the wrong guys; you need guys who will be absolutely clear when they are interested in you, and then you won't have to constantly be asking "do you like me?" because you'll know....

Which brings me to The Rules. The Rules are not supposed to end all of your relationship problems; they are supposed to end all of your problem relationships. I know that they aren't for everybody, but I just want to clarify that what they are really advocating, if you get past the superficial-seeming rules, is that you should not permit yourself to wind up in these ambiguous situations. You take control of your relationships by rejecting guys who are ambiguous/dishonest/cowardly. Even the shyest guys can make their feelings understood if they want to. In other words, you cannot overcome their lack of straightforwardness with your own.

As for the two specific examples you listed, in the first I'd say that, unfortunately, even though you may not feel uncomfortable, he obviously does or he wouldn't be avoiding you. You might tell him that you are fine and ready to be friends if/when he is, in a text or e-mail or some other form of communication that doesn't put him on the spot (eg, face-to-face or on the telephone, in which he'll feel "confronted"). In the second, as mentioned above, I don't know enough about the context of your situation (ie, why do you not know whether it was a date).

But, to put another spin on this, would you feel as strongly about being "blunt" and "totally honest" at a job interview? Would you tell them you're desperate for this job and would work for nothing if they let you? Or that you lost your last job because you couldn't get along with your employer? Just because it's "easier" for you to let all your feelings out, other people might not be comfortable with this. Emotions constitute a boundary for many, and if you don't know someone well, as in the case with your ambiguous dater, this could, reasonably in my opinion, make him feel really uncomfortable. Obviously you shouldn't censor yourself or sacrifice your happiness to the comfort of others, but make sure you are reasonably taking into account the other persons feelings before you confront them with your own.
posted by thebazilist at 9:48 AM on January 23, 2009 [8 favorites]

Just reiterating that you should kiss guys you are interested in, not tell them you like them. I'm not sure why this is hard for women--I'd probably kiss Madeline Albright if she went for me. ("probably?" who am I kidding. I need you Maddy!)

In addition, sometimes being blunt and refusing to "play games" is a way for scared people to self-sabotage relationships when they're still in the butterflies and shy glances stage. Make sure when you just come out and say what you're thinking that you're relaxed and doing it to get what you want, not to simply end the tension by killing any kind of romantic mood.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I agree with Ironmouth. Just kiss him.
posted by callmejay at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2009

Maybe this is one person's projection, but feels like dating in its early stages can feel too much like high school... when high school was decades ago. Playing hard to get approach taken a long way, the thought of piquing interest via coming across on the disinterested side. To be sure, shades of gray, but the above can seem so common that being relatively straightforward, the "I like you, do you..."--not getting scary enthused, "My mom's gonna luv yew" after a real short time or going for sex after a real short time--leaves people discomforted.

Too the newer it is, the less clear things are and hard to say what's going on in the person's head/life. There's an old line that some people think the only thing worse than a first date not liking them is a first date liking them.
posted by ambient2 at 10:27 AM on January 23, 2009

"Playing the dating game" doesn't, at least in my book, mean being ambiguous and vague and kind of looking at the other person like maybe hey are you interested? If you want to make a move, make a move and kiss him and find out if he's interested that way. Guys - at least, I like to think, the better sort - appreciate clear communication over mind-reading games.

Potomac avenue's got a good point about avoiding it as a mood-killer, but if you've just had a great time with the guy and you're both laughing and happy, just kiss him, because either he'll react poorly in which case you can fee like an idiot for about 48 hours and then be fine with it, or he'll react well, in which case hey let's all throw a party. Either way you're better off.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2009

You don't sound pushy or unromantic to me in either scenario. But then I've been accused of being too blunt, so who knows.
posted by agentwills at 11:06 AM on January 23, 2009

I am an honest, straight-forward person who believes that life is a whole lot easier if you just say what you want/think and hope that the people you're talking to will respond in kind.

This is a great strategy for your first scenario, because you've gotten past dating and you're moving on to defining the friendship.

But I guess I'm in the minority about the second scenario by think you'd sound pushy and unintentionally manipulative. That lay-it-on-the-table MO sounds So Good in theory. "Yeah, just be honest! Tell him on the third date exactly what you want, don't stand for that messy ambiguous morass!" Seriously, I get where you're coming from, but take into consideration that lots of people don't know what they want right now, and feel incredibly confused and unsure when someone is all, "yeah, I want a long, healthy, durable relationship and if you can't commit to that goal then we should quit seeing each other."

Most people would clamor for an immunization against crappy, insignificant flings that fizzle out quickly, but none of us can see into the future. Lots of people just want to keep things relaxed in the beginning of a relationship--not because they're jerking you around, but because they're still getting the feel of things. You might scare off some really promising contenders with a speech about you're sick of "dating games" when really you're sick of disappointing flings that don't go anywhere. It's a fairly common sentiment, and that's why lots of guys will feel a little wary of deciding whether or not something has long-term potential on the third date.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:37 AM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

See also this very recent thread where some strikingly similar issues are raised.

It just depends on where you want to strike the balance between a) being open to all sorts of people and b) imposing a filter so that you don't waste your time with people who are incompatible with you.

Me personally, I'm left cold by the implication in both these threads that an ability to revel in the fundamental delightful ambiguity of human relationships is the refuge of those who "don't know how to operate outside of game-playing", whereas giving in to a compulsive need for "clarity" and an incapability to be comfortable with uncertainty is somehow admirable and healthy. But if you don't want a relationship with someone like me, why should you care what I think?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:25 PM on January 23, 2009

My communication style is very much like yours. I get accused of being intimidating often, but if someone sticks around, I know they're for real.
posted by streetdreams at 2:25 PM on January 23, 2009

You might scare off some really promising contenders with a speech about you're sick of "dating games" when really you're sick of disappointing flings that don't go anywhere. It's a fairly common sentiment, and that's why lots of guys will feel a little wary of deciding whether or not something has long-term potential on the third date.

Ding ding ding, zoomorphic hits it on the nose. I think the important thing to do is focus being honest with how you feel, and then leave the part where you expect them to respond any certain way behind. I believe in old times they called it "wooing". You even see it in the movies- some bland guy follows some woman around, telling her nice things and giving her presents, and she's all, no, go away, I have a boyfriend who is mean and expects me to do a lot of things for him, go away, oh wait, I like you because you like me and don't expect me to be what you want me to be, come back, let's be in love. I know, real life is not the movies, but it's not totally foreign. Letting someone know, "I like you" = good; Expecting someone to be able to anwer "Do you like me?" in a romantic context on the spot = maybe not so good.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:09 PM on January 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

« Older Lock in low toner prices! And I did! And I was...   |   Turn out the lights Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.