Am I being strung along or is he just scared and taking it slow?
January 4, 2014 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I need advice about my boyfriend: I think I might be being strung along, but can't tell.

We are both in our early 30's. He has never had a long-term relationship and only said "I love you" to one girl- again a short-term relationship that broke his heart. He usually does the ending of relationships.

Background: We were acquaintances first and he pursued me for a while. Then we drunkenly kissed one night and he asked me out. We dated for about 3 months and then he broke up with me suddenly without much explanation. 2 months later of no contact, he reached out and begged for a second chance. He seemed genuinely sorry and missed me so I granted it. I know he's a good guy, who's close to his family.

We've now been dating again for 4 months and I just feel like he's withdrawing again. We never have sex and he hasn't told me he loves me. But he ACTS like he loves me though. He's very tender. I've met all of his family and friends. He's very independent and very much an introvert. He likes to stay at home and hates spending money. I'm opposite. I like to be social, but we have a good time when we're together.

I'm starting to feel anxious about this whole relationship- the fact he pushes/pulls, the fact that he's not interested in sex with me, and the fact that he hasn't said the 3 words. I think I'm starting to act out my anxiety more when I'm with him, which is causing him to withdraw more.

Should I confront him about it or just keep taking it slowly? I know relationships freak him out. I was actually told by a friend of us that this was a long time for him (our relationship). Maybe I'm just too close to the situation to see clearly.
posted by Butterflye1010 to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
All I would say to you is that it's ok for you to be a little more demanding about having your needs met. It's not as if the needs you're communicating here are unreasonable... you want fulfillment in your sex life, you want to be a little more active and social, and you want someone who is much more communicative about your relationship.

These are very reasonable needs. It sounds like they aren't being met, so you should communicate and ask that he take some steps to meet them.

And if he can't meet them, then you deserve someone else who can. It's not really fair to yourself if you allow yourself to stay unsatisfied and in limbo.

Just my brief opinion!
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Should I confront him about it or just keep taking it slowly?

Neither. Just talk to him. Talking about things doesn't have to be a confrontation. But he's doing what he did last time and you're feeling it. So say that: "I sense that you're pulling back again, what's up?" "I'd like to have more sex than we're having." "I want to go out to [X] with you Friday night."

If he doesn't meet you halfway, think back on the first time he broke up with you. Was it really "suddenly without much explanation" or did you ignore the signs?
posted by headnsouth at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like there should be a two question limit on relationship questions about the same guy. Not for our benefit, but for yours. A) relationships shouldn't be this difficult and B) if you can't get better results by asking him directly than a bunch of strangers on the internet, you don't really have much of a future anyway.

So my advice is to talk to the guy about it and whatever happens, happens. If he tells you what you want to hear, then great, if he doesn't, then you can get out of this dead end relationship before you waste too much more of your time.
posted by empath at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

As with any relationship, communication is paramount. Would he ever agree to see a relationship counselor with you?

Also, I know this is a strange question and a sensitive subject, but is it possible that he's uncomfortable with his own sexuality? What you describe - especially the complete absence of sex or sexual interest - suggests to me that he might be asexual or gay, and having difficulty coming to terms with it.

I second empath's advice. Talk to him about it. If there are no open lines of communication, the ship will sink anyway; you might as well try to understand each other.
posted by stolyarova at 9:22 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think not having said, "I love you" with just 4 months of newly official dating is something to be concerned with (personally, I think it would be weirder if he had), but I do think lack of sexual interest is concerning. Is never really never, or once a month?

I would address that issue first. In the conversation you need to first identify the behavior (or lack of it) that is upsetting, seek to understand his interpretation of the situation, then explain clearly and directly what you want and then you can try to figure out if there's a solution.
posted by brookeb at 9:23 AM on January 4, 2014

Two questions: was he able to explain to you, afterwards, why he broke up with you the first time? Because if he can't, he was just sorry that he did, then I think it would be hard for me to feel comfortable in that relationship no matter what. He doesn't sound like a great communicator at the best of times, but he's really running a deficit here. The ability to communicate is really a baseline requirement, especially once you enter your thirties.

Second question: how do *you* feel about the lack of sex? You frame it here like it's a problem because it might be a clue he's uninterested. Take a step back. What if it wasn't? What if that was just his level of drive? Would you be okay with that? Because if not, you can stop trying to mind read him and bring this to a close. Four months of dating is too soon to be trying to work out incompatible sex drives.

Basically, like some of the other commenters above, I think you need to reframe - not 'should I be nervous about whether my boyfriend likes me?' but instead, 'Am I too eager to commit to someone who might not be worth committing to?'
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2014 [16 favorites]

It is ok for you to need things, like "I love you" or sex, or reassurance that the other partner is not going to up and run, that are basic to most long-term dating relationships, especially in one's 30s. It's not a three-month relationship, it's a 7-month one, with a breakkup in the middle. That's a long time to not know what the hell is going on.

I would second the idea that he has some issue, around his sexuality, or otherwise, that is handicapping this relationship. An issue that you cannot solve for him. An issue he must work on seriously if he wants to change. Does he want to change?

You clearly like him, he's "sweet", but can you trust him? Because a partner should be someone you can trust.

Here is what you say:
We've now been dating again for 4 months and I just feel like he's withdrawing again. We never have sex and he hasn't told me he loves me. But he ACTS like he loves me though. He's very tender. I've met all of his family and friends. He's very independent and very much an introvert. He likes to stay at home and hates spending money. I'm opposite. I like to be social, but we have a good time when we're together.

I'm starting to feel anxious about this whole relationship- the fact he pushes/pulls, the fact that he's not interested in sex with me, and the fact that he hasn't said the 3 words. I think I'm starting to act out my anxiety more when I'm with him, which is causing him to withdraw more.

What are you getting out of this relationship? Is it enough? You don't sound happy. It's ok to be his friend, and support him as he figures himself out, if you want to. It's not ok to take on the role of girlfriend with all the responsibilities (emotional caretaking, social prop) and none of the rewards, or very scant rewards. At least, if you want to be happy.

It doesn't really matter if you're getting "strung along"; what matters is that your needs are almost nowhere considered in this relationship. If you think there's a way to change that dynamic and keep the relationship (couples therapy, maybe) then you could try that. If you are skeptical (and from your description, I am skeptical) that this will work, you should change your status to "friend" and move on to seeking out a relationship that's real and fulfilling.

Because you deserve that. Life is so short! Far too short to waste in dead or false relationships.
posted by emjaybee at 9:36 AM on January 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's a lot of territory between "confronting" and wait-and-see. You can start by talking about how you feel; then ask him how he feels.

"I feel kind of uncertain about how you feel about me and this relationship. It seems like you're withdrawing and that makes me anxious. Can you talk to me about how you feel things are going?"

You're not psychic, and and neither is he. You're both going to have to use words.
posted by rtha at 9:47 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The short answer is you should dump this guy immediately because he's too much effort and drama and he's hurting you with his immaturity.

The long answer is you should do all the talking, understanding, handholding, and babysitting my fellow MeFites suggest in this thread, except you can tell from the way I've characterized their very sane and fair advice that I believe you'll be TOTALLY spinning your wheels if you go that route with this particular guy.

He's not ready, and you can't make him. His issues run deep and they are not your problem.


ProTip for the future: The next time someone claims intimacy issues because someone in the distant past lied/cheated/didn't reciprocate their feelings - RUN.
posted by jbenben at 9:47 AM on January 4, 2014 [25 favorites]

Someone who isn't interested in having sex with you after four months of dating is not going to become more interested after a nice long talk. Discussing your needs, which don't appear to coincide with his very much at all, may buy you a few more months of unsatisfying time with him. I wouldn't.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:55 AM on January 4, 2014 [18 favorites]

I spent a good chunk of my 20s in variations of this theme. Having "the talk," waiting it out, trying to be The Woman Who Will Inspire Him to Love and Trust Again... when the writing is so clearly on the wall, all of this is a fool's errand (you'll forgive the mixed metaphor). The fact is, there are attractive, interesting, emotionally healthy men out there who SHARE your social preferences, who WANT to be in a relationship, and who ARE capable of intimacy. Except that you can't find them when you're wrapped up in trying to turn a manchild into an adult. Say goodbye to the manchild and look for someone who's an adult already.
posted by scody at 10:02 AM on January 4, 2014 [23 favorites]

Meh. He's not taking it slow, he's going backwards. Four months (on this go-round) is a relatively short period of time, so pack it up and find someone who stays interested in you.

Even if he weren't already in a push/pull pattern, even if he had, by this time, at least some solid relationship experience and even if you did have sex, the staying-in vs. going out dynamic spells long term trouble. And that's secondary to the "he doesn't like to spend money." I'm not saying that men have to spend money to be relationship material, but I am saying that financial disagreements are riiiiight up there with sex for reasons relationships don't work out.

You've barely got your toes in this one and there are already sex and money discrepancies in your lifestyles. Just let this one go.
posted by mibo at 10:03 AM on January 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

if you were 19 i'd say just see where this goes, have fun for as long as it's fun for. but in your early 30s, don't waste your time. find someone you're more compatible with. you might consider for next time why this was acceptable for you for this long - you've given this guy a year of your life to push and pull. when i was younger i dated people who were unavailable in one way or another because of my own intimacy issues. i had to fix those before i was ready to be with someone who really wanted me.
posted by nadawi at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

You're not being strung along if you haven't communicated to him what you hope for and expect in a relationship. He may simply have different needs from you and be in a different headspace about where you two are.

Sit down with him and have an honest talk. It doesn't have to be a confontation. It can just be a calm, productive session about where you'd hoped you'd be at this point. If he can't or won't give you what you need, that's no ones fault. You just then have to decide if staying in the relationship is what you want based on this information.
posted by inturnaround at 10:06 AM on January 4, 2014

You are totally allowed to break up with this dude if he's not giving you what you need in a relationship.

It doesn't seem like you feel loved or are getting your needs met here.

I'm not so much telling you to dump him (I mean really, do whatever works for you), but just remember that you don't need a Beyond A Reasonable Doubt reason to leave someone if you're not happy.
posted by Sara C. at 10:11 AM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Break up with him because he's a DRAMA LLAMA who's hung up on a short-term relationship in the past and who's never really tried to get over it. You deserve better than a fixer-upper who uses being broken to have more power in a relationship. #girlcode
posted by spunweb at 10:19 AM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you want sex? If you don't, then go ahead and try and talk-therapy this back to life. If you want sex, move on. If it's not happening, there's a reason. Have you considered that he's in a relationship with someone else? I know you say he's a good guy, and he probably is, but these are all red flags of a cheater to cynical me.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:27 AM on January 4, 2014

Man, I think I dated that guy. Seriously, are you in SF? This obviously doesn't pertain to every case, but for the most part, a man in his 30s with no relationship experience is bad news. There's a reason that's his history, and unless there's good indication that he's done A LOT of work on himself recently, bail. There's no indication of that evident in your post. :-/
posted by namesarehard at 10:47 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You've been entangled, on and off, with this guy for 10 months. I think you need to put a hard stop to this relationship, and cut contact, since you seem to be vulnerable to his push-pull dynamic.

No sex? No "I love you"? No fun socializing together? Sounds more like a friendship (and not even a very fun one at that) than an intimate relationship.
posted by nacho fries at 10:50 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Guh. If I could go back in time and bang a gong next to my twenty-something head while it was being subjected to the sad tale of THE EX in a restaurant, bar, living room, post-coital tangle of bedsheets, wherever, I would.

Take it from someone who ate table scraps for three years - she will always be better than you in his mind because she doesn't change. She's stuck in amber in his head - she doesn't have needs, unfulfilled desires, morning breath, grouchy days, periods, leg stubble, irritating kitchen/bathroom habits, other people she loves/cares about, goals that don't include him, etc. She is a fantasy that he holds onto so that everything else necessarily pales by comparison and he is not forced to take risks, be vulnerable, or make any kind of real commitment to anything other than himself for the foreseeable future.

I would break up with this guy, have a few meaningless, purely sexual affairs for awhile, and then get serious about myself and what I want to attract a similar person with similar intentions.

Best of luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2014 [26 favorites]

So, I have to echo what someone else said: in retrospect, did your prior breakup really come out of nowhere? Because this sounds like passive-aggressive breakup to me.

If you reallyreally want to be with him, and reallyreally think (that is, sanely and objectively) that he can/will/wants to change, then do as said above. Have a gentle talk. I'd say start with sex, because that's basically going to open up everything else.

Your better bet, I think, is to say to him "So, we dated once and it didn't work out because you ended it kind of abruptly. We're dating again, and you've been pulling away lately. We're also not having any/as much sex as I'd like. I'm sure if we have a conversation about these things, we can work things out. If that is something you want. Or we can shake hands now and part ways with some good memories. Which would you prefer?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Should I confront him about it or just keep taking it slowly?

Does 'taking it slowly' mean not asking him for any of the things you want, not sharing with him your (perfectly reasonable imho) anxieties that he's pulling away again, and policing your own behaviour so he doesn't pick up on any hint that you're anxious? That's not moving slowly, that's moving backwards.

Taking it slowly only works if you're both going in the same direction, if you both share the same eventual goals for the relationship but one person is getting there more slowly than the other. But right now, you don't have any evidence that he does want the same things you want. He's nervous around serious relationships and he's had his heart broken before? Well, okay, that might mean he's only comfortable taking baby-steps towards serious commitment but he'll get there in the end - but it might also mean he just doesn't want to deal with his partner's wishes or preferences in the way he wants them to care about his, and has learnt (consciously or otherwise) that the I Have Issues! card is a great way to achieve that.

I don't know him, maybe he's great and a decent conversation with him will sort all this out. But either way, you need to actually have that conversation with him. At the very least, I'd be really, really careful not to rank things like his 'short-term relationship that broke his heart' ahead of your own needs and desires if I were you. Yes, that's a painful thing to go through, but you know who else has had their heart broken by their early 30s? Everybody. He's not a wounded animal that needs careful rehab, here, and you should avoid treating him like one.
posted by Catseye at 11:14 AM on January 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

What if anything are YOU getting from this relationship? Do you feel loved, understood and protected? It doesn't sound like it.

It would be nice if this guy was interested in making this work, but he's not really trying, is he?

He broke up with you once, without really explaining what wasn't working for him, and then begged you to take him back, without saying why it would be a good idea FOR YOU!

It's easy to rationalize that he's too hurt to love and that if you just do and say exactly the right things, he'll turn into an amazing boyfriend/husband. Step back.

Don't listen to what people say, watch what they do. THAT'S where the truth is. No matter what he says, what he's showing you is that he's not really ready to be in a relationship with you. You could wait around for him to change his mind, he might. But most likely, he'll be happy to waste your time, not committing himself and not giving you what you need in a relationship. That's not okay--FOR YOU!

My recommendation is to break up. Not because he did anything wrong, but because he's not doing anything right.

Be more selfish next time. Don't settle. No matter how nice the guy is, if he's not into you and/or he's not able to give you what you need, you won't be happy and what's the point of that?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:19 AM on January 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Even if it were as simple as one person wanting the relationship to progress faster and the other wanting the relationship to progress (very) slowly, that could still be a very good reason to break up.

You have given this relationship two chances and the two of you have not been able to create something that works for both of you. It doesn't mean either of you did anything wrong, and it doesn't mean you're being selfish to break up.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:24 PM on January 4, 2014

Thank you all for the perspective and advice. I think I have the problem where I try too hard to make something work that just isn't working. :( It's sad and frustrating, but I know what I need to do.
posted by Butterflye1010 at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I once dated a guy who bragged he never broke up with anyone, he always saw to it they broke up with him.

Go ahead and put this relationship out of its misery. Life is too short.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

If he is no longer interested in having sex with you this early in the relationship, it is almost certainly not going to get better as time goes by. The internet is overflowing to the gills with truly heartbreaking stories from people whose bf/gf/spouse is no longer interested in sex with them and how they've tried this long laundry list of things that have failed to get the partner interested again, including heart-to-heart conversations, begging, yelling, and crying in addition to flowers, lingerie, porn and sexual acrobatics, all while the low-desire partner is unmoved and frankly rather annoyed at not being left alone to not-screw in peace.

You're only a few months in, you don't really have the sort of time and history and long-term life-merging invested that might make it even remotely worth it to try to fix the relationship and going through a bunch of anxiety, frustration, push/pull games, weirdness and misery in the process. Cutting your losses and moving on is your best course of action here.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:55 PM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why are you settling for this? Listen, a lot of guys can act like they love you. Abusers (and not saying he is--just an example) can dote on a gifriend in public and be incredibly cruel and callous in private. Acting is acting. What matters is how you feel and you clearly dont feel loved.

Listen to your gut, don't question yourself. You don't feel like his love is authentic. Then most likely it isn't.

Leave him. End it. Find a better lover, and in the meantime, love yourself and the ppl in your life who deserve your love authentically.
posted by discopolo at 9:52 PM on January 4, 2014

i cannot echo and favorite and emphasize enough what nadawi wrote above. listen to that, please. your gut likely agrees.
posted by zdravo at 6:43 AM on January 5, 2014

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