How to date someone who is new to dating
April 23, 2013 6:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm seeing a guy who hasn't done much dating. I can't tell how much of our dynamic is his lack of familiarity with dating, how much is just differences in our relationship preferences, and how much might be differences in upbringing. So what I need are some tools for figuring that out. Without using the phrase "Love Languages."

I'm specifically asking how to approach this. Sample script, book suggestions, podcast recommendations, offers to help me practice via Skype* would be much appreciated.

I know to avoid the generalizations of "you always" or "you never." I know to be specific instead of vague. So I think I'm looking for 102 level lessons instead of introductory material.

First, the things I want to talk about are minor. He meets all the requirements for decent human being. I just have some preferences for what makes me feel appreciated in certain circumstances that he doesn't know about because he's not a mind reader. One example conversation would be that he still doesn't keep a hand towel in his only bathroom and it is weird to me that I keep needing to dry my hands on my pants even though I've asked if he has one each of the four times I've been over. Buying one myself feels too damn domestic/like a weird passive agressive gift. Surely there is a middle way. This is actually the thing that is prompting this question. (If you guessed acts of service, you'd be correct! If you guessed that his mother stayed home for years and did everything in the home, you're psychic, I guess. Mine did not.)

I'd also like to really talk about the things I really enjoy about him - there are lots.

I don't want to use the phrase "love languages" because I don't want to be thinking about "love" yet. I'm still getting to know him. Slowly, which is very new to me.

Also, more importantly, I think it's all subject to Forer effect. I want to set about creating a safe space for ongoing dialogue about what actually matters to us, rather than erecting a scaffolding that encourages us to make more assumptions about each other. (Some acts of service are very annoying to me. For instance, there is no need to pull my chair out for me each time I sit down to a meal, though I would love to marry a guy who always pumps my gas because I just don't want to have to think about it.)

So I need some tools to initiate healthy conversations that will help me (and him!) learn about each other. So, while this previous was helpful, it's not quite what I'm looking for.

*only half joking.
posted by tulip-socks to Human Relations (45 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey, can you put a towel in the bathroom so I can dry my hands?"
posted by Katine at 6:22 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes. I tried that. Four times.
posted by tulip-socks at 6:30 AM on April 23, 2013

Response by poster: Oh. I think maybe you are suggesting I say this before I go over? Or when I get there?

I suspect the man does not own a hand towel, because he seems to just use his bath towel for hand drying.
posted by tulip-socks at 6:31 AM on April 23, 2013

I don't know why it's a weird passive-aggressive gift. If you want a hand towel and he doesn't want to buy a hand towel, then get yourself a hand towel.
posted by Anonymous at 6:31 AM on April 23, 2013

"Hey, if you don't own a hand towel, could you please buy one and make sure there it's in the bathroom so I can dry my hands?"
posted by peacheater at 6:32 AM on April 23, 2013

As far as talking about things you really enjoy about him, what have you tried and what are your concerns? I kind of feel like you're making things unnecessarily hard on yourself - personally I find statements like "Hey, thanks for X" or "I loved it when you did Y, it made me feel really special" to work so long as they're expressing what you're really feeling - but are you thinking direct statements are problematic here for some reason?
posted by DingoMutt at 6:47 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could bring one with you in a plastic baggy in your purse, or invest in some disposable hand wipes.

just have some preferences for what makes me feel appreciated in certain circumstances that he doesn't know about because he's not a mind reader.

Just a small derail: It's great that you realize that your partner shouldn't have to be a mind reader, and you need to ask for what you want. However, keep in mind that you're also allowed to have preferences. You are allowed to prefer a guy who makes you feel appreciated organically, without you having to prompt and direct him at every turn. The "just tell him what you want" mantra on Mefi does not imply that you're required to coach someone through a relationship.

Since the issues you have with him seem to be very small (so far), bring your own hand wipes and let stuff like this slide. However, if you find that this situation is a symptom of larger issues, and staying with him would basically mean having to raise a boyfriend from the ground up, you're allowed to leave and find a guy who is closer to where you need him to be relationship wise.
posted by Shouraku at 6:52 AM on April 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I want to set about creating a safe space for ongoing dialogue about what actually matters to us, rather than erecting a scaffolding that encourages us to make more assumptions about each other.

You do this first by DOING IT. No really, you do it by modelling what you want him to do: talking to him honestly, telling him about things you wish were different, acknowledging when he does something really nice, etc. Bring things up before they become a big deal. If he comes to you with an issue listen to him calmly, hear his side of things, and try to work out a solution together. You create that safe space for discussion by living it. And you have to make good on it. If he comes to you about something you're doing that he doesn't like/annoys/upsets him, don't get defensive. React to his issues the way you'd hope he would react to your issues. It sounds easy but it isn't always.

As for the gestures, tell him. My fiance and I had a talk VERY early on about the types of things that do and do not have meaning for us. It was a sort of "Hey, I like you, and I want to make you feel nice. Tell me the sorts of things that would make you feel nice. Do you like/appreciate/enjoy it more when I do things for you vs. say nice things?". Have the discussion. It is about not investing energy in all these things that don't really mean anything to the other person. Seriously, start having honest open discussions. This goes with my first point, that you foster that open communication dynamic by doing it.

If he pulls your chair out at dinner and you don't like it, tell him gently and kindly, and then maybe point out something he recently did for you that DID have meaning for you. "Honey, I appreciate the sentiment, but the "man pulling the chair out for the woman" thing really isn't something I like. But I really like it when you held the door open for me and hold my coat out for me!" Like you say, he isn't a mind reader, so tell him what you do and do not enjoy. Encourage him to do the same.

The towel thing, however, is weird. The next time you guys are out together can you make a point of buying a towel together? For real though, I'd just bring one over for him. Very early on in my relationship with my fiance I bought a whole set of towels for him because his all sucked and I hated using them. He appreciated the upgrade of his towels, his son was over the moon for them too, and that was that.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:52 AM on April 23, 2013 [16 favorites]

If you already know about raising things in an "I feel" and not "you do" way, then I don't think there's much more to it than just to use that framework to say what is actually on your mind at any given time. "I've said about the hand towel a few times - is it weird if I just go ahead and buy you one?" And how he responds will tell you what you need to know. Is he defensive? Indifferent? Apologetic he didn't register what you'd previously said? Happy you brought it up and found a solution? Then decide if you're happy to be with that person. Extend it out to more serious things if and when you need to: "I'm feeling X - what do you make of that?" Try and get in the habit of including him in your processes, because he's part of it, and see if you can figure this stuff out together.

I don't think it's about how much dating experience he has. It just comes down to how easily you communicate with each other, and that's specific to you and him. It's irrelevant how many people he's been with before. But I wonder if you think you have more experience so it's up to you to "manage" the conversations in case he somehow doesn't get it or gets scared off? Maybe give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by billiebee at 6:54 AM on April 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm not really sure what his lack of experience with dating has to do with the situation; this sounds more like different housekeeping styles more than dating experience. I mean, I've dated lots, but I don't have a hand towel in the bathroom either (I just use my bath towel). So I think trying to think about this as if it's a dating-experience/love-languages situation may be an extra layer of complication that the situation may not warrant, exactly?

I know you asked for scripts and tools to use to figure stuff out, but think of my suggestion as the tool of a different perspective. We sometimes tie ourselves in knots because a dating relationship is supposed to be different so we handle it differently - but it's not as different as we think it is, and some of the same rules apply. Meaning: I don't think there's any weird relationship drama about why he doesn't have a hand towel, it just feels like it's as simple as "he's not used to using one", and as to why he hasn't gotten one after you've asked him a couple times, it could just be a combination of "he's not used to using one" and "he may be a little forgetful".

But if you're looking for a specific script, maybe just each time you wash your hands, come out of the bathroom right away and ask, "where's a towel?" I am sure eventually he will get sick of helping you find one each time (because he forgot he keeps his bath towel in his room or whatever) and will put one up for you.

If these are really small problems, then...they don't need to be made into big problems. Granted, if he doesn't get with the towel picture over time, and you run into a lot of other similar things, then maybe it's time to have a talk - but just over a towel? not yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I almost wonder if these things have less to do with the fact that he's not experienced in dating, and have more to do with just his personality/habits. I mean, ideally people get better at human relations with practice, but some people don't care, and some people don't put too much thought into it.
posted by atetrachordofthree at 7:00 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

One tool that would help here would be directness. The way you have asked so far is passive aggressive. If you have asked for a hand towel four times and not received one, you need to say to him "I would like to dry my hands on something other than your bath towel when I'm at your house." Asking for a hand towel on individual occasions is not the same thing as asking him to always keep a hand towel in his bathroom for your use when you come over. I can see how you think it is, and someone who is attuned to acts of service would probably intuit that, but there are a ton of great people who would never pick up on it. So you need to ask him directly.

I don't think this has anything to do with a lack of dating experience.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:01 AM on April 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

I am confused. The question talks about "this guy acts like he is inexperienced with dating" but the one specific example we get is about a towel in the bathroom. I understand the problem to be that instead of a hand towel, he dries his hands with a larger towel. If that is the problem, that is not an issue with dating behavior. That is simply you being off-put by the way he maintains his bathroom. The bathroom is his property. I do not see how "dating" experience factors into the bathroom situation in the slightest. I think it is peculiar to dry your hands on your pants when there is a towel that he uses.

What is really going on here? Is he respectful? Does he give you positive attention? What is he doing or not doing that isn't making you "feel appreciated" to the appropriate degree? What I detect is that you want chivalry-type behavior like the example you give of pumping your gas. This man is not here to speak for himself, but the chivalry ship has sailed for many men. Chivalry is not a debt that is owed to you - it is a favor that is granted.

BTW, are we talking about this guy or someone else? I suspect someone else but it is helpful to know because history can help inform our advice to you.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:03 AM on April 23, 2013 [11 favorites]

This isn't about the hand towel, but since you are making it about the hand towel, I grew up without using hand towels, and no one I ever dated used them either--we all just used bath towels. My friends didn't use them, either.

I never owned a bath towel until my wife and I got some for our wedding. Now my wife is obsessed with them, changing them each time they are used. I still prefer a bath towel.

What is this really about? I have a feeling that you don't really like him all that much and are stuck on things like this, or there is something going on in your own head that is about you and has absolutely nothing to do with him, dating, etc...
posted by TinWhistle at 7:03 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Seriously? Just dry your hands on the bath towel (or your pants) and stop being so fussy.

Good men are hard to find. If this works out, you can buy him a hand towel in 6 months.
posted by amaire at 7:06 AM on April 23, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm dating someone who's new to dating, and I am not. There is also an age gap. What I've been really working on is understanding that my way is not always the right way or the best way. By keeping an open mind, and focusing on open and honest communication, I know that he will learn my preferences with time and I will learn his and we will both develop new preferences as well. (Crunchy peanut butter is actually kind of tasty, who would have thought?)

Also, Puppet McSockerson has good advice.
posted by cabingirl at 7:07 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Guys, this is about more than just towels, so enough... handwringing over that. Please try to address the broader ideas expressed in this question. Thanks!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 7:16 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess you could start by noodling around what your perfect life would be like (assuming money no object). For example, apparently your perfect life would include having the appropriate size of towel for every activity. Maybe his perfect life involves minimal laundry. But under this line of enquiry you might also discover

- your ideal life includes doing no housework, ever
- he would love to have a perfectly modernist clean white painted house and knows the Pantone colour of the cushions
- you want to have hours spare to enjoy making beautiful home cooked gourmet meals every night
- he wishes that magical fairies would bring dinner
- he wants to conserve the earth's resources
- you feel better when you have a new trendy smart outfit every season and a nice car

And from this might spring all kinds of interesting topics of discussion about who will cook dinner tonight, the value of shelves full of well loved knickknacks, whether to get in credit card debt, what you would enjoy doing of an evening, and whether it is acceptable to dry one's hands on an excessively large towel. Maybe you'll also discover things about how he grew up, what parts of that feel like home to him and what parts he rejects utterly, and the same for you.
posted by emilyw at 7:23 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

In your previous experiences of dating, how did you deal with it when you wanted something mundane and the guy wasn't providing it?
posted by tel3path at 7:26 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm actually NOT sure it's about more than just towels (or similar topics).

OP, what are some other examples of issues you'd like to discuss with this guy? Or that you've wanted to discuss with other guys in the past?
posted by amaire at 7:31 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can purchase disposable hand towels. They are lovely, soft, large napkins. Put these in a bathroom drawer. He won't notice. He won't care. He is a guy.

Stop trying to talk to him like you would a girlfriend. He will not meet all of your needs. No man would or should. This is why we have girlfriends. Take him for who he is and if that isn't enough for you, then fix you or move on.

Also, don't read relationship books. He's a guy. Enjoy your time with him and let him enjoy his time with you. Dating is supposed to be fun.
posted by myselfasme at 7:32 AM on April 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

To be honest, I would not have guessed your love languages type just from your example, and I think that's kind of key. It sounds like it's obvious to you that your boyfriend's lack of action here indicates that he's not taking care of you, but I think you may be making too great of a leap if that's the case. If it were me, I'd probably have good intentions of doing what you'd asked, but would probably forget to do so for a ridiculously long time just because I only ever thought of it when you were talking about it (IF you weren't directly telling me it was really vexing you) - otherwise it just wouldn't really be on my radar as something that could actually BUG someone. It might just be that he doesn't get that this is becoming a big deal for you; while I do think it's worth stepping back and really deciding what is or is not worth making an issue of, if something is genuinely bugging you, don't assume that he gets that - say so directly. "X is kind of a big deal for me/is really bugging me because I feel Y" is the type of statement I would suggest.

Be direct, express appreciation when you feel it, don't make assumptions about the other person, and don't let things fester: these would be my 102-level suggestions on a general basis. And as a suggestion for the hand towel thing specifically, if you don't want to just bring one over and he's not getting it on his own, how about speaking up the next time the two of you are out and pass by a Target or some such store? "Hey, can we drop in there and pick up a hand towel for your bathroom?" could be what you say. And heck, poking around a store like Target can be fun with the right person.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:36 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, how old are each of you and how long have you been dating?
posted by amaire at 7:37 AM on April 23, 2013

I suspect the man does not own a hand towel, because he seems to just use his bath towel for hand drying.

So why don't you use that? I've dated plenty of people, and the only place I have a hand towel is in my guest bathroom, if only because since no one normally showers in that bathroom, there's no reason for there to be a bath towel in it.

Anyway, lest you think I am being ornery, I actually totally understand what you mean. Dating seriously means that you have to accommodate the other person's perferences in your space, rather than digging in your heels in order to "assert your identity" in the face of someone else's requests.

You could just try explaining to him that this is the first step towards having a shared life-- you have to accommodate each other's preferred lifestyles as much as is possible.
posted by deanc at 7:38 AM on April 23, 2013

This seems like a common theme in ask-me, about people who grew up having their every need catered to and thus never learned to think about other peoples' needs.

I think that's why this hand-towel thing, while seemingly minor, is sticking in your craw. He's meeting his own needs just fine and it never occurred to him that someone else doesn't want to dry their clean hands on the thing he uses to dry his butt. Thinking about things from another person's perspective is a learned skill. It's going to take time and gentle, gentle encouragement to get him used to thinking in this new way.

Seconding the disposable hand-wipes. Or just a roll of paper towels. A hand-towel is never going to get properly washed.
posted by bleep at 7:49 AM on April 23, 2013 [10 favorites]

You say in your question "even though I've asked if he has one each of the four times I've been over"

and then you respond to a more explicit suggested wording "Yes. I tried that. Four times."

But asking if he has a hand towel is not the same as saying "I prefer to use hand towels. Please keep a clean hand towel in the bathroom for me."

And then, a week later, because it's not his habit so he will definitely forget, ask him to make a space in his bathroom for his full supply of clean hand towels so that you can replenish as needed.

Clear communication, combined with teamwork ("I have thought of a solution to the hand towel problem, join me in solving it!"). No mind-reading necessary. Adapt as needed to other relationship issues.
posted by headnsouth at 7:53 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

For a plan, how about
  • mention it before you go over next - "Hey, I've noticed this thing has happened when I've been over. Can you do that before I come over/not do that when I come over? Would it be easier if I picked one up for you/reminded you"
  • Mention a specific thing he did that is awesome (recall a great date idea, thank him for rescuing you from...a rabid dog. Compliment his shoulder rubs if he gives them.)
  • Get him talking about what makes him feel cared for, because maybe he's having the same concerns on a different plane.
  • Be direct. More direct than you think you are capable of being.
Incidentally, I cannot believe the number of people suggesting you use someone else's bath towel to dry your hands. We all know which damp crevices it's been into. What we don't know is how well those crevices get cleaned, or how frequently the towel gets washed! Yuck.
posted by bilabial at 7:57 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I rather bristle at the "love language" gag.

First of all, come out of the john with wet hands and head into the kitchen for paper towels.

If you leave them in the john, I guarantee they'll stay there.

For simple stuff like this, common sense will help a lot. Don't worry so much about possessive gifts or shit like that. I don't want to dry my hands on the towel YOU use to dry your ass. Instead of a nice towel, a box of these will sove that problem.

Some people are just not hip to the niceties of housekeeping. This is easily fixed, and his failure to provide a towel doesn't mean he dosen't respect you, it means he's clueless in this area. No biggie.

Now, if you've told him repeatedly that you have a peanut allergy and he continues to make peanut butter cookies for dessert, that's a problem.

I find that instead of going around the world using psycho-babble phrases and tip-toeing around expectations, that speaking my mind works really well.

"I don't like it when you grab at my breasts."
"I don't like cilantro, it tastes like soap, please don't put that on my burrito."
"I'd rather watch Casablanca than the Three Stooges, but I can compromise on a Marx Brothers movie."

Simple declarative statements are good. Long, meandering explanations, with words in them like, 'Ongoing Dialogue' and 'Scaffolding', are going to make your guy's eyes glaze over and may successfully have him running for the exits.

Just say what's on your mind. You don't have to justify it or anticipate what he may think or do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:00 AM on April 23, 2013 [19 favorites]

I'm a guy who has not nor will ever buy a hand towel because reasons.

From my perspective, you're not communicating well at all. I'm a busy guy with a huge prioritized list of things that needed to get done weeks ago, somebody telling me I need to get hand towels is like someone asking me to stock beluga caviar for their next visit. If you want it, bring it. That's your deal.

You probably aren't talking about hand towels here, though. You're talking about other things but you're trying to make your point as sympathetically to your own self portrayal as possible. That would be another example in my mind of your problematic communication skills. So I think this is essentially your problem, not this guy. Not saying he's perfect, but I am really doubting things are going to work out for you two if no hand towels is a deal breaker.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:04 AM on April 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

I don't think there is any magic communication that makes a person grow up. You might have to accept him like this, or move on to someone more compatible. If you buy him a towel, you'll always be buying the metaphorical towel, and while he will get everything he needs, he'll never have to fulfill your needs unless you nag or do it yourself.

Life is too short to be buying the towel my friend.
posted by cakebatter at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Also, his answer to your "do you have a hand towel?" question is MUCH more important than the actual towel.

Example: You come out of the bathroom with wet hands and ask "do you have a hand towel?"

Good response: "No, Guest In My Home, I don't usually keep those. Let me go to the kitchen and get you a napkin."

Bad response: "Huh? No, whatever." *turns back to the TV*

The phrasing of your question seems a bit fussy, but I can easily see how you could be completely right in your concerns about this guy, depending on how he's responding to you.
posted by Shouraku at 8:14 AM on April 23, 2013 [11 favorites]

The towel thing is not weird at all if he's accustomed to live alone. You forget, living alone, that something that's perfectly normal for you – drying your hands on your own bath towel – might be squicky for a visitor. He needs to assimilate the general requirements of what visitors need vs. what he as the occupant needs – it's not even a "romantic" failure, it's more general, so don't take it personally.
posted by zadcat at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: "Can you put a hand towel in the bathroom for me to dry my hands? I'll bring one for you if you want!" (this is not the same as asking if he has a hand towel)
"Thanks for doing X, it makes me feel appreciated."

Oh, on preview, just what Ruthless Bunny said.

Keep your tone nice (not nagging or demanding) and he will probably appreciate you telling him what you like and appreciate. I think there's a danger of overdoing it though, too many little things and it may seem like you're trying to tell him what to do all the time. If the big things are good you may have to compromise on some of the smaller things.

What would you say to a friend who didn't keep a hand towel in the bathroom for you? If your friendship was otherwise solid, would you bring it up and if so how?

I feel like this is about something else - you don't feel like you know him well and you're not happy with that? - but I can't grab on to what it was. If the overall relationship is good I don't think we get to an AskMe about a hand towel. I'm not being flip, and I'm not saying you have a bad relationship, I'm just saying I'm confused. And maybe that's a point in favor of being more direct?
posted by mrs. taters at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2013

I'm a busy guy with a huge prioritized list of things that needed to get done weeks ago, somebody telling me I need to get hand towels is like someone asking me to stock beluga caviar for their next visit. If you want it, bring it. That's your deal.

I disagree. I also think people coming up with their own list of reasons why hand towels are 100% necessary and bath towels to dry your hands is disgusting are irrational. But some people feel it's more hygienic to use liquid some and find using someone else's bar soap to wash their hands is icky. No one has shown me the epidemiological studies tying to of shared bar soap and bath towels for hand hygiene to be tied to health risks.

But it's not rooted in personal health risks or some scientific justification. It's rooted in a feeling that a space you share with someone (even just a couple of times a week) is a pleasant place that you want to be in. That requires a certain level of maturity and ability to look outside yourself in order to accommodate someone's needs that exist "just because."

I might add that pushing the point by turning it into a power struggle will just cause him to dig in his heels, which isn't good for either of you. If he does it because it is your preference and makes you happier when you're in his space, he's more likely to follow along than if you explain to him he's a dirty manchild because he is so uncouth as to use a bath towel to dry his hands.
posted by deanc at 8:17 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first serious post-college girlfriend said "hey, I'd really appreciate it if you invested in a nose-hair trimmer." It was a reasonable request, but not something I'd ever thought about, so I did. I didn't make a big deal about it because, ok, yeah, that's probably reasonable. A few weeks later she said "Oh, wow, I just noticed you got a nose-hair trimmer. I feel horrible for not noticing before, you look great!" I feel like that was a pretty functional model for this kind of thing. She asked for something reasonable, I did it, she was appreciative.

Reasonable, straightforward request + positive response - nagging = win win.

A more recent partner (who I was living with at the time) expected me to understand her standards of decor/house cleaning without any direction or discussion, and was offended when I asked her to please make a list of the things she thought I wasn't aware of that she wanted me to be more aware of. She's no longer my partner. Lose-lose.

Moral: go go gadget communication.
posted by Alterscape at 8:40 AM on April 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

So you've been to his house a total of 4 times, which suggests to me (correct me if I'm wrong!) that this is a pretty new relationship. And he's the one "new to dating" (you think) but you're the one who wants to study podcasts for optimal scaffolding strategies and oh my god sorry, I just totally tuned out because HOLY CRAP, TRY TO JUST BREATHE AND TALK AND ENJOY.

It doesn't all have to be an optimization strategy! It can just be two people who like to touch up on each other, hangin' out with a pizza and some wine and saying in plain normal human words what they like and using please and thank you when they ask for favors. Favors like "hey, can we please swing by the Target and grab some hand towels for your place? I know, I'm maybe a weirdo, I just like them."
posted by like_a_friend at 8:44 AM on April 23, 2013 [14 favorites]

Some acts of service are very annoying to me. For instance, there is no need to pull my chair out for me each time I sit down to a meal, though I would love to marry a guy who always pumps my gas because I just don't want to have to think about it.

I kind of get the sense that you yourself do not have a lot of dating experience and that's why you're leaning so much on self-help analysis? I've been on both sides of the situation with regards to dating a late bloomer. You are ahead of the game with regards to recognizing that "mind-reading" does not make for good relationships.

You may be doing something that is close kin to mind reading, though. You may be deemphasizing or minimizing or hinting. Late bloomers need explicit statements: "I really need a hand towel for the bathroom. Can you pick one up at CVS on the way home from work? Or I will bring some? What works best?"

I would find the "pump my gas," thing annoying in as much that I identify as a generous man and I want credit for the generous habits that I bring to the relationship as opposed to having to live up to arbitrary expectations of manhood. In my experience, if I'm generous in X, Y and Z traditional ways but, "hey, I grew up in Oregon and am nervous around pumping gas," ... Well, that expectation starts to feel like an obligation and may breed resentment. If it's a preference, sure negotiate a gas for shoulder rubs (or some other preference your man likes) trade as a silly inside joke. If it's a dealbreaker, that's your prerogative so be clear about it. If it's a nice-to-have fantasy, just appreciate the times it happens organically or but maybe don't push for it.

Other fun explicit statements for late bloomers: Setting boundaries has always been a relief to me. "Can you sleep with me without sleeping with me tonight?" and "let's plan a dinner at home, rent a movie we've already seen and make out until we can't stand it and go to the bedroom," are both good things to know and now one can just enjoy the situation with second guessing what is on the table tonight. The copycat game is fun, too. I once told a lover, "I want you to kiss me with your tongue," and "this time, pin me against the wall like how I kiss you," and nary a further word needed to be spoken on the matters. Don't hint. Not even the most obvious hint in the world. Tell. Tell. Tell.

In your SO's world, handtowels are not an important thing so your current explanations sound kind of like, "gosh, I like kettle corn, don't you? Wouldn't it be fun to have kettle corn stocked in your kitchen?" And he's thinking, "She likes kettle corn, guess I should pick some up someday," when he should be told, "I was raised in a home where we had kettle corn with every meal. I don't feel at home here without kettle corn. Can I bring some over for you to keep -- starting tomorrow?"

PS -- the odds of that handtowel ever getting washed are probably slim so you may want to make a note to throw it in the hamper from time to time and/or discuss expectations about it.
posted by Skwirl at 9:09 AM on April 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

"Hey dude, come here, I need to dry my wet hands on your shirt because you still don't have a hand towel in the bathroom. By the way, would you like me to tell you a good place to buy one?"

If you make a joke out of it (or even get frisky with him while drying your hands on his shirt), and offer to help by telling him where he can buy one, he should get the message without feeling ashamed or put down, plus you are giving him a path forward (the offer to provide information about where to buy one).
posted by Dansaman at 9:40 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would love to marry a guy who always pumps my gas because I just don't want to have to think about it.

I'm kind of curious how this is supposed to work. I mean, is he driving your car, so that when your car needs gas, he just takes care of it for you? Or that you're driving, and when you pull into a gas station, he gets out and takes care of it? Because in the latter case, you still have to think about it, he's just doing it for you. Or when he comes home at the end of the day, he takes your car out for a trip to the gas station and fills up the tank? Or maybe you guys switch off cars every week or two and gives you a freshly-filled car? I mean, sure, I'd love to not have to think about filling up my car's gas tank, I'm just not sure what the logistics are that you are envisioning. (I know a large family where the cars are basically considered "communal" and the father simply drives the one that has the least gas every day and fills it up so that no one else has to worry about it. I think this is wacky)

(of course, I grew up in NJ, and neither man nor woman EVER has to pump their own gas there)

I don't think this is about him being a late bloomer. I think this is more about you guys both being young and not really used to living independently while also unsure about out how to accommodate another person into the framework of that independent living. Certain things are shared (the couch, the bed) other things are personal and purchased separately for the other person (a razor, a toothbrush). Certain things are shared but basically preferences have to yield for the comfort of one partner (what kind of toilet paper to use, use of hand towels).
posted by deanc at 9:44 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was joking to myself that it would be great to see AskMe respond to this one with a big 'ol DTMFA and then I read a couple comments that were hinting at that. Ha.

"If the big things are good you may have to compromise on some of the smaller things."

Here's the Savage Love-ism that I like the most: There are some small things, small habits that are annoying but not dealbreakers and not likely to change. These things are, "the price of admission," to go to the amusement park of your relationship.

Eventually you will have to stop framing this relationship as guru versus noob. Eventually you will have to seek out the things that your partner can teach you and allow your partner to wear the guru hat from time to time.

Some scripts (as applicable according to the tenet that everyone is different, Platinum Rule and all that...)
  • Partner anxious --> Hand on shoulder, kiss on cheek, "I appreciate what you do for me. Take your time. Breathe."
  • Compliment of any sort --> "That means a lot to me, coming from someone that I admire [for related reasons, such as good fashion taste or intellect or character]..."
  • Partner fashion faux pas: Pick a private moment... "I like it when men wear nice socks. Can I get you some that I like? It will be fun to tear them off you later." If no, don't push it. This is now a price of admission item unless it's truly egregious. Alternately, as applicable, plan a fun shopping date with sneaky changing room plans.
  • Partner plans a date, unique but not perfect: "I really appreciate that you did this for me. It was really great. I'm looking forward to next time and have some new ideas!"
  • Sex (in the moment): "That doesn't feel good, can we try X instead?"
  • Sex (outside the moment, and outside the bedroom, is when longer discussions can happen): "Next time, instead of X, can we do Y, Z and then Q? Do you get anything from X? We could save it for sometimes but not all the time if you like it. I really like Y instead of X. X doesn't feel good."
  • If you like happy surprises and anticipated preferences, model that and point it out, "it was fun doing Z for you. How are you going to get me back?!"

posted by Skwirl at 10:58 AM on April 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

I get the idea that when you say "his lack of familiarity with dating" you really mean his lack of knowledge in how to treat women in his home/life/etc. But then you go on to mention some specific gender stereotypes (holding chair) that you don't like, so I think it's going to be hard to find any generic advice as opposed to the personal advice that folks have been giving here.

I know I've read some stuff either here or on Reddit that talks about the kinds of things guys ought to think about if they have women in their lives. One of the items was that guys should put a wastebasket in the bathroom, because women need it for feminine trash, and make sure to empty it on a regular basis. I don't know what search terms you could use to find more things like this, or what thread that might have been in with similar tips. Maybe if we phrase your question this way, the responses will be more helpful, and less towelly.
posted by CathyG at 12:38 PM on April 23, 2013

You don't sound as if you like this person all that much if this is a Big Deal Issue you can't simply solve on your own or put up with/ignore until you are more established as a couple.

Get some more dating experience and stop over-thinking things.

Stop dating this guy. You're not ready to date if a hand towel is this big an issue for you, or especially if hand towels are a stand-in issue for Bigger Issues you haven't yet learned how to discuss in a productive manner.

Seriously, let the guy go.

If this relationship was "right" for you, you wouldn't need AskMe's, self-help books, or relationship tools less than a month into it!

Move on.
posted by jbenben at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

Skwirl makes a good point: In my experience, if I'm generous in X, Y and Z traditional ways but, "hey, I grew up in Oregon and am nervous around pumping gas," ... Well, that expectation starts to feel like an obligation and may breed resentment.

Any man you date is going to have his own idea of what various tasks and roles mean, and it will require open communication and flexibility to ensure that your needs are met and his priorities are respected, and vice versa.

I was married to someone who was passive-aggressive about not mowing the lawn. Turns out his father had died very young while his mother was pregnant & then had a new baby to care for (which I knew), so he had to mow the lawn literally every week of every year from age 8 until he was grown and moved away (which I didn't know). That weekly obligation of mowing the lawn (even though we were in seasonal mid-Atlantic U.S. rather than year-round-growing Sydney) brought back all of that long-buried loss and abandonment. So I mowed the lawn even though that's a "guy job" in my head & I have a mild allergy to it. Turned out he was passive-aggressive about other things too, & the marriage didn't work out, but jeez, he was 8 years old and expected to take charge without complaint, it's kind of understandable.

Anyway everyone's got a story, or a bunch of stories, that you can only learn & respond/adapt to by getting to know that person, not by following a list of tips & tricks.
posted by headnsouth at 1:05 PM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

(Some acts of service are very annoying to me. For instance, there is no need to pull my chair out for me each time I sit down to a meal, though I would love to marry a guy who always pumps my gas because I just don't want to have to think about it.)

Well, if you're going to pick and choose which stereotypes guys should and shouldn't follow, be sure to tell him what they are first so that he knows how not to annoy you.

Maybe you aren't really this high-maintenance in real life, but you're coming across that way to me in your choice of wording for this post. Just keep in mind that most people will not want to be with someone who micromanages their life.
posted by Melismata at 2:31 PM on April 23, 2013 [10 favorites]

I once had a boyfriend who had a small-ish bed. He only had one pillow and I would inevitably end up sleeping on the edge of the bed with no pillow under my head. I said a thousand times that he should get an extra pillow before my neck just gave out one day and it never happened. Had I bought a pillow and brought it over, he probably wouldn't have minded, but we were both too lazy. If I were actually bothered by the problem, I would have bought a pillow.

So, script:
"Could you put a hand towel in the bathroom so I can dry my hands in there?"

RESPONSE A: "Oh, I don't have any hand towels, I'm sorry. But there are paper towels in the kitchen and I can put some in the bathroom if ithat's OK?"

This is a good response and problem solved.

RESPONSE B: "Oh, I don't have any... ?"

In this case, "do you mind if I just keep one in here? Sorry, wet hands bother me," will probably work fine, unless he's really techy.

But if he tries to make you feel weird ("huh? ... oh, I don't know... I don't want random towels in there... ") or just ignores you, idk, I'd probably not enjoy dating him that much, from experience.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:25 PM on April 24, 2013

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