OMG he's not crazy!
September 27, 2011 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm dating a guy who is different from everyone I've ever dated before (in a good way) and because of that I don't know how to build emotional intimacy with him.

My most recent past relationships (in the past decade) have followed a predictable pattern. My three most recent past partners were all similar in that they had big personal problems. I am an empathetic person and a good listener, and these lonely men would open up to me and "fall in love" quickly because I was the only one who understood and listened to them, or so they said. I have also been in therapy, which makes me more empathetic to people with problems. But I couldn't rely on these men in return. It seemed like they only wanted me because they thought I could solve their loneliness and other problems. When I turned to them for support, they would put me down and accuse me of being too clingy. I ended these relationships when this would occur, and then completely lucked out when I met the guy I'm now seeing, who I will call "Dave." After almost six months of talking to him daily and seeing him weekly, I'm pretty sure he doesn't have any hidden creepy problems.

This is a slow-moving relationship. By this time in every other relationship I was living with or engaged to someone who clung to me like a life raft. But I'm not sure how to bond with someone who isn't needy and has such good boundaries that he doesn't tell me his problems. It has occurred to me that my past relationship experiences have made me overly serious and that I no longer know how to just have fun and create a fun experience for a guy, and that maybe if I figured that out, I'd be seeing Dave more frequently and we might be a bit further along toward commitment. But I've been trying really hard not to be too needy, and I might have given him the impression that I'm taking the relationship more casually than I am. I'd like to be able to express more affection for him and let him know he's special to me without coming across as too needy. How do I do that?

To me, he's one of those mythical, fabled Healthy People and I feel like I won the lottery by meeting him. I haven't shared any of this with him, though, because I think it would make me seem like a drama queen. Even if I have been in the past, I don't want to be that way anymore. I want a healthy relationship with a healthy guy.

Dave has long-term friendships, is independent, has a good job, and has a close relationship with his family. By contrast, the three before him had left scorched earth in their wake before me, were very needy of my attention, weren't working or worked sporadically, and hated their parents. All three had substance abuse problems, too.

The truth is, I can't believe a guy who has his shit together likes me. I don't want to screw this up by trying to bond over the sorts of things people with lots of personal drama bond over. Metafilter, please tell me how to create real intimacy with this guy I like and respect so much, who is easygoing, private, and just plain good-hearted. Maybe I just need to focus more on having lighthearted fun and not overthinking do I do that?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
You seem to think you have a very narrow target to hit. Too much fun, and you're not serious. Too little, and you're clingy. If he's the big-hearted guy you say he is, he's a wide target and you are pretty unlikely to miss it by continuing to play it cool, do fun things and have serious conversations when the mood's right too.
posted by michaelh at 8:20 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaax and enjoy every day in what sounds like a positive, healthy relationship.

And to go out on a limb, he sounds like the kind of guy who, while loving and positive, might enjoy his privacy as well. Don't take that for neglect. Part of being an adult is enjoying your alone-time, even when you're in a relationship or married.
posted by bardic at 8:28 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Invite him to stay over on a weeknight? Seriously. I mean, you know, I wouldn't make it a Thing, but just a casual, "Hey, you want to come over tonight? I could make dinner and/or we could order some pizza and watch movies." If he had plans, no bigs, but just...indicate that you would like to see him more often, and see how he responds. If he's always putting off hanging out until the weekend, then it will be the case that he wants to keep things sort of casual. If in a month or two you find you're spending a couple nights at his and he's spending a couple nights at yours, then I think you'll probably have achieved greater emotional intimacy by hanging out all the time and talking about stuff. Not to be simplistic about it, but I think this is one of those things where there's no magic trick, just a gradual stepping up of the amount of time you spend together.
posted by Diablevert at 8:28 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

The truth is, I can't believe a guy who has his shit together likes me.

Ah, so this is about you (which is perfectly fine, because everything is about ourselves and our reaction to things and interaction with things). The best thing to do is: stop second guessing, stop thinking, stop assuming and then doubting, and get to living.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:29 PM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just be. Intimacy isn't necessarily something you should be trying to generate - it should happen on its own.

Doing it the other way is like saying that you enter every relationship to try and fall in love. A nice goal, but it should come of its own accord.

If you try to make things like that happen, you run the risk of trying to control everything. Let go of your doubt and impulses to control everything, and you'll be more relaxed for it.
posted by Strudel at 8:31 PM on September 27, 2011

The truth is, I can't believe a guy who has his shit together likes me.

Don't be so hard on yourself. You've had a past but that's behind you, you need to be mindful about it and move forward. I think it's this line of reasoning, that you're not worthy of him, that's the big issue here. Never let your past dictate your future, especially when it comes to relationships. This guy likes you, right? You have been in a relationship for months, right? Do you honestly believe his feelings for you would change if he knew about your past? No, I don't think so.

I'd like to be able to express more affection for him and let him know he's special to me without coming across as too needy. How do I do that?

Are you relaxed and yourself in this relationship? That's a important intimacy factor. Beyond that, it's pretty much about balancing giving and receiving love but that's something you figure out along the way. So stop thinking you need to prove yourself worthy of this or any other guy and have fun! Seriously, what's the point of a relationship if you're not having fun and enjoying the other person's company while totally being yourself?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:43 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've said it before and I'll say it again, someone who says you're the "only person who understands me" is someone you should cross the street to avoid.

Those types are, however, really easy to get sucked into, because it makes you feel like you're needed. It sounds like you have some self-esteem issues, so it's easier to tumble into relationships with needy folks who will use you, because you don't think you deserve better.

Sounds like this guy might be a good change from that. Because he's not a big sinkhole of neediness, the timing and intimacy are going to follow a different pattern. Try to shut off your own expectations, but don't hesitate to state (in a calm, rational manner) your own needs and desires. It sounds like it could very well be worth it.
posted by xingcat at 8:45 PM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

The truth is, I can't believe a guy who has his shit together likes me.

You know those times when you get to watch someone you like when they don't know you are watching them and you see their real face and you think to yourself 'yeah, I like this person' - well, he's done that. He sees what he sees and he likes it. So you can bin that 'truth' and realize that you have your shit together more than you think.

Once you do this you'll lose the need for validation (that's what your neediness is) and become more yourself. It will then be easier to be genuine and affectionate and things will move at the pace they move at and it will be fine.
posted by the fish at 8:49 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like you are far too worried about being seen as "needy", probably because of spending so much time with guys whose bar for neediness was "this has stopped being all about me". When you are a grown up and are no longer impelled through every situation emotional turmoil the way you advance your relationships is through communication. It isn't "needy" or "clingy" to want to see things progress to the next level after half a year of daily communication and weekly dates, it's just normal. Stretch dates into a weekend like Diablevert suggests, or feel him out about weekend trips or a longer vacation together.

Likewise, simple, sincerely expressed feelings of happiness, of feeling lucky to have met someone, this isn't drama in a healthy relationship. It's nice, you know, flattering, it makes you feel good. You don't have to put him on a pedestal or dredge up the legacy of your loser exes. Just hearing "I feel really lucky I met you," you know for anyone happily involved in a healthy relationship that is just going to make them feel good. It is that simple.

If he's on the same page as you he'll react in kind. And I suspect you'll find things progressing more naturally on their own going forward.

Now I don't know, of course, the possible fly in the ointment is that nice as he is he is content in a low-key, once a week relationship and will balk at this sort of thing. But you know, now is the sort of time in the relationship you need to find these things out.
posted by nanojath at 9:12 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm kind of wondering if this guy can give you the kind of emotional intimacy you crave. It's possible he just doesn't have that much depth and isn't very reflective. I dated a guy like this once, and it was frustrating. Like you I idolized him at first because he seemed so healthy in contrast to the other men I'd been involved with, but I began to feel unsatisfied and bored with how inexpressive he was.

So that is to say I wouldn't assume there's a hidden reserve of depth there waiting to be unlocked. Some people just don't have a very rich inner life.

I hope this isn't the case...
posted by timsneezed at 9:14 PM on September 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

I guess what I'm saying is don't let this "The truth is, I can't believe a guy who has his shit together likes me" blind you if he's not doing it for you deep down.
posted by timsneezed at 9:16 PM on September 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

To me, he's one of those mythical, fabled Healthy People and I feel like I won the lottery by meeting him.

It sounds like you are in awe of him and if so, you're probably not being yourself yet. I know, this sounds a bit like me when I met my husband: good person, good listener, liked his family, had long-term friends. And he does have his shit together in general, but he still has shit. He's just a lot more quiet about it.

If you want to get closer, I'd spend more time together. Seeing each other once a week over the course of 6 months does seem like a slow way to get to know each other. Are you sure you're really into him? (Or just being guarded?) Are you excited to share your week with him when you see him? You say that he doesn't tell you his problems--maybe he's trying really hard too to not seem needy or dramatic too. I think maybe you both need to let your guard down a bit. I don't think it's drama queen-y to share the everyday stuff that bugs you, etc. It doesn't have to be drama.

And if it doesn't work out, it doesn't mean that you can't have a healthy relationship with a guy. It might just mean you weren't really into him and that's fine too.
posted by hellochula at 9:18 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

It has occurred to me that my past relationship experiences have made me overly serious and that I no longer know how to just have fun and create a fun experience for a guy...

The "right" relationship is one where you get to just hang loose and be YOU. Seriously. You shouldn't have to "hostess" for your boyfriend. If you feel like you have to hold part of yourself back, you are both selling HIM short and you're selling YOURSELF short.

Let yourself go in the full knowledge that if you are truly yourself and above all comfortable and free and feel accepted and content with the person you're with, then that is a great barometer of knowing this relationship is right for you. If you don't feel that way, then you know it's not.
posted by flex at 10:11 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you've been together for six months, then I think it's perfectly fine to open up about this - tell him that previous relationships have been messed up for various reasons, and that since you like him so much you don't want to mess it up, but because of this fear you've been second-guessing yourself every step of the way.

I've been seeing someone for a few months and we very recently had a similarly all-out, blatantly honest discussion and it was wonderful. She's been feeling the same things! Hald trepidation, half excitement, and just by talking about it all the tiny niggling things were instantly explained, and all the wonderful things doubled.

If he's got it together, and he likes you (and of course he does if you've been together this long), then he'll welcome your honesty.
posted by twirlypen at 10:59 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just want to say that I could have written this post, four years ago. I had all sorts of panic attacks regarding the really well-adjusted, generally content guy with a perfect childhood that I was dating, because OMG why would he want me when he doesn't have any problems for me to help him fix, or emotional issues for me to hold his hand through?

The hardest part of those early days was me getting it through my head that happy, uncomplicated people aren't necessarily all secret serial killers, and that he still loved my own moody, neurotic self. Part of that meant revealing to him (a few months after we started dating) that I was in fact, a lot more neurotic and messy than he was. I fully expected to scare him away, but he just laughed and said "you think I didn't know this about you already?"

We're engaged now and couldn't be happier.
posted by egeanin at 12:54 AM on September 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

All three had substance abuse problems, too.

I think this part is very telling, but doesn't seem to have been picked up on by anyone yet (sorry if someone has...scanning responses only).

For whatever reason, you have been attracted to useless substance addicts over the past few years. Good for you for breaking this cycle. It is amazing when you are close to someone who doesn't rely on a substance to get through life.
posted by kuanes at 4:18 AM on September 28, 2011

I think you sound like an awesome person, and so does he--a great match! Enjoy your happiness together, and be proud of attracting such a healthy guy! Congratulations!
posted by lagreen at 6:26 AM on September 28, 2011

A few things:

What you've described about your previous relationships is called codependency. I've been on both sides of that and it's no fun to have that kind of power imbalance, so good on you for recognizing the pattern and avoiding people who get off on "you're my everything"-type relationships

To me, he's one of those mythical, fabled Healthy People and I feel like I won the lottery by meeting him.

Sorry, no such thing. We're all messed up about different things, and cope in different ways. It may be that he has his shit together in a way that doesn't trigger your past experiences, though.

As a data point, gf and I moved in together after 9 months and we have an awesome, almost-two-year-long relationship.

As for your actual question, it sounds like "how do i be exactly the right version of me so that i don't screw this up," which to me seems very reminiscent of a codependent mindset (which is totally understandable, given your recent past). However, relationships (especially long-term ones) are about each person choosing to be with the other over and over. He has been doing this, and you have too.

IMHO, the most important part of building intimacy is making yourself vulnerable to the other person. It is essential to this relationship that you talk with him about what you're feeling. You can keep the conversation light, but if you really want to grow and bond with this person, helping him have a framework for "you know i really dig you, Dave, and you're so different from the last few dudes i was with, who left me with some extra-sensitive triggers. Sometimes its hard for me to relax and enjoy because these other dudes made me feel like i was their entire world so the emotional health of the relationship was entirely based on me. So if I get weird sometimes, that's where its coming from, and please feel free to call me on it"

Then get on with your life.

The most helpful advice i've seen anywhere lately is this:

"Float, don't swim."

Good luck!
posted by softlord at 6:43 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think you sound like an awesome person, and so does he--a great match! Enjoy your happiness together, and be proud of attracting such a healthy guy! Congratulations!
posted by lagreen at 6:26 AM on September 28 [+] [!]

Yeah, but just because you're awesome and he's "healthy" does not mean that you actually are a match. He may not have any hidden, creepy problems -- but that does NOT mean he's the right guy, no matter how good on paper! Specifically, I know that after six months, I would be expecting to spend a lot more time together with my partner than once a weekend. You may need this too, and it doesn't make you unhealthy or needy, not in the slightest.
posted by yarly at 8:19 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say you're feeling less close to him despite the fact that you like him a lot, simply because the two of you haven't had to manage his crises together? Tell him so.

"You know, Dave, I was realizing something about myself. You know I've said that some of my past boyfriends were a bit messed up. While I wouldn't classify myself as codependent or a habitual "fixer", it's funny how much intimacy you can fall into so quickly when everything's focused on dealing with the latest emotional crisis. I definitely don't miss the drama though! It's fantastic to spend time with you without the pressure of some impending catastrophe, and actually have fun. I feel like I'm kind of out of practice being in a relationship that isn't a neverending serious emotional discussion, and sometimes I worry that I'm falling off one end or the other of that spectrum, either being too intense talking about feelings or, since we can have a good time together so easily without talking about anything "important" I'd hate for you think I'm not taking our relationship seriously. I actually feel great about us as a couple, not to overwhelm you or anything, and I just wanted to tell you how much I like you."

Note, don't call him the only healthy guy you've ever dated. Don't put the pressure of any kind of classification on him. "You're so sane, you're so healthy" "you're such a good catch, I'm so lucky" "you're not like all the other guys" Statements like this tend to back him into a corner - if he's got issues he just hasn't shared with you yet, you're accidentally telling him that you value him for the front he's put up.

How do you create intimacy without drama? Involve him in your personal decisions. You're fortunate enough that none of these decisions is life-altering, but that's all for the better. The key difference between "drama" and "conversation about personal beliefs that creates better intimacy" is that the drama tends to be the same conversation over and over and over again, the same massive problem every day. On the other hand, "today's conundrum" is really just passing thought/emotion that you're willing to share with him, and it won't turn into an obsession. "you know, back in college I used to say I'd buy the organic prduce and support the local farms and donate to charity, if only I had the money, but now that I have this new job maybe that *is* money, and I'm not sure I'm not just being hypocritical. What do you think?" "I don't call my mom as much as I used to; I don't want it to be the kind of thing where her phone rings every Sunday at noon like clockwork, but if I don't make a calendar note to call her I'm worried I'll forget. Do you think that's silly?" "I got so irritated with a coworker this morning, over what's basically just a little thing. I'm kind of embarassed I was being unreasonable, but on the other hand it was driving me nuts..." None of this is important, and it's not a deeply personal conversation that I'd be embarassed to have on the bus or in a crowded restaurant, yet you're giving and receiving little clues about core values and beliefs.
posted by aimedwander at 8:55 AM on September 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've been thinking about your post and had a few more thoughts.

I wouldn't hinge your interest on some notion that he's problem free. Everyone has problems and parts of them that are unhealthy. You can't really know what those problems are until you see how they handle major stress. It sounds like you don't know him that well given the low frequency of your contact. This is just speculation but it's possible he's the type to compartmentalize or suppress his negative emotions.

If this turns out to be the case, ask yourself if this is a personality type you'd be satisfied with. Personally, I like men who display the full range of emotions with some regularity -- not that they should be having constant ups and downs but just acknowledging some of their vulnerabilities -- because it seems more relatable and human to me. Maybe you're different and you find that a turn off, but it's an important question to ask yourself.

I also think it's odd that you guys are seeing each other so infrequently. Are you in an exclusive, committed relationship, the terms of which have been discussed? I would mention to him that you'd like to see him more often if possible and see how he reacts.
posted by timsneezed at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Share good stuff! Go camping together or on some adventure like that, just the two of you. Share your dreams and happy childhood memories. Buy a pet together. Complain about your day in lighthearted ways that make you feel better. Laugh together!
posted by meepmeow at 6:03 PM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you just need to open yourself up when you're together, ya know get talking about childhood memories, funny stories, etc. Those all create an atmosphere to share. It will take time for you both to get to a point where you can talk about anything. I think if he's as healthy a person as you say, what's to worry about? Seriously. I mean don't come off like a total clinger, but don't be afraid to show your interest and have fun. There's nothing wrong with that. Just share little personal things; positive things. A heart-to-heart doesn't have to equal "I have problems, help me fix them." It can also mean "This is who I am."
posted by Chelsaroo650 at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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