seeking stability in an unstable life. also, I'm apparently unlovable.
February 16, 2012 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Want a long-term relationship, but I'm in a geographically unstable stage of my life and everyone prefers to be friends. This sucks.

I finished grad school last year and am now doing a research postdoc in a city that is far larger than I'm usually comfortable with. I was torn away from piles of people that I really love, and had a really amazing relationship explode in my hand like a fragmentation grenade of abuse and betrayal a few months before I moved.

But at this point, I'm ready to move on, and really want to find someone to build a relationship with. I also might be leaving the new city in six months to go work in Developing Country X (DCX) for a year, which kind of fucks up any plans for building a long-term relationship. (This is a little bit bittersweet, as I originally got involved in DCX while trying to build a way for my last relationship to survive my graduation; now I might be getting a really amazing grant to go work there (shortlisted for a fulbright), but it feels like even more instability in my life, with this kind of weird connection to the person I've left behind.) And really, one of the main reasons I want a long-term relationship is so that there's some kind of stable human relationship in my life that will survive the devastation of all of this moving around.
Q1: Is it at all reasonable to try to build a long-term relationship in this context?

I've been dating for the last six months, and it feels like a complete shit show in which nothing ever goes anywhere. I recently met someone I really, really liked and clicked with, but who ultimately said she just wanted to be friends. In her words: "I really think that you are a wonderful person--interesting, compassionate, passionate. But I am certain now that my feelings for you are purely platonic. It is actually baffling to me, as you are so amazing. But this is just how it is and I really need to trust my intuition." I tend to get this a lot, as in over and over again, and I really don't understand why. It feels absolutely terrible every time, and this time especially.
Q2: What can one do to build chemistry?

I also sometimes feel like I matured into such a complete weirdo that there really just aren't that many compatible people out there. As in, I'm an anarchist vegan scientist who doesn't drive and spends a couple-few months a year traveling to outlandish places to do math. People who are vegan anarchists tend to be intimidated or put off by the math, and other people who survive graduate school tend to be either a bit too straight-laced or already married to a person and/or job. So it seems all the more important to be able to have chemistry when I do meet someone who might be a good fit, since the numbers are already so screwy.

location: toronto; operating system: linux; gender: male
posted by kaibutsu to Human Relations (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
1. It's not unreasonable, but you need to be up front with anyone you date that you stand a good chance of relocating to another country for a year, within the next six months. This is going to dampen your chances, because that's a short time to be dating someone and want to maintain something long-distance or move with them. I'm not saying it can't happen, but if you don't disclose this at the outset - say, shortly after kissing someone for the first time - then you're setting yourself up for more heartbreak, most of it unnecessary.

While it's admirable to want something stable in your life, this is another human being we're talking about, and they're going to want a say in the direction their relationship takes.

2. Be confident, be relaxed, be fun. If you have a date that you know is going nowhere, try to have a good time anyway. You already know it isn't going to end with a kiss - see if you can get it to end with a hug. Think of it as practice. Practice is kind of the only way to do this.

Yeah, you might be weird, but everyone is just the right kind of weird for someone.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2012

My wife was in a geographically unstable stage of her life: she was going from one grad school to a career to another grad school to another career (e.g. four different cities in a handful of years).

We met and fell immediately in love, even though I knew she was moving to a city 1200 miles away in 6 weeks and a long-distance relationship was a huge no-go for me.

So, I moved with her.

So, the moral of the story (from her perspective, being in your shoes) is to find someone who is compatible with your geographically unstable stage of life. I was compatible with that, and it's been bliss. Seven years of marriage later and we are settled down for good...but it was unstable for six of those seven years, and I just rolled with it and loved it.

Before my wife and I met, we were both mature weirdos, and that didn't hamper anything at all. Now we are mature weirdos with normal kids. Not sure what happened there.

But, anything it possible. Just don't dwell on it.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know someone who is a socialist vegan librarian who loves big dogs who moved to an unfamiliar city briefly before joining the Peace Corps and living in Developing Country X for two years and bouncing around a fair bit before deciding to go to grad school.

She met a guy who is also a socialist vegan bookish type who loves big dogs who also happened to join the Peace Corps and live in Developing Country X for two years and bounce around a fair bit before deciding to go to grad school.

They're married now.

I can't offer you any specific advice, but you at least shouldn't approach it with a defeatist attitude. It's possible even for vagabond weirdos to find love.
posted by phunniemee at 12:44 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been dating for the last six months, and it feels like a complete shit show in which nothing ever goes anywhere.

Yeah, that's dating. Seriously, go talk to ten people in long term relationships and see how many of them miss dating. Not "sex with different people" but the actual process of asking people out, going on dates, so on and so forth. I doubt more than two of them will say "yes." Dating is hard, exhausting and, as you are finding out, depressing.

The women telling you that you're so awesome but only as a friend? They're letting you down easy, and that's the long and short of it. Anything you read into that social nicety is like wondering why someone offered you a glass of water when you came into their house. You can think up all sorts of reasons that reflect on you one way or another, but at the end of the day, they're just trying to be courteous.

You say you don't understand why it keeps happening, well, it's because you're having an average dating experience. You see a whole bunch of people who you don't like, or who don't like you, and then, hopefully, something clicks. There is no inevitability to ending up alone forever any more than there is an inevitability of ending up with someone. There are other ways of ending up in a long term relationship -- it can evolve out of a close friendship, for instance -- but dating is a drawn-out crapshoot.
posted by griphus at 12:57 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's a bit much to want to put that kind of long-distance pressure on a brand new relationship. I'm not sure why you're excluding friendships as a possibility of "stable human relationship" to provide support for you while all this potential moving is going on. I understand the allure of a romantic relationship, but it just seems like more stress than you'd want or need.

I'd say to remain open to such a thing happening, but focus more on building close friendships that depend less on physical closeness.

Regarding the weirdo bit: if it's any consolation, I'm a sort-of vegan sort-of anarchist who loves science and math and can't seem to identify with most of the floofy hippie vegans I've met. Unfortunately I was pretty sure I was alone in that until I read your post, but it proves there must be more of us out there, right?

Keep your chin up.
posted by krakenattack at 1:04 PM on February 16, 2012

Response by poster: Actually, most-all of my relationships have started as friendships, which is part of why dating has been so strange, I think. But I'm in a space now where it's may-or-may-not be leaving town in six months, preceded by will-definitely-be-leaving-town for the six months before I moved here. If I'm not proactive and dating, it means that I will be alone.

And I do need something more than just friendship in my life. Someone I can have a deeper emotional and physical connection with. I've had a couple-few 'friends with non-sexual sleepover privileges'-arrangements that have approximately filled these needs in the past, but these haven't really been materializing in Toronto. And these are hard things to fulfill over the phone.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:14 PM on February 16, 2012

I also might be leaving the new city in six months to go work in Developing Country X (DCX) for a year, which kind of fucks up any plans for building a long-term relationship.

The things I most regret not doing are the ones I put off because "I might be moving/I might go back to school next year/I'll probably have another job by then."

I feel like this attitude is messing you up and ladies sense it. Like, you have one foot out the door AND you are putting this weird pressure on people all, "I have exactly 180 days to meet the Love of my Life." Maybe for the next six months you can work on a sense of openness. You might be leaving in six months- or you might not.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:20 PM on February 16, 2012

I also sometimes feel like I matured into such a complete weirdo that there really just aren't that many compatible people out there.

There's other weirdos out there. I would love to meet a guy who found my travel to obscure and remote developing countries endearing but could also counter with stories of his own travels. Also, someone who could calculate the tip for me.

Don't put off dating because you're leaving or have an uncertain future. Not every relationship will turn into something, so you have to start somewhere. If a relationship if worthwhile you will make accommodations for it when you leave. Don't let me the excuse you use not to try.
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:36 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're a nerdy dude like me, you need to learn how to be more sexual, which is kind of an animal thing. And don't worry (or mention right away!) your six-month "maybe moving." Most dating partners simply don't last that long anyway.
posted by rhizome at 1:53 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, don't hide your plans, but it seems like you're using them as an excuse or obstacle when they don't have to be.

Anecdata: I once met a girl in a foreign city. We dated for about six months before I had to come back to the 'States and return to law school. We kept it alive long-distance, and she moved to the 'States, but to a city about 1,000 miles away from my school. After I graduated, we lived far enough apart that we could only see one another on the weekends. Two years of that and we got married, and are perfectly happy now.

It can happen. Some people know after a week. Some people keep it alive long distance after dating for six months. Some people might be willing to take extended visits to see you in DCX to see how it goes.

Or as that twitter account puts it, "Son, let women figure out why they won't sleep with you. Don't do their work for them."
posted by gauche at 2:10 PM on February 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

It might be Toronto too; honestly I found dating in Toronto very depressing and hard, especially in the winter.
posted by saucysault at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2012

You sound like the kind of weirdo I'd like to get to know better, but this makes me uncomfortable:

And really, one of the main reasons I want a long-term relationship is so that there's some kind of stable human relationship in my life that will survive the devastation of all of this moving around.

I've been in a relationship where the guy wasn't into me but was into the stability I provided. Somewhat ironically, having that particular foundation for the relationship made it really unstable. I couldn't trust him. I completely understand how shitty and terrible it is to be lonely, but some things are worse than being alone.

Are you sure you're really ready to date again? I apologize if I'm reading too much into your description, but you sound like you're still struggling with the end of your last relationship. People don't describe the relationship they're over with words like this: "explode in my hand like a fragmentation grenade of abuse and betrayal". The intense sense of instability and fears of being unlovable are also indicators that you're still dealing with the breakup.

So to answer Q1 and Q2: I vote that you table the idea of dating for now, and just get to know people. The kind of relationship you want--the kind that would survive multiple moves and constant change--is not the kind of relationship you can force to happen. That sort of thing moves at its own pace. Don't settle for someone who would follow you around without mutual, earned trust. Be in a relationship because you're great together, not because you want stability in an uncertain world.

Be kind to others, be kind to yourself, and hope for the best. That is how you build good chemistry.
posted by millions of peaches at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

What's wrong with a six-month relationship? Or a three-month relationship? If I were a single lady looking for single gentlemen, I'd be put off by your insistence on finding a long-term relationship in order to help you weather a bunch of changes you're creating in your own life.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:45 PM on February 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

As to Q2:What can one do to build chemistry?

rhizome hits the nail on the head. This won't apply to all women, but in my experience it applies to maybe 7 or 8 out of 10 women: We will end up feeling platonically about men who don't give off sexual signals.

There is this terrible idea many people, men and women, seem to hold subconsciously about Sex and Romance, namely that they are somewhat at odds: that you are EITHER "getting to know someone" OR "wanting sex from them," that a man isn't allowed to be pursuing both at the same time with a woman. This is all sorts of wrong. One should very actively be doing both, even if the "pursuing sex" part is only in your head and maybe your facial expressions.

If I don't get any "I kinda want to be touching you all over right now" feeling from a guy by the end of the second date, it's really hard for me to sustain whatever amount of desire to be touching him I might have had. He slides right into the dreaded Friendzone, no matter how awesome he is. This does not mean you need to be trying to get her into bed on the first or second date, just that you need to be thinking about it. In graphic detail, if at all possible. Doing this adds Tension, and I find that's a huge part of the difference between Sexual Chemistry and Friendship Chemistry.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 3:11 PM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think you need to say yes to pretty much any reasonable dating opportunities that come your way. That doesn't mean saying yes to women you're not attracted to, but I think you need to relax the requirement for a vegan anarchist who is also smart enough to have done grad or professional school. I think you have no idea what your perfect woman looks like because she's probably as un-average as you are, but in a totally different way that you can not possibly imagine or screen for until you meet her. All I think you should demand upfront is that she's the adventurous type who wouldn't mind being uprooted and is happy to go along for a ride with you. You probably don't want to date people who are looking for two children and white picket fence in the next five years, but otherwise stay open to anything and just look for someone you resonate with emotionally, even if she's not a vegan anarchist.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:24 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who has made several cross-country and international moves, my experience with Going To Grad School / Taking A Fellowship / Moving For New Prospects generally shakes out like this:

You know you have six months before you leave. Instead of shutting down and saying, well, you're not going to allow anything of worth to happen between now and your departure so you may as well live like a zombie, feel nothing, regret nothing...

You think, fuck it, six months! Let's live! And say yes to invitations and try things you've always wanted to try and go up to the people you've been meaning to say something to and compliment the girl you've been bashful to say anything to and set up get-togethers with friends and stay out late on school nights and have people over for impromptu karaoke vegan potlucks and take chances because you feel breezy and you're headed out the door!

...and what do you know, usually somewhere around T-minus five weeks mark, someone pretty cool stumbles across your path and is like, wow, you are so awesome and full of life, why haven't I met you before?" And that's when you realize that being very active in the moment and living each day fully and joyfully is reeeeally attractive to people.

And instead of worrying worrying worrying this impending departure down to a bare, sad, gristly nub, you say to this cool girl, "let's make these weeks fantastic." And you do, and it's worth it.

You're in a really busy time in your life and you're always going to be heading off somewhere - you'll certainly find this when you land in DCX and meet some fascinating expats - no one is going to be on the same path again. Make the present moment count. Deal with six months down the line when it's actually six months down the line.
posted by sestaaak at 3:34 PM on February 16, 2012 [17 favorites]

Not everyone can just have a 3 month relationship and then say "fun while it lasted!" and disengage. OP, if you can't, nothing wrong with that. I think it's fine to stick to your guns that you're looking for something long term, but neither do you need to start every relationship with a giant disclaimer about commitment and long distance. Just say you're seeking an eventual commitment if it's with the right person, and if it actually starts to get to that point, then worry about negotiating the distance.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:51 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

"fragmentation grenade of abuse and betrayal"

This phrase could tell me a lot about your troubles in regards to question 2. If you normally talk like this, I'd ramp down the drama. I'm just saying it wouldn't do anything for me, a 30-year-old woman.

It also helps to not be focused on getting a relationship. If I go out with a guy who seems to just want a relationship for a relationship's sake, that seems needy and is ultimately unattractive. I would think, "Good friend material, but seems high maintenance or something is just off." Please don't read this as saying it's wrong to let it be known you want a relationship. But that should not be your goal right off. Your goal should be to have fun and possibly make a connection.
posted by amodelcitizen at 5:57 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I´m not a vegan, but I am a socialist/anarchist with some nerdy tendencies, who has trouble reconciling those two things socially. Your dating angst, in fact, sounds quite similar to mine. I don´t know if that´s helpful for you to hear, but it´s helpful for me to hear from someone in my boat, for what that´s worth.

I also just moved to a new place, after an unexpectedly prolonged stay in my previous house. The worst thing I did in my last month in old-city was sit in my house and figure I´d wait to restart my life until I got to new place. I mean, I made it here to new place, and it´s everything I´ve hoped for, but man was I an ass to my wonderful former roommates in my last month. I failed to treat myself well along almost every possible axis (didn´t eat well or enough, didn´t exercise much, didn´t contact most of the remaining friends I had outside the house), and turned all the anxiety and resentment I had outward onto my roommates. Terrible idea! If there´s anyone you´ve ever wanted to get to know better, or haven´t caught up with in a long time, now´s the time to make some plans. Cliched as this is gonna sound, the next phase of your life won´t come any faster if you sit around waiting for it. One of the few friends from my old city who I expect to keep up with is a woman who, even though she knew I was terribly depressed and about to move, kept contacting me anyway. I only knew her for about five months, but her effort meant a lot to me.
posted by ActionPopulated at 7:43 PM on February 16, 2012

People who are vegan anarchists tend to be intimidated or put off by the math.

Hi! I'm a nerd in a semi-technical subject, and I hang out with a mix of intense nerds and hippie/anarchist lefty artist types. And I've thought a lot about how to talk about nerdy shit without being intimidating, because some of the nerds I know are good at that (and fun at parties, and successful at dating) and others ... aren't.

I think some people get too intense when they're talking about their Nerd Subject Of Choice, and they insist on Teaching You Things and throwing a bunch of technical details at your head, and that's off-putting. But honestly I think most of us err in the other direction: we don't want to be tedious or overwhelming and so we sort of keep a lid on it. But so if someone asks what we do, we say "Oh, you wouldn't understand" or "You wouldn't be interested" or we go "Uh..........." and get nervous and stare at our shoes and try desperately to think of an answer that doesn't sound awful and nerdy and lame. And that's off-putting too, because it makes you look either uninterested in the other person or sort of haughty and ivory-tower-ish.

Basically, the math/CS/physics nerds I know who are the most fun to talk to are the ones who've learned to just treat their subject of interest like any other topic of conversation, and have fun talking about it, and not get either super-intense or super-skittish when it comes up.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:56 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

"fragmentation grenade of abuse and betrayal"

This phrase could tell me a lot about your troubles in regards to question 2. If you normally talk like this, I'd ramp down the drama. I'm just saying it wouldn't do anything for me, a 30-year-old woman.

Now see, as a 30-mumble-year-old woman, that phrase stood out to me as being very clever. I like a man who can turn a phrase.

Dating really is a numbers game. Don't overthink it, just go out with as many people as you can and hopefully eventually something will click.
posted by parrot_person at 2:00 AM on February 17, 2012

Yowza! Kaibutsu, I looked at your mefi profile and this LEAPT off the page at me:

They don't sorrow over the past,
don't long for the future.
They survive on the present.
That's why their faces
are bright & serene.

Don't long for the future stable relationship, or sorrow over the past bad dates. Survive in the present.
posted by parrot_person at 2:03 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

as a weirdo myself who hangs out with other weirdos, I will say that it is true that sometimes it can be a little harder to find someone who appreciates your kind of kookiness. Because of that, though, if you start a relationship, and then go travel for a while, there is a better chance that your partner will be willing to stick it out and wait for you.

Toronto is a pretty good place to find someone with similar tastes, there is a lot of subculture here. Make sure you go out and meet people at events that are related to your interests. Check this out, for example, it's bound to me full of vegan ladies. and cupcakes!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:49 PM on February 17, 2012

It's really too bad you're not in Minneapolis, because there are plenty of nerdy vegan anarchists here, and quite a few who also seem to be wanting to travel the world at the drop of a hat. I'm only half kidding here - actually I'm not really kidding at all. Have you considered using something like OKC to find like-minded people who might fit all the things you want in a long-term relationship and trying to start something like that long distance? And in the meantime just significantly lowering your expectations/standards or changing your vision of what "dating" will look like in this interim period, while you're still in Toronto?
posted by Betty's Table at 2:08 PM on February 17, 2012

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