How do I stay open to a relationship without going nutsy thinking about guys? Late bloomer here!
October 24, 2012 12:25 PM   Subscribe

How can I allow myself to be open to a relationship and not go nutsy thinking about guys, and/or how do I cultivate relationships with men without constantly screening them for evidence that they may "like" me?

So, I'm a "late bloomer" with regards to relationships with men (I'm a girl, fyi). Maybe late bloomer is even the wrong word, because I am not sure if I've really gotten to the blooming part yet, and am starting to despair that I ever will.

A bit on my history: I’m 28, college-educated, more or less successful and have done some pretty interesting things with my life so far (interesting studies, travels, etc.). I am at a place in my life where I’m pretty happy with the way things are going, and feel as if I’ve grown up a lot in recent years and gained levels of confidence that I didn’t have when I was younger. Just started graduate school for a subject that I’m very interested in and excited about studying, and while I’m going a bit crazy with the work load, I think it will be worth it (and I got to go abroad for the experience, so that’s even better).

The thing is, I’ve never had a long term relationship, and it’s something that I want very much and have for a long time, though have put different levels of energy into “doing” something about it. There are varying reasons for this, ranging from being super shy and very overweight (well, morbidly obese – lost weight in college and have been at more or less normal weight with some fluctuation the past 8 years) when I was in high school, to going to an all-girls college, to spending two years volunteering in a remote village abroad to . . . . well not sure what else would explain it. Most of my experience with men has been either short term things (a summer romance when I was 21 when I had my first (wonderful) kiss, a sort of casual thing for a few months with another guy), unsuccessful internet dates (either I like him and he isn’t into me or vice versa) or random makeout sessions with people at parties, etc. One pattern that I’ve had in the past is that I tend to meet someone I am into, and then when it ends (or doesn’t get off the ground in the first place), I have a hard time letting go of the relationship/person. From my various experiences in recent years, I feel like I’ve learned that that particular pattern derives from historically low confidence and a bit of an anxious personality.

The past year or so of my life before coming to grad school, I wasn’t putting much thought into this aspect of my life – I was focusing a lot on being happy on my own and trying not to worry much about social relationships in general. I’m an introvert, and it was kind of a relief to let myself have some time to not worry about either whether I had tons of friends or whether I had a boyfriend. I went on a few OK Cupid dates, and hung out with people when I felt like it or had the opportunity, but otherwise I was pretty happy with listening to meditation tapes and spending my weekends cooking and riding my bike by myself.

The thing is, since I started grad school, there are suddenly lots of interesting, attractive men at arms length. I’ve cultivated a couple friendships (or at least friendly acquaintanceships) with some of them already. The problem is that I don’t seem to be able to have these friendships without developing terrible, middle school-esque crushes on them (don’t worry, not on the ones with girlfriends). I can’t help myself from dissecting every interaction I have with them to see if they are sending off “signals.” I feel like I’m kind of slipping back into habits of the past as regards men.

My question (sorry for the length), therefore is: how do I stay open to a relationship and how do I judge when it would be okay to ask someone out, or make a move, or what have you, and how do I judge when to just try to be friends with someone? I’m having a hard time answering this, because so far it just feels like every guy I meet is a potential mate until I decide otherwise or have sensed that he’s not interested. I’ve gotten the “a relationship will come about when you stop looking” line many times in the past, and I’m kind tired of hearing it because I don’t think that it is true (have had periods where I wasn’t looking and no one magically appeared, and conversely know friends who have found relationships with active looking) and the fact is that I do want a relationship. I just feel like I need some advice on how to relax about the whole thing, and how to even judge when it’s worth letting a guy know that I’m interested. And how to deal with a situation where I let someone know that I'm interested and get a negative reply from them (do we keep being friends, for example?) Any anecdotes from your own experience or advice that you might have is appreciated. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I hate the "it'll happen when you're not looking for it" bullcrap too.

This might help - one of the best pieces of advice I got on first dates was to treat them like "practice". Even if you really dig the guy, treat the first date like you're just going on a date with him to practice how to date. This kind of tricks you into taking the pressure off him and you, and just thinking of it as "oh this is just some thing I'm practicing". And so, if you have a bad date it was still valuable practice, and if you have a good date then you can go on to the second date with less personal pressure.

You could probably extrapolate that into a lot of other stages of human interaction ("I'm not flirting with this WHOAHOT guy because I like him, I'm just practicing flirting", for instance). I've had some of the same nerves as you, but I got brave enough to give a guy my number by telling myself "I'm just practicing being forward enough to give a guy my number". He never used it, but I still was more proud of myself for having the guts to make a move like that than I was disappointed that he didn't use it.

So the "this is practice" approach may help. Give it a shot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:33 PM on October 24, 2012 [11 favorites] do I judge when it would be okay to ask someone out, or make a move, or what have you, and how do I judge when to just try to be friends with someone?

Don't worry about "signals" or any of that stuff if you don't have a head for it. You decide who you ask out and you decide why. Ask yourself a few questions when you meet someone you're fond of:

"Is this person currently seeing someone or has openly told me he isn't interested in dating?"

"Would asking this person out/going on a date with them directly impact my education or career?" (i.e. "Am I asking out someone I may have to interact with, professionally, even if I don't want to?")

"Do I have any good external reason to not ask them out?" (i.e. fear of rejection, personal awkwardness and unrealistic catastrophic scenarios don't count.)

Assuming the answers to these questions are "no," just ask the guy out, go on a date, and if you feel like kissing him goodnight after, do it. Don't expect anyone else to make the first move on anything you want - that is the surest route to disappointment. I mean, obviously if there's a chronic lack of initiative on the part of the person you're dating that's a bad thing, but as far as those first few dates go, just act respectful and go for what you want.
posted by griphus at 12:38 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, to assuage your fears: you can safely assume that if you're taking the initiative, you may eventually come to a point where you kiss someone who does not want to be kissed. This is where the whole "be respectful" thing comes into play: if you made a mistake, you'll be able to tell immediately. Disengage, say 'sorry' and 'goodnight' (but don't fall over yourself apologizing! Stay cool!) and congratulate yourself on learning a lesson.
posted by griphus at 12:44 PM on October 24, 2012

I'd say stay on dating sites. These men you meet at college, it's kind of hard to sense if they want a relationship or if they want a fling or one night stand. Or just plain friendship. Most men in college won't be on the same page as you, and if they are they are already taken.

Or you could have someone set you up with someone else who is looking..or just plain out ask them? Which is kind of daring and something I don't think I would have the nerve to do. I went to a community college for 5 years and never dated anyone from that college...I used a dating site, because I was never the kind of person to walk up to a guy in public, and I've never been approached.

If you are interested in one guy, ask him out with friends, so it won't be awkward. If you or him follow each other around and it just seems right, ask him to hang out alone or study :P

Hope this helps a little bit.
And congrats for having your alone time to figure things out about yourself.
posted by Autumn89 at 12:45 PM on October 24, 2012

If these are people in your program/department: don't shit where you eat.

If these are not people in your program/department: ask them out for drinks. You're new, so this could easily be construed as just wanting to make friends. So do a little light, brief touching -- shoulder, knee -- and see if you get a positive reaction. Move on from there. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want! Many guys are pleased and flattered when women ask them out.
posted by baby beluga at 12:46 PM on October 24, 2012

Also may I add, don't kiss someone on the first date, even if you two have hung out before. Please don't....Don't let them kiss you either. In fact don't let them touch you, unless you are giving a quick (but not the kind of pat on the back) kind of hug. If you kiss a guy on the first date, he's going to expect it to go a bit further on the second. Take things slow...not too slow. I'd say at least wait a MONTH before even getting into bed with anyone you are dating or seeing. But before that please make sure to ask where the relationship stands. Both people need to be on the same page and willing to make a relationship work.
posted by Autumn89 at 12:50 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You just started grad school. You're suddenly meeting all of these guys who have similar interests and are around your age, and who are probably open to meeting new people. I think it's natural to react this way. Maybe you could give yourself a period of a few months where you can have as many crushes as you want, but you do not act on them (except if someone pursues you, you can say yes if you want) -- sort of a cooling-off period. That might let you settle down a little and get to know these guys as people and colleagues, before thinking about dating any of them.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:16 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Date a lot of guys at once. And by date, I mean, not sleep around, but old fashioned style dating where there's multiple men on the scene and you're having fun getting to know them slowly, without expecting commitment on either side straight off the bat. Like how our grandparents did it. This takes the pressure off any one of them having to work out, stops you going nutso and acting desperate (if that's what you're afraid of) and if one drops out, hey there's always others, right? Then if you meet one you like and decide to make it exclusive, take it further etc, you just inform the other guys you're now seeing someone.
posted by Jubey at 2:46 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ask a guy out early on, before the point at which your crush grows enough to make you feel like you have something at stake. You meet a guy and end up chatting for half an hour and develop rapport? Ask him there and then if he wants to grab drinks later, etc. And don't facebook stalk--let the information you get about him come slowly, from talking to him.
posted by sallybrown at 7:53 PM on October 24, 2012

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