How do I talk to the guy I'm dating about this?
June 5, 2014 7:40 AM   Subscribe

We've been dating pretty steadily for 2 months, but now he's suddenly unresponsive and distant. I want to ask him tactfully what's up.

Hi all. So, I've been dating this awesome guy for about 2 months. Things got sort of intense in a short period of time -- we see each other around 3 times a week, including weekends, and he's told me several times he hasn't felt like this about a girl in awhile. We've also met each other's friends, have plans for later this summer, etc. We are only dating each other, but his still has his online profile up.

Out of the blue, he's been kinda weird and distant lately. Usually we text and email nonstop, but he's stopped replying completely (or replies 8 hours later) for the past 5 days and is just in general acting weird. We're hanging out tomorrow due to tickets for a concert we purchased in advance, and I would like to tactfully ask if something's up, because I think emotional honesty is key and I don't want to be kept in the dark if something is going on. However, most articles I've read about this (which are dating bullshit you find via Google search) say to back off, give him his space, and let him reach out. Thoughts on this? I feel like if wanting to talk about things is a problem for him, he's probably not someone I would want to be with long term anyway.
posted by shotinthedark to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to reach out to him, and he doesn't want to respond in the way that works for you (regardless of whether or not his response is what you want to hear), the relationship's not worth it anyways. His reaction to your request may tell you what you want to know.

It's true that most guys in my experience have chafed at women (me) wanting them to "talk" or whatever, but that's their own damn fault. If you, like me, are the kind of person who hates beating around the bush, the only option is to be up front about it.

So go ask him already.
posted by Madamina at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I might go with "Hey, I just wanted to check in with you and ask if everything's okay. Is everything okay? If you need some space, just let me know." Something not too I need a big dramatic conversation right this instant! given that you are only two months in, and which gives him plenty of low-pressure options for replies.

This stuff is so often trickier than it should be -- if wanting to talk about things is a problem for him, he's probably not someone I would want to be with long term anyway makes perfect sense, and yet here you are having trouble figuring out how to: talk about things. Maybe he is having a variation on the same problem. It could easily be nothing to do with you; perhaps his cat has gone missing for longer than cat usually goes missing and his mind is on that.
posted by kmennie at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just ask him why he hasn't been in touch much this week. If he's the kind of guy you have to tiptoe and strategize around asking this sort of thing, is he somebody you really want to bother with?
posted by something something at 7:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [27 favorites]

I agree with kmennie to just send a message saying how you're just checking in, and asking him to let you know if he needs space. For me I would be expecting some sort of explanation from him.

HOWEVER, the people that do an abrupt switch from intense to distant without any explanation or warning or reasonable justification,... yeah, no thanks. It gets exhausting and taxing. And kind of disrepectful to you. For some people it is a power thing. They like to drop off, leaving the other person feeling insecure and wondering and asking them if they are okay, etc. I had a friend like this and I ended up friendship divorcing her because she would do this regularly as a sort of friendship test. Fuck that noise. You don't do that to friends.

There are very very very few situations that happen that don't allow for a quick text saying "Sorry, [blah] just happened. I'm going to be unavailable for a few days. I'll touch base as soon as things level back out." And I think you are well within reasonable expectations that he do that if he is going to drop off the face of the earth for a period of time.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [22 favorites]

However, most articles I've read about this (which are dating bullshit you find via Google search) say to back off, give him his space, and let him reach out. Thoughts on this?

I think you're reading the wrong articles. This is absolutely the sort of thing you should be comfortable bringing up, and it doesn't need to be a Big Serious State Of the Union conversation. Just "hey, it seems like you've been kind of distant lately, what's up?"

As a caveat, in my relationship, if one person is faced with a question like this, the answer cannot be "oh nothing." It can basically be anything else, but ignoring that (1) there has been an obvious change and (2) the change has some sort of source, be it important (I'm not feeling this relationship) or trivial (new videogame) would be important to me. You may have a different view.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Honestly? I have read this story a hundred times and have even experienced this myself a couple of times. Things are very intense in the beginning and then one person starts doing the slow fade. On the part of the person checking out, it has almost never been a case of "Oh I'm really busy/preoccupied and that's why you haven't heard from me" and then back to bliss. There is nothing wrong with asking him what's up, but I think you already know the answer to this. Be casual about it and remember that it has only been two months and you don't really know this person at all.

So, just my opinion but I think that if it's meant to be, it'll all happen very naturally. You will not sit around wondering what the score is, you'll just know. It'll be very obvious through your potential partner's actions. Any time I sat around wondering "Does this guy really like me?" or "Is this relationship going anywhere?" the answer was always a resounding "NO!"
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:00 AM on June 5, 2014 [48 favorites]

It's been five days. Give it a few more and see if he comes around. I would find that kind of constant contact exhausting. He may be wanting to tone it down and is just going cold turkey instead of tapering down or explaining himself.

I know it's hard. Try to not be anxious and ride it out for a bit; see how the concert goes.
posted by amaire at 8:03 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't ask if he needs space. If he needed space, he'd take it. And he seems to already be doing that, so you know the answer to that question.

In general, I like to avoid the "are you okay, sweetie? let me know how I can help you and figure out what's on your mind" tone in relationships with men. I feel that it positions me as their caretaker more than as an adult equal who has shit of her own to deal with, and I don't like to set a precedent for emotional hand-holding.

Emotional care and intimacy and trust and loving kindness are a whole different thing. That comes later. Two months in, I need for a potential partner to have the initiative to tell me what's up, or ask for space (or whatever) without me cajoling it out of them. But that's just me, and I am old and jaded after being in this situation too many times.
posted by magdalemon at 8:04 AM on June 5, 2014 [29 favorites]

This isn't a good indicator. Some people get very passionate, very quickly, then it fizzles. It sucks because one person is disappointed, in this scenario, you. I'd use the tickets as a lever to guage interest. "George, I know we're supposed to go to Blah tomorrow, but if you'd rather not, I have a friend who would love to go with me." It's possible that he was going to cancel on you anyway, this way, you can take a friend. If he's not going to cancel, you can then say, "Okay, would you prefer it if I sold my ticket to one of your friends then?"

I would treat as a done deal, he's gone, and not being all dramatic, and "we need to talk" about it is a good way to preserve your dignity. These guys thrive on the dramaz of it all, or they just dissapear off the face of the earth.

I'd rather not give him the satisfaction. But as I've noted before, I'm passive-aggressive, manipulative and a very small person when it comes down to it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

Another thing: Why does he have his profile still up, if you've established that you're dating only each other?

If that bothers you, ask him point-blank: "Why is your profile still up?"

Two months in, the stakes are still low, and you shouldn't be walking on eggshells.
posted by magdalemon at 8:11 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

You can ask, but the chance is 99% that he's just cooling off and not so interested. (In which case, it's not really all that likely that you are going to get an honest answer, because he's doing a fade instead of telling you "I think we're about done here.")

edit: I would check in to see if he is still sure he is going to the concert or if you should sell the ticket to someone else, if you bought them both.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:12 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another way to think about it: there are three places he could be.

1. He's into you, but it was a little too much contact or he's been busy or is feeling like it was too much too soon, and he's taking some space. Best course of action: be chill, have fun when you hang out, if it goes on too long call him on it.

2. He's not that into you and is realizing it. Best course of action: you can rip off the band-aid and make him tell you now, or wait and it will come out in a week or two.

3. He's not sure how he feels about you/is feeling less enthusiastic than before. Best course of action: don't push him into making a decision about you by confronting him; let him take some time and he'll either get excited about you again or call it off.

If it's gonna work out, you have all the time in the world. Sometimes really great relationships have periods of distance or difficulty or temporary cooling off at the beginning. Let it play out. Text your friends - or other cute guys. What he's feeling will become more clear, no need to rush it. Be zen and let him come to you. (Dating most people is like making friends with a cat: you can't chase it or squeeze it too tightly. There ARE some puppies out there but they come with a separate set of issues.)
posted by amaire at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

"Hey, what's up? I didn't hear from you much this week."
posted by Flamingo at 8:15 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sorry you're experiencing this. What a bummer.

I have found that the concept of "giving" space to be a bit problematic, at least for me. It positions things as if you're doing him a favor by not being in touch. That isn't a great dynamic to set up in a relationship, especially one that is pretty new.

I think that instead of giving him space, you should take some space for yourself. Fill up your time with other stuff. You'll hear from him about the concert - probably later tonight or tomorrow, would be my guess.

I think my advice is basically functionally the same as "give him space" but the framing of "take some space" means get a hobby, make plans with friends for this coming weekend, do what you would have done 3 months ago before meeting him. See how it feels to fit him in rather than fitting your life around him. That kind of constant contact stuff can't last except in rare circumstances.

I wouldn't ask him anything. I would just start getting back to my life and fitting him in when possible. Be busy and active and one of two things will happen: you'll continue to date and will have a relationship where you both have your own lives and stuff going on; or, you'll part ways but your life will be full enough that the breakup won't sting as goddamn much.

Good luck. Sorry you're having this stress. It's crummy.
posted by sockermom at 8:21 AM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]

The way to talk to him about it is just to say, flat out, "I'd really appreciate it if you'd answer my texts/emails, even if it's just to say, 'busy now, can't talk.' Is that doable for you?" Because even though I know better, sometimes I still worry that it's more rude to say "no time! sorry!" than to just go silent.

People are right that he's probably doing a slow fade. However, whether he is or isn't, you can't force him to level with you. Which is stressful. But the way out of that stress is to make the decision for yourself.

As such, if it were me, I actually wouldn't talk to him about it. I'd decide to do my own slow fade. I'd just go to the concert tomorrow like normal, and keep myself generally quite busy in the near future. If he's actually interested but momentarily burned out, he'll get back in touch soon enough (this is what happened in my own relationship, and we are moving in together next month, CAN work out fine).

Sidebar: the million-text and gazillion-email relationships in my life have never worked out. Most of the time, the reason they text and email so much is that it's literally all the involvement they can handle. And even when they are happy to get involved, they've created this parallel electronic relationship with me and then, in person, I disappoint somehow. My current relationship initially drove me INSANE with the lack of texting and absolute zero emails, but nowadays I'm really glad we didn't have all of our first shmoopy interactions through the safety barrier of a glowing screen. Just a thought to perhaps carry into the future...
posted by like_a_friend at 8:27 AM on June 5, 2014 [26 favorites]

Slow fade seems possible, however is there any chance that he just is busy dealing with other stuff in his life right now? I think it is important not to internalize other people's actions as always related to their feelings about you, even in dating situations. Not internalizing this might make it easier for you to feel more independent in your relationships, at least that is a conclusion that I have come to recently myself. If you don't think this is an issue for you, take that with a grain of salt. I do think in dating situations there is pressure on women not to appear needy which can be taken too seriously.

You might be able to gauge if his actions are related to you or to something else just in the course of regular conversation to him about what he has been up to lately when you meet him at the concert.

Or, if you want to ask him more directly about this, maybe you could phrase it in terms of, "I really like you and I enjoy hanging out with you. I just wanted to see if you are feeling the same way" as opposed to saying some version of, "I am sensing that there is something wrong from the way you are acting, please tell me this is not the case." The first is an honest expression of your positive feelings for him that he can take or leave. The second is kind of accusatory and might make him feel pressured.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 8:56 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe he's an introvert and needs some time to himself? Maybe he's had such a great time with you over the last little bit he needs some time to recharge?

Go to this concert with him, and if everything is peas and carrots with him (happy to see you) this might be what is up with him.

Still, to make things a little more comfortable, perhaps a little talk with him would put things in perspective for him, like "please respond to my emails, however brief, so I know you are alive."

I think it is important to have an understanding at the gate of a relationship. If you need assurances, make them known, and likewise, he needs to tell you his stance. If you both find the other's needs acceptable, then the relationship has a chance. If not, well then, there's a different conversation to have, right?
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 9:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Hey, I missed you the past few days - what've you been up to?"
posted by mskyle at 9:31 AM on June 5, 2014

My hunch is he's busy. Dating someone cooler than you whom he picked up through that profile that's still up.
posted by Dragonness at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

He is taking his space. And his dating profile is up. I'd say you know the answer to any question you might ask.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think he got over you. perhaps it wasn't perfectly right, perhaps he was making you a better fit in his head because of urges? but in the end that's a guess — you have no way until knowing until he tells you and to be frank, you can't expect him to.
posted by krautland at 9:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would not offer the "do you need more space" thing. Ask what's up and let him introduce the space thing if he's gonna. And he probably will. But don't suggest an out for him.
posted by Billiken at 9:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd check-in with a, "hey, I didn't hear as much from you this week - is everything alright with you?" and see what he says. I'd do that only because I can't stand not having clear and honest communication in a relationship and if he can't hack it at the beginning, it's not likely to get better. Of course, you have to be prepared for him to brush it off in case he isn't comfortable telling you what's up, especially if the truth is uncomfortable or paints him in a bad light.

He may be busy and distracted, he may be realizing you two are not as compatible as he had thought, he may be dating others and lying to you, or he may be one of those people who thrives on the chase and the super limerence feelings that are in full-effect early on and loses interest once that fades.
posted by quince at 10:09 AM on June 5, 2014

I think he's probably fading out right now because his interest level is less than it was before.

But, just ask him. "It seems like you've been distant lately. What's going on?"
posted by J. Wilson at 10:09 AM on June 5, 2014

However, most articles I've read about this (which are dating bullshit you find via Google search) say to back off, give him his space, and let him reach out.

One problem with this kind of advice, for me, is that it suggests you're waiting for him to reach out. This "get all intense and back off" thing can leave you feeling off balance and if you're sitting there wondering if they're going to get back to you, it can be rather consuming and frustrating. I think it's probably better to just write off the relationship mentally. People in their 20s do this two-month thing a lot; you're probably going to experience it again, but you don't need to buy into it. Date more people! And for god's sake don't worry that you did something wrong; this is just something people do.

(Like _like_a_friend_, I am now living with someone who did the fade on me at one point. He was probably dating other people in the meantime, but he got back in touch at what was a better time for us both.)
posted by BibiRose at 10:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hey there, relationship twin!

So, something like this recently happened to me, and tbh it's not my first time around this particular block. Here's what I wish I had done differently this time:

1. JUST ASK HIM WHATS UP. I held back from doing that for a long time, because he was really erratically distant/weird. Like he would be kind of checked out for a week or so, and then he would do something incredibly sweet. Or I would assume things weren't going well, and then he'd do or say something that reassured me about where we were at. I really should have trusted my gut that, after only a few months, occasional weirdness is still a warning sign that things aren't going well.

2. Talk about feelings as I had them, rather than waiting for a good time. We went pretty much from great to broken up out of nowhere because I kept having these "something isn't right" feelings, but I kept finding excuses not to talk about it. Or I would say something really vague like, "Is everything OK?" or "Do you want me to give you more space?" or "Are you annoyed with me?" and he would respond with something else vague, and we wouldn't really talk about it. I really should have listened to my gut when it told me, "No, sorry, I'm just in a weird mood," on a regular basis for a month, is NOT "just a weird mood". I should have had a Relationship Talk rather than assuming that doing such a thing would make trouble.

General stuff I learned after doing this, yet again, with yet another dude, after being on the dating bus for far too fucking long:

Stop worrying about scaring a dude off by asking the wrong question or talking about feelings. Either it's going to work or it's not. Someone who is really crazy about you is not going to break up with you because you admitted that you're not a fucking Vulcan. Not talking about stuff is not going to actively make your relationship better. It's the emotional equivalent of not looking at the moldy food in your fridge. It's not going anywhere, it's just going to get grosser.

Guys have a hard time with this stuff, too. It now occurs to me that every time I asked "Is everything OK?", my boyfriend desperately wanted everything to be OK. He's a good guy, not an evil asshole, and he didn't hate me or anything, it just wasn't working. So he tried to tread water by doing the exact same stuff I was doing: try to be good at being a boyfriend, never ask for anything, never talk about feelings. I think sometimes all this hot and cold stuff is the male equivalent of the "cool girl who isn't clingy/needy" routine. A decent enough guy who likes the idea of being in a relationship with you desperately wants to be a Good Boyfriend. But if it's not there for whatever reason, it can sort of turn into a cargo cult relationship, with him doing some Good Boyfriend tasks, and you doing some Cool Girlfriend tasks, and no actual love at the heart of it.

TL;DR: It's time for a Talk with your boyfriend. Don't get too hung up on reasons not to have this Talk.
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [24 favorites]

@futureisunwritten has it: "I think that if it's meant to be, it'll all happen very naturally. You will not sit around wondering what the score is, you'll just know. It'll be very obvious through your potential partner's actions. Any time I sat around wondering "Does this guy really like me?" or "Is this relationship going anywhere?" the answer was always a resounding "NO!"

And by "it will be obvious through your potential partner's ACTIONS" we mean 1) he still has his online dating profile up, and 2) he's stopped replying completely (or replies 8 hours later) for the past 5 days and is just in general acting weird.

The power move in your case would be to back waaaay up yourself, and stop texting if you are no longer getting good responses. (Sorry if that sounds like the kind of craptastic dating advice you make fun of, but well, sometimes even a broken clock is right at least 2 times a day.)

We're hanging out tomorrow due to tickets for a concert we purchased in advance.

By your use of "we," I take it to mean you each paid for and are in possession of your own tickets? If so, there is really nothing for you to discuss - and I would NOT count on him showing up.

I would like to tactfully ask if something's up, because I think emotional honesty is key and I don't want to be kept in the dark if something is going on.

You already know "something is up" or you would not have written this Ask. His actions are already being totally honest with you, but you are insisting on words? You already have all the info you need.
posted by hush at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, blah, I'm sorry. I know from experience that this is not a fun place to be in.

From what you're saying, it does sound like he's doing the slow fade. If you want to do what I say and not what I'd do, I agree with everyone saying call him and do the "if you've realized it's not happening, that's cool, just let me know."

A couple things that I've encountered while doing the online thing...not to generalize, but what I've found over the years is that people who fall "in" really quickly, fall "out of" just as quickly. Maybe they're addicted to that initial rush, maybe they're always looking over your shoulder for someone better, maybe they just don't know how to say "wait, I may have jumped a little too soon."

Another thing, I don't know if women do this too, but it's always seemed that when a guy says "yeah, we should totally do this thing months from now," he's not actually making future plans. For the longest time I was thinking "Hey great, long term potential,he wants to go to Riot Fest with me," but the odds are, he just threw it out there and doesn't remember mentioning it a few days later.)

Good luck! I don't know whether to hope he's just briefly flaking and you guys end up great, or to hope that you part without rancor and you find someone who'll burn steadily for you, but I do hope for the best outcome for you...
posted by jacy at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

You've been dating a couple of months and it's only been this week this has happened. You don't say what level of intimacy you text/email all the time about, so maybe someone died or something and he wanted to wait until he saw you in person to explain.
posted by rhizome at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2014

He could just be busy, but then why wouldn't he tell you as much?

He's met someone else. I wouldn't be surprised if he cancels the concert outing at the last minute.

You say you're dating exclusively but obviously you haven't had the exclusivity "talk" or else his on-line profile would surely have been taken down, no?

If he does make it to the concert, don't beat around the bush, just be honest and ask him outright what's going on. Women so rarely trust their guts in these kinds of situations and my gut is telling me that he's not massively interested anymore. He could try to fob you off, but he HAS been acting distant so I think you should definitely try to find out why.

Of COURSE I could be wrong (I hope I am because you seem to really like him) but do trust your gut, if something seems amiss, it usually is!
posted by JenThePro at 10:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't pay too much credence to him still having his profile up. I still have my OKCupid profile up, because it's less trouble to log into an existing one than to make a new one when I'm helping someone else do their profile.
posted by corb at 11:31 AM on June 5, 2014

Does it say when the last time he logged in was?
posted by discopolo at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, If he's not answering as much, stop texting him/emailing him so much. It's only been 2 months, you don't really know him that well. Go do all the stuff you like to do. Don't let his withdrawal make you anxious or crazy. And keep your profile up if his is still up. Don't assume exclusivity until you two have discussed it.

And 2 months is the perfect time to start ghosting, frankly. I'm not saying that's what's going on, but you're thinking way more about him than he is about you, and that's just a waste of emotion.

Just go back to doing whatever you did before you started spending 3x a week on this guy.
posted by discopolo at 11:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Out of the blue, he's been kinda weird and distant lately.

There is one thing that I've found to be true in my life:

If I've established a pattern of regular communication with someone who is interested in me romantically they will find a way to reach out, even if it's a text saying, "Busy day. TTYL."

We could speculate all day about what may be preventing him from contacting you in any way for the last five days, but does it really matter? I suspect you will know exactly what is up when you see him tomorrow, but if you say anything the way I would frame would be to establish some kind of expectations when it comes to how you two communicate. Honestly, I think he's doing the slow fade. And if he's not, unless there's been a death to someone close to him or other true emergency I think he's just being disrespectful. If you really like him, then sure, give him a chance to respect your newly-established boundaries.

Quick example: I once had a very close friend who could be very flaky. I finally reached my breaking point and the next time he did it I said, "Look, if you don't want to hang out, fine. If something better comes along, fine. But if you don't have enough respect for me as a friend to at least call me and let me know then I don't know why you want to be friends with me at all." It never, ever happened again. But I was prepared to lose him as a friend. And it wasn't easy. But PS: it felt fucking GREAT.

Also, there are two versions of your question:

1) Is it normal for people to fade in and out when they are dating someone, and

2) My little voice is telling me to be worried because my SO is acting out of character and even if it has nothing to do with me it probably means something.

There really is no right answer to 1, and the answer to 2 is always, "Listen to your little voice."
posted by Room 641-A at 1:23 PM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

he's backing out without saying he's doing so, is my guess. there's really nothing you can do about it except ask what's going on and if he doesn't respond then .. well. That's your answer. it does suck but it happens a lot.
posted by h00py at 6:35 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

We are only dating each other, but his still has his online profile up.

And you know this because you've recently been going on a dating site, right? Have you considered that men don't have as much reason as women to take down their online dating profile, since they don't receive many messages?

Otherwise, you're right: talk to him about this, openly and honestly. A relationship that will only work if there's no communication ... isn't much of a relationship.
posted by John Cohen at 7:26 AM on June 6, 2014

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