Dating exclusively; not a relationship, but acting like one.
June 2, 2013 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Hasn't been a long time. Not sure how to handle the situation.

Okay: I'm pretty sure I haven't used Ask MeFi for useful purposes but rather to glean advice from a Greek chorus way more insightful than my group of 20-something friends. You guys are great. Thank you in advance.

But, here goes, another relationship quandary: started dating this guy about 2 months ago, and things were (are) really great. I'm a pretty anxious person and we were seeing each other/sleeping together on a consistent basis (like 3 x per week), meeting each other's friends, and not acting casual, so one month in, I dropped the "where is this going" talk. Typically I wouldn't do this early on, but I needed to know what was up as this felt anything but casual.

At the time, he thought he was going to lose his job and was unsure about his future, so he told me that he wasn't ready for a serious commitment but that he was okay with dating exclusively. He also told me he wasn't 100% over his ex, who broke up with him a year ago after dating for 2.

1 month later, he's likely keeping his job, and has still been acting for all intents and purposes like a boyfriend--calling me, actively turning down other girls, even setting my pic as his phone's wallpaper. Yet label-wise, he hasn't brought up anything different in a change of feelings or emotion.

He's pretty young--I'm 26, he's 23--so I feel like he views relationships differently than I do. He lived with his last GF, so I think he equates a relationship with something super serious (which obviously it isn't, at first). I don't expect that of him, I just want the ability to try to have a relationship and see what happens as it develops.

I'm going to broach this in another month or 2 (I can only give it 3-4 months tops before I've reached my limit) but is it perhaps more wise to cut it off sooner? I know the whole "he's just not that into" thing is starting to ring true here, and I'd really like not to lie to myself without getting emotionally invested, but how do you handle someone who acts like they're with you but isn't ready to say that yet? I think 2 months may be too soon to decide. Thoughts?
posted by shotinthedark to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One conversation that might be worth having is what does "relationship" mean to each of you? How is a relationship different from just agreeing to see each other exclusively? It may be that you each use the word relationship somewhat differently, but your understanding of what you are to each other is close. Or it may not be--that's what the conversation would help clarify.
posted by pompelmo at 4:11 PM on June 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Seconding pompelmo. I've dated a couple guys now who had markedly different personal definitions for the words "boyfriend" or "relationship" than I did, and we each had uneasy moments until I talked to them and found out "oh, you don't call someone your girlfriend until you're like, living together? Okay, got it."

I know it's anxiety-making - I got wigged out like that too - but those conversations actually relaxed me about not just those guys, but every other guy since; I pay a lot more attention to what they do rather than what they call themselves at this point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:18 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

What is it that you want from him, in terms of actions and behavior, that is different from what he is giving you now? Is it merely using the terms "boyfriend" and "girlfriend"?

I was kind of in this situation once. When we met his friends, he would say "So and so, this is telegraph," and it kind of ground me up that he didn't say "This is my girlfriend, telegraph."

Anyway, I'm firmly of the opinion that part of being an adult is understanding social cues that allow you to not have a ridiculously beanplatey conversation about every little thing. So I dropped the B bomb and started calling him my boyfriend, in front of him only. For example, if I came over after work and brought his favorite beer, I'd say "Am I the best girlfriend ever or what?" That sort of thing. It wasn't particularly contrived because I felt like that was the nature of our relationship, and previously had been constantly stopping myself from saying things like that.

If he had been uncomfortable with it it would have prompted a discussion, but he wasn't, and from then on we were boyfriend and girlfriend instead of telegraph and that-dude. So, if that is your complaint, that is how I would proceed.
posted by telegraph at 4:21 PM on June 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Actions speak louder than words. He is acting like your boyfriend. I would not push for a label. If he keeps on acting the way you would want/expect at all the time mileposts, who cares what he calls it?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:22 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is there something you want from this relationship that you feel you are not currently getting? I can't tell from your question.
posted by Asparagus at 4:27 PM on June 2, 2013

I actually had a really hard time understanding your question - ie, what the problem was. I'm still not entirely sure I get it, but it seems to be that you feel that you are boyfriend-girlfriend, in a relationship, you're both acting as if that's the case, but because this has not been explicitly stated it bugs you. A lot.

So say something! It doesn't need to be a big, heavy conversation. It can just be along the lines of, "hey, seems to me like we've turned into boyfriend-girlfriend, and that's cool with me, how do you feel about it?"

On the other hand, I don't get much of a sense from your question that you ARE okay with it. You don't mention how you feel about him at all, you're obviously unsure of how he feels about you, you're already thinking about whether you should break up with him now before it gets worse later. It has been my experience that once someone starts having those thoughts, the end of the relationship is in sight. So I'd ask yourself if you want to stay in the relationship, regardless of what he feels.

If you do, then yes, two months is really too early to tell without having the conversation. So have the conversation.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:00 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: re: Asparagus: an expression of commitment I don't explicitly have. I know actions speak louder than words, but after dating a few guys over the past year who seemed really keen on me at first and then balked at the discussion of commitment, I'd like to hear something to feel reassured. Though perhaps it's too soon to want this.

re: Athanassiel: same as mentioned above, I've just learned not to trust someone's motives until something's been explicitly stated. This is also someone who 5 weeks ago told me they weren't sure if they wanted a relationship. If they haven't told me anything's changed, I feel like it'd be wrong of me to assume it has unless it was discussed.

I think I'm just going to go with the flow for now, and if something changes, have a conversation. Great advice so far, thank you everyone!
posted by shotinthedark at 5:08 PM on June 2, 2013

It seems that if you're having sexual relations, you should be sure if you are exclusive and committed to each other or not, and if not exclusive, be aware of other sexual partners and their medical history.

That being said, you sound like a really intelligent 26-year-old woman, and I'm not sure most 23-year-old men are going to quite understand your ability to articulate your needs in a relationship and also respond in kind. Just my experience, YMMV.
posted by Unangenehm at 5:13 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I totally get what you're asking here. A lot of guys act relationshippy all the time and then disappear after the girl tries to discuss commitment, it's as if they have no idea that being exclusive and calling every day and being invited to Christmas (!!!) would make a girl assume that they might be in a boyfriend/girlfriend. So yes, actions are important, but so are words. If he is more or less a normal average guy then he should understand that the label is somewhat important in society. I think it's worth asking again in a little while to see where he's at. If everything in his life is going according to plan (job, health, apt, etc), then he should be thrilled to call you his girlfriend if he is into you for the foreseeable future. If he is still unsure about wanting to be with you then he is probably not that into you, and holding out for other options. Or he might not have his life together to have a girlfriend, but do you really want to wait for him to possibly be ready sometime in the unknown future? Probably not. Like you said, 4 months sounds reasonable. I really wish you the best, I hope this guy is on the same page as you :)
posted by at 6:38 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another vote for at least a conversation, albeit a low stress, casual one.
Me and my SO's conversation happened after I mentioned a friend of mine's "boo thang" in conversation, with his segway being "are we boo thangs?".

I personally have a bad habit of bean plating but it really doesn't have to be the end of the world. Think of it as going in for scheduled maintenance, you don't have to wait for something to go wrong before you check under the hood.
posted by rubster at 6:46 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You've been dating exclusively for 30 days. Before you escalate to committed -- and I'm not saying you shouldn't -- ask yourself if you'll be expecting an engagement in another 30 days.

Which is to say: do you want to be committed because you're actually committed long term, or do you just want the security of knowing that he is? If you're really feeling like this is something you want long term, you can share that and see how he feels, but if you don't, then don't rush him to commit. 30 days of exclusivity isn't very long.
posted by davejay at 7:17 PM on June 2, 2013

One of the most valuable things i've learned in therapy (and i'm older than you and in a LTR, so YMMV) is that relationships need not follow any set pattern or any pre-existing rulebook. They can be whatever the two (or three, or whatever) people agree upon.

So, if you like him and he likes you, you can totally have a conversation like "okay, i know we're not calling this a relationship right now, but lets talk about what our boundaries are and what our expectations of each other are and how we feel about moving forward and when we'd like to do that" in a way that can be more fun and less looking-at-your-watch.
posted by softlord at 7:24 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've been this guy before, who was doing all the "relationship" things but didn't want to call it a relationship.

I think you should absolutely talk to him, because i think it's bullshit that he wants to act like it's a relationship, and get all the benefits of that without the actual commitment.

He's the relationship equivalent of a roommate moving in to a share house but not signing the lease. He's getting all the benefit without much of the responsibility, and has a disproportionate escape angle here of always being able to say "What's the problem? we weren't in a relationship" type of lines.

I get that this is entirely a piece of mind thing that you want him to confirm/deny this, but he's also kind of a bit of a butt to say "yea, lets be exclusive" but not call it a Normal Relationship.

Putting this off because you don't want a bad answer you don't want to hear, or him to pull back is crappy and you're really only punching yourself in the groin there while simultaneously letting him continue on with this pussy footing committing-but-not BS.

Just be completely prepared to hear some type of non-answer and then walk. Because when i was doing this kind of crap with relationships i wasn't anyone worthwhile to date, and neither were any of my friends/acquaintances who have either pulled this sort of routine or the people who pulled it on them. It's really banal young commitment-phobe dude stuff, which being in the first person on this as a recovering commitment-phobe young guy i can tell you is pretty pathetic and crappy to deal with.

As a side note, i also think that wanting to be exclusive or actually full on dating after a month is a bit weird and seriously high school to me. But i recognize that sometimes relationships move like that. I have personal opinions about both that type of thing as the (not) basis to a Serious Good Relationship™ but that isn't the question you asked. What i will say is that i don't think he'd be acting like A Butt if he goes "Woah, hey lets give this some time before we do that" since yea, 30 days. The ball is a bit in his court since he basically shifted from first gear in to neutral without really shifting in to second by being exclusive but not actually dating. That just strikes me as weird hair splitting beanplating kind of stuff along the lines of ordering a burger and throwing out everything but the patty. Definitely consider that stuff too...
posted by emptythought at 11:40 PM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, guys!

Empty Thought, marking yours as my fave cause I think it most closely fits my situation. As much as I care for the guy, he's figuring a lot of stuff out still (like most 23 year olds), and I understand that completely. Again, I'm gonna wait a few more months to broach it, and also to see if I feel strongly enough to know what's going on.

To address your side note, I only brought up exclusivity because I'm totally not cool with my partner sleeping around if we're being sexually active. We'd been seeing each other consistently for a month at the time, so I felt it needed to be discussed.

Again, thanks all! I feel much better about the situation.
posted by shotinthedark at 7:37 PM on June 4, 2013

I only brought up exclusivity because I'm totally not cool with my partner sleeping around if we're being sexually active.

Which only hammers home my side note though, with the shifting from first gear to neutral thing. That type of exclusivity is one of the main things on the feature sheet of a relationship unless you specifically ordered your relationship as one of the "open/non monogamous" types which is pretty much one of those things that has to be explicitly stated. And i'm in no way saying this is some kind of failure to clarify on your part, just that it might be weasel-dick lawyering of technicalities on his.

If you haven't discussed that sexual exclusivity is what you were seeking here already, you should bring that up like... when you get home tonight. The dating thing can go another day, but being "not totally committed" as a way to sleep with other people and use it as an excuse to not talk about it is pretty slimy. Don't leave that door open, as i said with the loophole bit of my post.

Our minds may already be in sync here, but i just wanted to extra-clarify that part :) I'm also sorry if i came off as reading your partner-person in the worst possible light here, but when you get no context on the internet you have to take the chance that anything that's making noises that sound a lot like quacking might be a duck.
posted by emptythought at 7:06 PM on June 12, 2013

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