Dating the super-busy
July 14, 2010 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Dating someone super-busy - I'm ok with the busy, but any advice on the early stages?

Recently, I met a guy who's pretty extraordinary, enough to make me realise how much talking-myself-into-it I've done about other crushes and flings in the past few years. He's smart, curious about the world, quick-witted and funny enough to make me cry laughing, totally attractive, kind, politically right-on, polite to waiters, a fellow smoker... Even the first time we had sex was pretty good, with all the qualities I like in a partner and lots of laughing and both of us getting off repeatedly.

The only thing is, he's insanely busy, work and then school and then other school and then some. I actually find this pretty attractive, as my usual routine is being The Busiest Person You Know (hence, single!), and I am a month off heading into my final year of architecture school, with other commitments on top of that - our busy periods will kind of take turns, all going as planned. My experience of relationships with less busy people has been a lot of conflict and hurt about time, and my ideal is someone who's in a similar situation to me and can work with being on both sides of the busy situation. I'm not looking for him to change.

We've had one date, but it was a day and a half long and ended in us borrowing stuff off each other, and in the week since we've been in daily contact by email. For context, we're both near thirty, I'm female, we met on a dating site (though it turns out we have a bunch of mutual friends/acquaintances), both of us stating 'busy' outright, both of us pursuing the date.

So, being the less busy person right now, I'm not used to this:
- It's way, way too early to do anything like asking for time commitments.
- At the same time, I have no idea when I'll see him next, and he's currently in flat-out work mode so the couple of invitations I've thrown at him in the past week were badly timed (gracious but panicked responses), though I'm not comfortable piling on more asking.
- I'm ok with having a conversation about time/availability when we're hanging out in person next, nothing too premature but just clarifying the above.
- I like him immensely, I'm reasonably sure he's very keen on me too, and I'm happy to patiently pursue this within the current reality.
- I find the early stages of dating really fraught, and am low-maintenance in the course of a relationship but an anxious wreck until it reaches the "we're going out and can talk about stuff" stage. Current an anxious wreck.

Any advice on strategies, or how you would like this to go if you are, or have been, insanely busy at the early stages of dating?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Whenever I socialize with people who are busier than I am, I let them be the ones to decide when to fit me into their schedules, since my schedule adjusts more easily than theirs. Being super-busy can give one a sense of accomplishment, but it also easily leads to emergencies when you need to do things but don't have time to do them. People can become very stressed by this, they may be suffering from sleep deprivation, and then they may become very angry when others make additional demands on their time. So my advice is to proceed with caution.
posted by grizzled at 9:05 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, as a perennially super busy person who frequently dates people with a lot more schedule slack than I have, it's kind of stressful to get multiple hang-out requests while I'm in flat out work mode, especially from someone new, because I feel I have to be "on," and can't just go have a quick chill outing. I'm trying to make a good impression and I don't want to seem distracted, not put-together, stressed.

Maybe amp up your own activities so you're super busy too and don't have time to freak out? I agree with leaving things in his court.
posted by *s at 9:11 AM on July 14, 2010

Yeah, you've made a couple of attempts already, so leave the next step to him. "Hey, I know you're super busy, but I'd love to see you again when time permits. Let me know when you'd like to hang out," or something along those lines. You can continue to chat by e-mail, but let him take the initiative when he's ready to get together again.

I dated an extremely busy guy once, and it wasn't his being busy that bothered me. It was the fact that he sort of just fit me in whenever it was convenient, and if it wasn't, I might not hear from him for weeks (not even a quick hello by e-mail). The message was, "You mean less to me than everything else in my life." I think it's perfectly possible to be busy and still maintain a caring relationship, but some busy people will always prioritize whatever is keeping them busy over the relationship. So I would beware of taking more initiative than he does just because you have less on your plate right now. Seeing how he naturally prioritizes work, school, dating, etc. will tell you a lot about him, and about whether your two busy personalities will complement each other or not.
posted by spinto at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2010 [12 favorites]

I met the woman I married while working full time and getting an MBA at night (4 classes the semester we met). My weekend days were in group project work. I have two overriding thoughts. One, if he wants to make time, he will. Not every night, but he can find time once a week for at least an hour of drinks or a casual meal. He has to eat anyway right? Also, with email, texting and other instant type communication (sort of like the phone when I was your age. That thing that is part of the sms device), there is no reason why he and you cannot be in touch daily or more or less depending on what you both think is reasonable.

Two, it will be very hard to develop a full emotional relationship. Good chance you end up being friends with benefits type relationship. Relationships develop with face to face communication and spending time together. There will be a lot of pressure when you do get together.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:30 AM on July 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Be careful with this "super busy" thing. I put up with it for a long time in one relationship, and right before I was about to say "I'm going to find someone less busy" he dumped ME and proceeded to dote on another woman and have time for her he never had for me.

I'm not saying your dude is that. But listen to your instincts if you think it is.
posted by micawber at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

Yep I've been the super busy guy in my younger days. Unless he is in a profession that requires him quite literally to be on-call then at some point he can make time for you. Don't let it progress very far without demanding at least that from him. Many people who are "Super busy" just don't know how to prioritize things. If you aren't a priority get the fuck out.
posted by JPD at 10:29 AM on July 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

As a lawyer, who married a litigator, who's related to other litigators, who work 80-hour weeks ... yes, busy people will make time for you if you matter to them. They may not be able to make as MUCH time as they'd like to, or as much as you'd like them to. Whether you can deal with that is up to you.

A really, really nice thing to do, when someone is working this hard, is to drop a nice brown-bag lunch by their office if you can. (And if this wouldn't be creepy or stalkery.) Or have something sent up for them on a night you know they're working late. Something that says, "I am thinking of you, I know you are working too hard, and I want to take care of you while you are working crazy hours in this little way that does not demand your time but in fact makes your life easier." It may be too early in the relationship for this sort of thing, but it's something to keep in mind.

When my husband litigates I try to relieve the pressure on him by doing little things that take small amounts of time but add up to stress for him if he has to do them, whether that's putting away his laundry, making him a lunch, picking up all his papers after he's gone to bed and restoring them to his briefcase before morning -- whatever. I also often make him a snack plate for right when he gets home and leave it on the counter so he can eat as soon as he comes in, because he's always forgetting to eat when he litigates and not eating makes him the crankiest person on the planet. The best things you can do for someone who is this busy and works this hard is to try to show them affection in ways that RELIEVE their stress and that don't demand time. At least with litigators, there are periods of insane business and periods of more normal hours, and I always know the normal hours we'll have more time together.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:30 AM on July 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

I have had a busy to insane schedule in the many years I've been with my husband -- but always found time to spend with him. I'd hang loose right now, as the ball is definitely in your romantic interest's court. But I have to say that really keen people find the opportunities to see and talk to the people they are keen on. That this isn't happening suggests your level of interest may be greater than his.

And by the way, apparently extraordinary people like this guy may be around because they make a practice of really never being truly available. Sometimes people stay away from making a commitment, because they prefer to be in control of the relationship, or because they like the flattery of being pursued and desired, or because they are not willing to trust someone else to accept their off stage persona. Not saying that is the case here, but reminding you that you don't know this guy very well, so stay alert.
posted by bearwife at 10:46 AM on July 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

That sounds actually kind of great - I'm happy for you! Two busy people can make a great long-term relationship, though the early dating stages may be kind of hell on skates.

For me, similar situations have resulted in getting extrmely casual around each other pretty quickly. I give the other person a run-down of my schedule (okay, I'd love to do coffee, I'm free Tuesday at 2, Wednesday after work till 7, and then not again till Sunday, when I know you've got to work, but if anything changes Sunday afternoon would be awesome, otherwise maybe Monday lunch, so long as I'm back in the office by 1:30?) and fully expect similar amount of detail in return, and by the third date, the place we meet up is the middle eastern place across the street from where I'm dropping off overdue library books, and he's buying extra hummus to take to a thing later that evening. The errands and the dates blur, and suddenly you're in each other's hip pockets and being super-practical, but having a great time. It's too much work to have a budding relationship, which fosters kind of an all or nothing approach.

For the short-term, your job is done - he knows you want to see him, and he's got some options of when that might be, so his next step is to send you a counter-proposal. If he doesn't do so right away, that may just be that the hypothetical counter-proposal would be for more than a week from now, and that feels ridiculous. Give him some time (after the weekend, if you know he's busy till then) then get him on the phone and ask him to give you some options to see what might fit with you.
posted by aimedwander at 11:03 AM on July 14, 2010

I can empathize with being busy, but I also know what it's like when someone uses busyness as a way of keeping me in a one-down position. When I'm extra-busy, I am more careful about being polite and keeping my word, not less.

So if he is at any point actively rude or inconsiderate - ignores an invitation, stands you up, cancels at short notice without an excellent excuse and without proffering a concrete plan to make it up to you - take it as a sign of how important you are to him. I.e. not very.

If he says "I'm super busy this week but can I call you on Sunday and see where I am," and then he does it - even if it's just to explain why he can't see you the following week - that's okay. If he doesn't call on Sunday, and then calls on Wednesday, that's bad, especially if he's only calling to tell you he'll call you sometime in the undetermined future. You have to regard waffling as a way of putting you in your place, even if he's totally innocent and that's the furthest thing from his mind, because unfortunately you will end up in a one-down position because of it. You will be sitting by the phone at 10pm having waited all day for a call that never comes. If he doesn't have time for this, why would he assume you did?

If you end up having to call him on Wednesday, that's the absolute worst. If you do that, it should only be to draw a line under the interaction, as in "sorry we won't be meeting," and hang up on him for what you assume is forever. If he wants to come back to you, he can do it on his own steam and with a concrete plan for actually seeing you. If he calls back, but with more cat-stringing, maybe he thinks he's going to see you again, but you know he really isn't.

Sorry if that sounds harsh, but that's basically the way it is. If they're busy, that's not a good reason for wasting your time and stringing you along. If they're really busy, they haven't got time to start new relationships.

If I'm huffy about this, it's because I speak from a lot of bad past experience. I'm sore because I've recently ejected a colleague and supposed friend, because he keeps ignoring and waffling on an invitation networking appointment that he asked me to make in the first place, claiming to be overwhelmed by stuff that he must have known he would be doing literally months in advance. This, combined with a large number of tweets that (regardless of what was really happening behind the scenes) were incongruent, sometimes pointedly so, with being so overwhelmingly busy that he had no choice but to ignore my invitation - has made me feel manipulated at best. Given our history, he could be trying to manipulate me into doing a number of things, but I have to assume that it's his passive-aggressive way of burning bridges because that's the only thing that wouldn't force me to throw away my respect for myself and him. He won't hear from me again, ever.
posted by tel3path at 11:34 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

So there was this one episode of How I Met Your Mother when Ted goes on a two-minute date with this girl because she's super busy. Why not see if he can spare fifteen minutes for you to go for a quick coffee nearby or something? If being together is going to have to be an all-evening affair every time, of course you won't see him very often. Just slipping in a quick visit to see eachother's faces every now and then keeps the connection going. Maybe save this for mentioning next time he fits you into his schedule.
posted by lizbunny at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

At this point, it seems too early to worry about being disrespected and deprioritized and it might just add to your anxiety. I mean, you went on one date and you've been in contact every day by e-mail in the ensuing week and he's responded to your suggestions. If he let you know that he's swamped at work this week, I don't really see this situation as a problem. You might not even have noticed or been anxious if you were in your normal mode instead of having all this free time with a month off.

While I agree with other folks that this is an issue if it becomes a pattern, I don't see anything amiss here at this point. There's always the possibility that the super busy is a front for letting you down easy, or that he always puts his work ahead of his relationships, but you're early in the game and I prefer to be an optimist.
posted by *s at 11:57 AM on July 14, 2010

Yeah. I speak from particularly nasty past experience, so I am oversensitive about this stuff. Your case doesn't sound ominous at all.

However, it's also true that I've never gone wrong by remembering that someone who wants to see me will hit the ball over from their court into mine soon enough. If I'm interpreting something something too pessimistically, my impression is always quickly corrected with no harm done, because I always make sure my outward behaviour assumes the best even if my pessimism is working overtime.
posted by tel3path at 12:28 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation with someone. She's a busy doctor who has just started her own practice, but I'm actually the busier one.

We both are very attracted to each other and it's in the early stages. We made it clear to each other straight away that we cannot let this go beyond casual for now. And we don't play games, like a previous poster is suggesting you do.

It's not about "levels of caring". It's all about taking everything day to day. Let it play out that way and you won't have a reason to suffer.
posted by L'OM at 12:34 PM on July 14, 2010

As someone who is actively trying to break the busy habit, I will say that being busy sucks and life is so much better when the expectations are more reasonable.

But putting myself in your shoes, what I'd do is to pick an arbitrary date, say, two weeks in the future, and pretend that I know I won't hear from him until then. I'd schedule up lots of fun with friends. Then, if I heard from him, great, bonus!
posted by salvia at 2:22 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

And by the way, apparently extraordinary people like this guy may be around because they make a practice of really never being truly available. Sometimes people stay away from making a commitment, because they prefer to be in control of the relationship, or because they like the flattery of being pursued and desired, or because they are not willing to trust someone else to accept their off stage persona.

Bears repeating.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:33 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

At the same time, I have no idea when I'll see him next, and he's currently in flat-out work mode so the couple of invitations I've thrown at him in the past week were badly timed (gracious but panicked responses), though I'm not comfortable piling on more asking.

It's obvious you'd like to see him again and he hasn't been able to find time. Why don't you just say something like, "Hey, I had a great time the other day/night, I know you're super busy, but when you're free we should try and get together again." If he's into you, he'll do his best to make time.
posted by cad at 6:36 PM on July 14, 2010

Sorry, but if he was really into you, he'd find time in his schedule, even if it meant blowing off other "really important" stuff. That's what men do when they feel like they've met "the one."

Maybe he'll become more into you later, but don't hold your breath and don't let yourself become the convenient, easy-to-date-when-he-feels-like-it girl who gets dumped once he meets someone he REALLY likes.

You've made a few suggestions to get together and now the ball is in his court. Wait for him to initiate the next contact / next date.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:01 AM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

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