how to slow things down without killing the spark?
December 25, 2012 7:50 PM   Subscribe

An unexpected hookup with a coworker crush at a Christmas party has opened up the possibility of a new, exciting relationship. How do I slow things down to a comfortable pace?

I'm in my late twenties. I got out of a serious relationship 2.5 months ago, and I'm still not completely over my ex. Pretty soon after the breakup I started crushing on one of my cute, geeky coworkers. We have a natural chemistry and complementary personalities. In some ways he reminds me of my ex, but like a warmer, more nurturing version. Unlike my ex, he also has at least one serious relationship under his belt.

My first impression when we met was that he was a bit arrogant, unfriendly and snarky. But I decided to kill him with kindness, and he quickly warmed up to me and became very sweet. I never could tell whether he liked me in that way, though. He did mention offhand at one point that he's very shy and will usually wait for a girl to make the first move. (He told me he was devastated when a serious relationship ended a year and a half ago and says while he's gotten over his ex he hasn't had the courage to ask a girl out since, even when he's felt attracted.) We never hung out outside of work.

A few days ago my office had a holiday party. We sat down next to each other in a dark room, and for the first time he was overtly flirty with me. He asked me if he could get me a Christmas gift, which surprised me since we're only acquaintances. A bit later in the conversation I mentioned a movie I like and he said, "I'd like to see that with you." Suddenly I noticed that he seemed very nervous and shy. He asked me if he could put his hand around me, and I let him. I rested my head on his shoulder. Then he kissed me. and I kissed him back. He told me that I was beautiful, that I'm a sweetheart, that he'd been harboring a "total crush" on me from the first day we met but had been afraid to make a move. I told him the feeling was mutual. He couldn't keep his hands off of me, and I had to draw him out of the coworker's apartment so we could seek the privacy of a bar. He didn't ask me to come back to his place after we made out at the bar. He told me he wanted to wait. (His attraction was very visibly obvious, though.) But he said he can't wait to spend time with me and cuddle with me after the Christmas break. It was a thrilling turn of events.

Unfortunately the next morning doubts started creeping into my head.

We both went away for Christmas and since the party he's been texting me like crazy. First he wanted to see me again before he left to give me the present but that wasn't possible because I was leaving the next morning. He's been texting me things like he's been smiling like an idiot since the party, that he's thinking of me constantly, that he can't wait to see me again, that during Christmas he was imagining a "private holiday" with me away from his family. At one point he sent me a photo of himself with glasses with the caption, "Eh, me with specs. I'm blind. Will you be my seeing eye girlfriend?"

Anyway, I'm suddenly panicked about the pace of this. I don't want this to be a rebound. I would like to get to know him a bit better before jumping into a relationship, as I already have some reservations about him: he's a few years younger than me, and I know that he has struggled with serious depression. Working with him adds further complications. (We work in a small office, but it's not a career job for me so that lowers the stakes a bit.)

I am also a bit put off by his eagerness and afraid that his feeling for me aren't genuine and that he just wants a girlfriend, but this may just be insecurity. I've had bad luck in the past with guys who come on strong and then cool off once they "have" me. He is also quite emotionally fragile, and I'm scared of hurting him.

I want to stress that there's a lot I find very sexy about him: he's smart, sweet, funny, introverted (which I like), we share similar tastes and interests, he seems to have substance. I'm attracted to him, and I feel good when he touches me. That's rare for me, especially when I'm first getting to know someone. I've met a bunch of guys in the last few months and he's the only with whom I've felt a connection. I can't wait to see him again and be close to him. I'm also scared. My feelings aren't lukewarm. They're more dueling extremes.

My question: How can I slow down the pace of this to a point where it feels comfortable? How do I know when it's slow enough?

I would rather not tell him that I want to take it slow, as I feel like that will be a mood killer, especially given how sensitive he is. Is there a way of leading him in a slower pace without outright saying it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Aw, he sounds adorable. I really think you're okay with saying you want to take things slow, if you say it the right way. Just saying "I want to take things slow" is certainly a mood killer. You can phrase it in a better way. "I really dig you and I like this thing we have. I want to be honest with you though. I'm a little scared of things going too quickly from past relationships and I'd really like us to take our time getting to know each other and not rush things. But I still can't wait to see you after vacation!" I think being a little more clear about why you want to take things slow, while being obviously enthusiastic about him is the way to go here.

And this part: Is there a way of leading him in a slower pace without outright saying it?
No. People aren't mind readers. It's better to be open and honest about your needs, especially early in a (potential) relationship.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:14 PM on December 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry—this seems like a delightful holiday romance story, and I am rooting for your relationship. Is that wrong? I hear your worries, but I think that's not enough to spoil what seems to be a nice connection.

I mean, if you are really not feeling it, just take a looooonnnng time to respond. If it's a weird "I want a girlfriend" lark, it'll fade, and you will remain your sensible self.
posted by purpleclover at 8:19 PM on December 25, 2012

Agreeing with DoubleLune, but wanted to add you can also couch it in reassurance by saying something along the lines of "I really hope this goes somewhere, but just because of some relationship history, I want take our time a bit and build something." If you can frame it as being honest with each other, then it can help to deepen your connection.

But also, the early part of a relationship, where you've just discovered a connection is really fun. It's dizzying and exhilarating. I understand your anxieties, but be careful not to deprive yourself of some really great feelings.

Also, as a guy who also isn't always comfortable making the first move, I don't think you need to fret over him "just wanting a girlfriend."
posted by dry white toast at 8:35 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to figure out what you want. Meaning, no one can tell you what is "slow" or "fast" enough. You need to figure that out. And let him know.

You can set a pace of "casual" by not engaging with him so much when he texts. However, as you may have guessed, this runs the risk of coming across as lukewarm or not interested or flaky. It's far better to just talk to him. We/you don't know what he wants or what his intentions are -- he might be making a dumb joke with the "seeing eye girlfriend" thing, for example -- but when you spend time with him in person, that's a great time to let him know that you really like him and how excited you are to get to know him. Does he know you are fairly recently out of a relationship?

Also, how closely do you work together? The reason I ask is because I had a similar situation. He also moved too fast for me. When I put some gentle brakes on, he went CRAY CRAY and while it didn't affect my position or reputation, it was still an awkward few days (until he quit). Even if it's not a career job for you, you don't want gossip/drama/BS to follow you to your next place or make it difficult for you where you are now. May be irrelevant but I thought I'd throw it out there.
posted by sm1tten at 8:56 PM on December 25, 2012

One should not, as a rule, rush in to romantic relationships with co-workers (or even perhaps enter into them at all, depending on the situation, but...)

It also seems very mature to want to give yourself a bit of time to recover from a serious relationship and make sure you're not getting into a rebound situation.

You should indeed talk to him about your concerns, which are completely reasonable. It sounds like you both really like each other and you want to be clear about that, too. If he could not accept you saying these things to him or realize the wisdom of doing as you propose, you probably don't want to be in a relationship with him.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:51 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

p.s. "I like you so much I'm a little worried I'm going to get into things too quickly with you" is a compliment, not an insult.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:52 PM on December 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Introverts can tend to warm up slowly, but also tend to attach quickly to people that they are comfortable with. It may seem too fast for you, but he's probably been nursing a crush on you for a while and just now feels comfortable talking about it so it's all coming out in a rush. He'll probably dial it back a little bit, if you ask him, but be careful that you don't spook him. The snark, the aloofness and the introversion can all be reactions to insecurity. Another option would be to just let himself burn out a bit by slowing down the pace of interaction without distancing yourself or telling him to back off. Just relax, though... He's not going to go anywhere and he'll eventually probably come down to where you are soon enough.
posted by empath at 4:32 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I like you so much I'm a little worried I'm going to get into things too quickly with you"

Mmm - if you've only seen the guy once in a romantic context, I'd say that the above is quite a big declaration, especially if you're trying not to fan the flames too much.

I'd act like you're very busy over the next few days, only replying occasionally to his messages, not straight away, to say yes, you also definitely felt a spark, and that you're looking forward to getting to know him better to see how things can go.
posted by creeky at 6:12 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell him you want to take it slowly, if he's truly a good guy he will understand. Also to echo others here I typically make it a rule not to date co-workers. I have in the past and its seems always to be a big mistake. If you do continue with the relationship and it grows into something long-term one of you will likely have to find work somewhere else.
posted by incandissonance at 7:14 AM on December 26, 2012

The trouble with "let's take it slow" is that it's often used as a euphemism for "I actually don't like you at all" or "I want to string you along for a while so I can see if things will work out with this other guy" or "Hey, just so you know, I'm a total commitment-phobic fuckwad" or whatever.

So even if you really just mean "let's take it slow," there's a risk he'll hear you as saying one of those other things. The risk is especially high if you already know he's insecure, inexperienced, or reluctant to go out on a limb.

I feel like in this sort of situation — two skittish introverted geeks — the best thing is to really lay all your cards on the table. In this case that means "explain enough about why you want to slow down that he really understands where you're coming from and can't project anything worse onto the situation." Trying to drop hints to someone you're interested in (and don't want to scare off) works much better when that someone is an extrovert or an optimist and doesn't spook easily.
posted by and so but then, we at 12:34 PM on December 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

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