In relationships, can a slow start ever really pick up speed?
December 5, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

To those of you in love: can it ever grow from hesitancy into the real deal? Or does it need to be BAM: we're mad about each other?

I have been seeing a fellow for the last 3 and a half months - we met through mutual friends, were instantly attracted to one another, turned out to have a lot of things in common, and have been seeing one another since. But after the initial period of excitement when he was chasing after me, it hasn't really gone anywhere. We meet up a couple times a week, have a lot of laughs, enjoy ourselves, have off-the-charts chemistry in the bedroom. We'll sometimes spend long aimless weekend days together, enjoying each other's company. But he never expresses the slightest hint of how he feels - no expressions of affection, of closeness, no off-hand sweet comments. If you read the transcript of our conversations, you'd assume we were just buddies. When I try to say sweet things to him, he'll sort of deflect them away, so I've stopped. He's not a big relationship talker, but he has told me that he loves spending time with me, and is really attracted to me, but doesn't want to move too quickly into something serious. We don't hold hands in public, and he only recently has started showing affection when we're out in public. I thoroughly enjoy my time with him and I value his company. I spend much more time thinking about him than I should. I've been through a very momentous breakup earlier this year and being with him has helped me regain perspective and set me right. I tell myself to just enjoy the time I have with this person and not worry about What It All Means. But there's the pride and self esteem issue. I'm pretty nuts about him, and I can't help but worry that I'm just passing the time for him, and he's essentially reluctant to start a real relationship with me. I'm not usually on this side of the coin - I don't know how to react to a guy that's not enthusiastically pursuing me. I also haven't done a lot of dating (been in long-term relationships w/o much dating in between) whereas he has done a lot of dating and hasn't had a long-term girlfriend in many years.

I felt that we have been slowly growing closer together, and that maybe this process of really becoming friends was a good foundation for the possibility of real devotion to form. But then a friend was telling me about her reconnection with an old flame, and how at the end of their first weekend together, and all-night sessions talking adoringly, they were professing this incredible draw to one another. It made me feel a bit depressed, and I thought: "That's what I need to have. I want us to be jumping out of our skins for one another. I'm ready to jump out of my skin for him, but he's obviously not with me."

So my question is: have any of you had a great relationship that came from a somewhat slow and plodding (and potentially reluctant) start? Or am I more likely than not just fooling myself that this can go anywhere? I don't think I need to be in a serious relationship right now, but I guess I want to know if there's any potential or if I'm just a good time gal (ouch).
posted by oneaday to Human Relations (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
So my question is: have any of you had a great relationship that came from a somewhat slow and plodding (and potentially reluctant) start?

It's unfortunate that you've framed your question as if the point were to take a survey of people who happen to have Metafilter accounts about how their relationships progressed.

The real issue is:

But he never expresses the slightest hint of how he feels - no expressions of affection, of closeness, no off-hand sweet comments.

Have you talked with him about this?
posted by John Cohen at 12:14 PM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: But he never expresses the slightest hint of how he feels ... but he has told me that he loves spending time with me, and is really attracted to me, but doesn't want to move too quickly into something serious.

See, he *has* told you how he feels. He in fact seems quite willing and able to tell you how he feels. The fact that he's not expressing affection or closeness is not him not expressing how he feels, it's him not doing things he doesn't want to do.

To answer your direct question, I have never once in my life experienced a relationship developing into committed love after initial disinterest by either myself or the guy. I've never observed it happen with any of my friends. I *have* observed a lot of heartbreak as the one in love tries to stick it out.

I don't think I need to be in a serious relationship right now, but I guess I want to know if there's any potential

In my humble opinion, the number one way to waste your own time and be unhappy for years is to stay in a relationship for its potential (or maybe more accurately, its potential in your own mind) rather than its reality.

have any of you had a great relationship that came from a somewhat slow and plodding (and potentially reluctant) start?

I think this would be a good question to ask *him.* Given his history of pretty much just dating around and never getting into anything serious, I'm betting his answer will probably be no.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:25 PM on December 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

P.S. Why do you say you don't need to be in a serious relationship right now? It sounds like you very much want to be in a serious relationship. So that makes it seem like you would be willing to forego/stifle what you really want to keep this guy happy enough not to be scared off. Since you have said you don't have much dating experience and have mainly just been in LTRs, maybe you have never done that before so you don't know how depressing/self-esteem chipping that can be. I'm just saying, you might want to rethink whether it's a good idea to stay with him in a casual relationship out of thinking that's all you can get from him and it's worth it to sacrifice what you really want to have it for a time.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Look, my moral views aside, any guy who wasn't being publically affectionate with me outside the bedroom wouldn't be getting into my pants IN the bedroom.

What you need to figure out is does he see this as a relationship or does he see this as friends with benefits. If you back up from the benefits you might find out.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:36 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Wow... you've pretty much described the first four months of my current relationship. We've now been together six and a half years. This was exactly how our relationship started. In our case, it was because he had just gotten out of long term relationship about four months before we met, and was still grieving the relationship. He admitted to me (much long after the fact) that he felt like he was "cheating" on his ex when we started going out. I completely sensed that he was not over her, and was actually about to break up with him (but it was December, and I decided to wait until after the holidays).

But then magically, a switch flipped. He was suddenly just more present... and affectionate. We still took things slowly (I didn't meet his friends until we'd been dating almost a year), but he was totally there for emotionally, and was loving in all the ways I needed to be loved. So even though it was a bit of a slow start, we created a very firm basis for what's been an amazing relationship, that's weathered some tremendous ups and downs.

So to answer your question... yes, solid relationship can start the way yours has. But you have to decide whether you feel like rolling the dice, and how long you are willing to wait to see if this relationship will blossom.
posted by kimdog at 12:37 PM on December 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Hmmm. I have a very different perspective than Ashley801.

For me, three and half months is definitely not a long enough period of time to consider myself in a serious relationship, no matter how well it's going! Great attraction and compatibility at the point make me want to continue dating, enjoying our time together, getting to know the person on a deeper level. But I don't feel that 3.5 months is enough to really know a person, or commit to a "long term relationship." I would start thinking about that at six or eight months in.

Data point: my boyfriend and I were wildly attracted to each other and infatuated from the beginning. But our pace was very similar to the pace in your relationship...we didn't rush to merge our lives, but instead just enjoyed dating for an extended period of time. The transition to serious relationship happened gradually. (We have now been together 3.5 years, living together, committed, lives merged and all that).
posted by Ladysin at 12:43 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I love my boyfriend dearly now, but definately was hesitant in the first few months. Three months feels like a very short time to me, I didn't know him well enough to know if we could really work together, little things made me wonder if we were just incompatible in some ways.

But as it turns out, we work very well together, and Im very glad i gave it a chance.

Unless there are some definite reasons right now that make you feel you two aren't a good long-term match, give it some time. It took me 9 months to tell my boyfriend i loved him. Some people fall in love slowly.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:06 PM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Some people fall in love quickly and some take a long time. What do you usually do? What does he usually do? Because if this is part of a pattern for him-- he takes awhile and then falls for someone-- then maybe it's worth waiting. But if he always dates like this and he's never gotten majorly attached to any girl, then... maybe not.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:12 PM on December 5, 2010

This could totally still take off. First of all, I speak as someone whose lovey-dovey feelings for my BF really launched into the stratosphere several years (!) into an oookay relationship and only continue to grow. That's probably an extreme example, but the timing isn't always right for people. People aren't always walking around ready to meet Mr. or Ms. Right, with no baggage or life stress, fully ready for intimacy. The temporary hold ups don't mean that the relationship doesn't have that potential. Inspirational writer Zig Ziglar talks about not waiting for all the traffic lights to be green before you leave the house. The fact that you're not immediately in the fast lane doesn't mean you won't get somewhere. It does mean, though, that it's not happening, and so you'll either have to wait or somehow work through it.

You say that "he has told me that he loves spending time with me, and is really attracted to me, but doesn't want to move too quickly into something serious." If you feel you can bring your nervousness to him, you might start by asking him about that. It sounds like you have a great relationship, but he doesn't want to move quickly, and meanwhile, you find yourself getting attached and wondering if you should be protecting yourself more. Could he say more about why he doesn't want to move toward something serious, so that you can calibrate your hopes and expectations?
posted by salvia at 1:19 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

If he never expresses affection, how has he recently started expressing affection in public?

At this point, I would decide what you want from this relationship and see if he's on the same page. If you want more affection, say so. Ask for what you want.

Expressing devotion after a weekend is not everyone's style. It's my style, but it's not my partner's style at all. Yet he shows every day that he loves me and has for years.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:28 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far, everyone. I appreciate both the tough love and the encouraging stories. Lots to think about. I don't want to force a big "state of the union" talk too early on, but obviously there's a need to clear the air a bit if I'm stewing enough to post my anxieties here.

Ashley801: I guess when I say I don't need to be in a serious relationship, I mean that while I'd like to get closer, I'm not at all eager to open a shared checking account and spend holidays with each other's families. I suppose I want to feel that he's open to me in a way that seems to be missing right now. I know he likes spending a lot of time with me; I just sense that I'm being kept at arm's length.
posted by oneaday at 4:30 PM on December 5, 2010

i hate giving advice about relationships after a mistake 20 years ago...but my wife right now is the bomb. i didn't feel the BOOM with her. But now I'm feeling little booms everyday. And it gets louder all the time. While opposites attract, she's more like I am and complimentary. We make a great team and for me, that increase my love for her all the time.
posted by swmobill at 5:27 PM on December 5, 2010

There's not a rule about this.

For me, personally, although "three and half months is definitely not a long enough period of time to consider myself in a serious relationship, no matter how well it's going!" every good relationship has been BOOM! from the get go.

Bad relationships have been things I talked myself into because everyone thought he was a nice guy and blah blah blah. And of course, the BOOMs don't happen often. And I'm talking about the real BOOM, not the sexual-attraction-with-nothing-else BOOM.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:55 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some people are just on different timelines when it comes to relationships. My husband and I were like you and your boyfriend when we started dating (although I was the hesitant, less affectionate one and he was the sweet and patient one). It just took me longer than it took him to realize that he was "the one", but here we are, happily married now!

I would say that you should just see how it works itself out - at three and a half months, my husband and I were not there yet in terms of "OMG we're in love and in a super serious relationship" - really, three and a half months is not that long. Oh, also, the affection thing could just be him not be comfortable with public affection, plenty of people are like that, you should ask him.

Also, in my [pre-husband] experience, the passionate in the beginning relationships like the one you say you want, are the ones that tend to not work out. That sort of thing just isn't sustainable, eventually reality kicks in. YMMV, of course.
posted by echo0720 at 7:37 PM on December 5, 2010

Best answer: It seems too early to tell to me. It sounds like you are moving in the right direction - ish. I say keep doing what you are doing and see how it develops over the next couple of months. If it still isn't progressing at a pace that works for you, talk to him about where you two are heading. 3 and a half months in is pretty early in the course of a long term relationship, and most people are still holding a certain portion of their emotions close to the chest within that time frame. But the flip side is, at this stage, it can take just one surprising, great date to take the whole relationship to the next level. And isn't that the joy of falling in love? All of the incredible surprises along the way?

I also recommend going with your gut on this one. Do you feel like he is entirely present? Available? Interested? My personal opinion is that we usually know where the other person stands in scenarios like this deep down. I've been with people who have returned my feelings wholeheartedly and people who didn't...and in the instances where my feelings weren't returned, deep down I always knew it.
posted by amycup at 8:22 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Dear gawd, I could have written this post. :P

Am currently about 4 months into a relationship that was "officially" defined about 1.5 months ago. It's pretty awesome and we are taking things slowish. I have the same anxieties that you do, being an outwardly emotional person. However, the new BF seems to be the opposite, and that's ok. Everything is amazing, and things feel like they are progressing, but slowly. Have you looked at what his actions are telling you? Actions speak louder than words, you know. This took me awhile to understand myself, especially where he hasn't told me much more than he enjoys spending time together and he's glad that we decided to start seeing each other and such. You also have to take into account his previous dating history. In the case of my BF, he hasn't had a GF in a long time and I don't know much more history than that, although I suspect that it was due to being royally burned; so this makes even more sense as to the pace of the current state of affairs. I don't care though because the past is the past, even though it takes a bit of time to move through that stuff in the present.

I say take a breath! Enjoy the ride (easier said than done though because I know you're excited and want to gogogogo with this new relationship) and just let things naturally fall into place. And if they don't work out? No big deal. You had a great time while it lasted.
posted by floweredfish at 9:18 AM on December 6, 2010

Best answer: he has told me that he loves spending time with me, and is really attracted to me, but doesn't want to move too quickly into something serious.

There are no lines to read between here. He's being honest with you. If I told someone this, I would mean exactly that. It wouldn't be code for "I'm just using you for sex and will dump you when I get bored." It would mean that I would want to get to know you really well before deciding whether to get serious or not. His behavior is congruent with his words.

People have different paces, and it may have to do with personality qualities like extroversion vs. introversion and thinking vs. feeling. People also differ in how much physical affection they like. Some people are very romantic and fall in love instantly, others burn slowly.

Communication is key. Can you ask him what "too quickly" would look like to him? Then you'll have a better idea. He will probably appreciate you for asking that way, instead of something like, "but WHEN are you going to DECIDE?"

If I had decided to be cautious in proceeding toward a relationship (which is really a good idea, IMHO), then the best thing my partner could do would be to ask what caution meant for me, and then respect my need for it. It would make me feel emotionally safe with them.
posted by xenophile at 1:01 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

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