Have you felt like this about someone?
June 2, 2016 1:56 PM   Subscribe

The question of "has a slow start ever made it" has been asked many times, but I can't find something specific to a relationship I'm experiencing. We are not "dating" but I am experiencing an emotional/physical connection with someone in a profound way that makes me anxious that it's the real thing. It makes me want to run because I am not ready, but it feels inevitable. How do I deal?

I met someone on OKC a year ago and we have kept in off-and-on touch. We were both coming off of abusive, intense LTRs (in his case, a divorce) and were trying to find ourselves in our own ways. My last relationship culminated in physical assault and verbal abuse, and I am convinced it was a narcissistic dynamic; I still wake up everyday re-living some fucked up thing my ex said or did. It utterly destroyed me and the PTSD has been hell.

With this OKC-man, the sex is great but what makes this "relationship" stand apart is our emotional chemistry. Even after we have a fight about something and I don't know if we will be in touch again, I always have this peaceful feeling that I know I'll see him again when we are ready. I feel safe and accepted with him in a way my past relationships have not made me feel. He is someone I can open up to about my family abuse and my genuine feelings; he makes me laugh; creatively inspires me; and he supports me in the ways I want to grow in. I don't ask about his dating status because I don't feel a need to. When he says that he is taking time for himself, just like me, I completely trust his word. He has also proven by his actions that he means what he says--having gone off all online dating apps and with the power of all my senses, seems to genuinely spend a lot of time by himself working on himself and career (he is a serious writer who works from home). We have both expressed how we love each other and feel that we are siblings from another mother, despite only seeing each other ~10 times in total (for various reasons, we had stretches of no contact). When we first met, we had a short period of infatuation but it was quickly broken off because we were both overwhelmed (it felt too much like a relationship immediately due to our connection and it was triggering).

Lately, we are both happier and more stable, and have started being more verbally affectionate, texting more, and having in-person interactions that don't trigger anything. Our past fights have invariably been over someone's emotional unavailability at that moment in time or one of us inadvertently triggering some past abuse.

I feel like our souls/values are very connected, and at the very least, that I genuinely like and respect him as a person. I draw strength from him in a way that I didn't with my ex. We talk about our sexual fantasies and also how we respect each other; how we even like how we fight and resolve our fights. I've done a lot of reading on attachment theory and good relationships this year (MeFi being a significant part of my healing), and my feeling that this man is Good for me. He is like an alien I grew up with, who I know I can really really love. We are different and the same in a way that makes me think we can sustain sexual tension and not turn into roommates. However, I still feel very vulnerable and think that entering any official relationship would un-do a lot of the self-work from the past year.

Has anyone had such an oddly slow start and what should I make of it? What is this kind of connection? Sometimes I think that if we can't have a real relationships, it might just not work out--that he will meet someone else when he is ready. I don't want to date-date him now, but I have a secret desire to explore our connection further when I am ready. At the same time, the thought of him finding love in someone else doesn't distress me because I trust that he is someone who makes authentic choices. Maybe he is my platonic soulmate?
posted by minoraltercation to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am going to just tell it to you straight, and I'm genuinely sorry if this is too harsh or offends you:

This is not an exception to the rule. There are red flags all over this.

1. Two "broken" people "healing each other" is not romantic, it's co-dependent and is the wrong way to get into a relationship.
2. People almost always have rebounds after a divorce.
3. The emotional chemistry being great does not compute with "every time we fight and I don't know if I will see him again." One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn't belong.
4. Strength of feelings do not make a relationship "the real thing" - responsible actions do.
5. Less than 10 meetings in person is not enough time to truly know someone, no matter how much the talking online/on phone feels "deeper or more real." It's just not.

I strongly, strongly urge you to date other people. Men who are stable, giving, ready, consistent, and real. He's not one of them.
posted by quincunx at 2:36 PM on June 2, 2016 [33 favorites]

There's no such thing as a normal relationship. Sounds like you have a good thing going... go with it and see where it leads. Advice from anyone here isn't going to help, as you don't have a "problem" to solve. Good luck.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a secret desire to explore our connection further when I am ready

Why is it secret? Have you told him where you are? It seems like if you're really ruminating on this and it's stressful, you can/should just lay it all out to him like you have here. His reaction will be your answer.
posted by witchen at 2:42 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take this for what it's worth but having had multiple fights with someone when you've only seen them ten times seems like a whole lot of drama and not-fitting to me.
posted by mcduff at 2:55 PM on June 2, 2016 [35 favorites]

You've only seen each other about 10 times, yet you've had multiple arguments? Oh. Oh, no. That's.... That's. Not. OK.

I do have deeper thoughts about this relationship. I think you "know" he will always come back because there's a lot of emotional vampire / emotional abuse type of red flags all over your narrative. This is familiar territory for you in a sense, that's why the connection feels so real and strong. It's neural territory your brain has been trained to read as "positive" when really, it's just someone getting their hooks into you to use you.

This person is a writer and is using you as an emotional outlet they have no real world connection or commitment with. All the rewards, none of the work. Writers tend to do this because it is difficult solitary work. It's also WRONG. Also, it's possible to be a successful writer and not do this!

You should be repulsed, but you are not because you've been acculturated to abusive relationships.

I'm not sure how you take the blinders off. Maybe after you waste a bunch of time and emotion and get really really hurt? I dunno. Maybe there is someone in real life who can talk you through recognizing the spell you are succumbing to? You need something to reconnect you with reality.

In short, run. This does not end well for the person in your role. It's not what you think it is.

I'm sure the intimacy was fantastic. This passion happens within healthy relationship, too, and you should hold out for a healthy and passionate relationship. This is not that. Run.
posted by jbenben at 3:06 PM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is it possible that what is alluring to you in all relationships is a sort of emotional intensity and a lot of sort of fussing about the finer grain of feeling? So what draws you in here is not so much whether the relationship is good or bad but your ability to describe it to yourself and narrate it to each other? Your description sounds very inward-turning to me, somehow, like you're spending more time than is typical paying very, very close attention to how you are feeling in a given moment, giving that feeling a name and placing it in the scheme of things.

I have a bias about this because I have seen a couple of relationships that sound like this one that went very sour in what were to me very predictable ways. In each case, people spent a lot of time being very, very fine-grained about their use of language, their "availability" and a long, long list of turns of phrase and situations which the other person could/did/must not/might use to trigger them. (Fairly innocuous stuff that turned rather invasive in the end - along the lines of "when you pitch your voice too low you remind me of my ex and that is triggering, you need to watch how you pitch your voice".) What I observed in these cases was that the process of observation itself created both emotional intensity and emotional complications that would not have existed otherwise.

In terms of actual advice: explore why you are "secretly" attached to the idea of maybe someday dating him but you don't want to do it now, despite this unusual, intense, ineffable connection. It feels like a pull-close/push-away emotional thing that you are doing to yourself as a way of coping with your situation, but IME that particular type of thing tends to end up with hurt feelings and nobody getting what they want.
posted by Frowner at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2016 [20 favorites]

I think you are experiencing the giddiness of being around someone you aren't afraid of for once.

But you are trying to shoehorn a bunch of meaning onto some very ethereal feelings, and in fact you seem to be substituting things you just feel for actual facts you'd rather not know (which, in the face of all these fights you're having, is really suspicious).

You're feeling limerance, which is extremely heady but it's not a profound beam from a Universal Being imparting special knowledge to you. Pretty much everybody gets this with almost everyone when they first start dating, and that includes abusers and future murderers, it is not an indicator of quality. It's just a thing the brain does to the body.

This is not your only chance in your entire life to connect with someone, and given what you've been through it would be wise for you to try it out for-real-platonically, no sex, with friends in a controlled environment before you get too ahead of yourself in a relationship where you've got a lot more physically and emotionally at stake.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:31 PM on June 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I got such a sense of... unevenness? from your post that I'm having a hard time articulating a response. It sounds like you have brief, intense emotional (and physical) connections and then... periods of no contact? You see each other rarely and intermittently, but have had multiple arguments? You trigger each other? That isn't a slow start to something great. Whatever it is, it sounds exhausting and, at least to me, unhealthy.

I think you should keep working on yourself and think carefully about why you think this person is good for you.
posted by sm1tten at 3:32 PM on June 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

And you know what, I said "when they first start dating" which I realized isn't the case here, it's actually the much worse case of a dragged-out will-we-or-won't-we ordeal that, biochemically, is a lot like an addiction to a drug you can't afford all the time.

It's a really unhealthy dynamic, and unfortunately a lot of men think it's fine to maintain it just enough, in case they want to have sex and you're the best option at that moment, but it's not indicative of any great respect or concern for your emotional well-being. It's not the "inevitability" you want it to be.

Focus on lessons you can learn from this thing as you move away from it. There are people in the world who, at least for a period of time in their lives, can benefit from this kind of faux-relationship, but those people are generally emotionally very healthy and just very busy. Everyone else ends up torn up by it.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:43 PM on June 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'd stick to platonic soulmate. I sort of get the impression that's what you want. Your self-awareness tells you you enjoy him but you're not ready and perhaps he isn't the partner for you now in this way; or maybe he's not ready and you can detect that. So I'd follow that and practice (and enjoy) respecting the messages you are hearing from yourself.

It's wonderful to feel this peace you describe. Maybe you can strive to find it apart from him, to trust in yourself to survive and thrive no matter what else happens or what others do. You sound strong and capable!

I was also struck by the fights (plural, and at all at this point). What is a fight to you? How do these come up?
posted by ramenopres at 3:50 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

"...a lot of men think it's fine to maintain it just enough, in case they want to have sex and you're the best option at that moment, but it's not indicative of any great respect or concern for your emotional well-being."

So much this. EXACTLY.
posted by jbenben at 3:53 PM on June 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

We are not "dating" but I am experiencing an emotional/physical connection with someone in a profound way that makes me anxious that it's the real thing. It makes me want to run because I am not ready, but it feels inevitable. How do I deal?

You deal by taking an active role in your life. Your self-preservation instinct is rightly telling you this is a bad relationship. But you appear to feel like you are going to get swept up in a current and that you don't have any control over what is going to happen.

This is a false perspective (not surprising with a traumatic relationship history). No one can make you be in a relationship. Decide to decide for yourself. If you don't want to be in a relationship, don't be in one. You don't have to have a tangible reason - although "I'm not ready" is a pretty legit reason if you feel like you need to give him one. Good luck.
posted by Beti at 3:59 PM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Meh, I don't think this is necessarily fake or bad.

I know someone like this and we have a very odd relationship. I find it very low-stress. I'm not attached to the relationship at all. At the same time, it is important and interesting to me. I trust him and feel comfortable being emotionally intimate with him, when it happens. It's nice. Very zen.

Something like this doesn't have to progress. It is what it is, and it will be what it is until it's something else. I think you've figured this out so there's not much left to ponder.

Our societal relationship narrative is incredibly invested in ~DIRECTION~ and ~PROGRESSION~ and ~MEASURING EVERYTHING BASED ON HOW LIKELY IT IS TO MAKE YOU BE MARRIED TO SOMEONE~ but there's no reason why a relationship has to be judged in relation to that particular mold.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:20 PM on June 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I mean, I might be wrong, but I don't see here that you have any interest in pursuing a "relationship" and he has not indicated that he wants to pursue a "relationship" so you know, cross that bridge when/if you get there, and in the meantime, life is about things happening until they don't.

(sorry for the scare quotes but it's because you obviously have some type of relationship, just not one that is hetero-monogamous-restrictive-directional enough to get an official title)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:22 PM on June 2, 2016

> I find it very low-stress

...but does it involve multiple fights even though you've only seen him ten times? There are parts of this that sound okay, but most of it sounds drama-riddled.
posted by kmennie at 4:24 PM on June 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

also just noticing that you're saying it makes you want to run...if you're thinking you're inevitably headed towards something you're not ready for, then don't do that. have a conversation with him where you tell him you don't want to date. or just say that you need some space. that's all fine too. you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. and just because you dig him does not mean you have to have a big dating thing.

idk, to me this seems a lot like how women are always feeling guilty and bad if they're not desperate to say yes the first time a guy offers to commit/settle down. but actually you don't have to be with someone just because you like them. maybe that doesn't fit with you and your interactions with each other. maybe you're better once a month or whatever. that's okay.

in the end if it turns out he's terrible then you can move on. but it just doesn't seem like there is any kind of real emergency or issue here besides this situation not being in conformance with ~how women are supposed to feel~ and ~what women are supposed to want~
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:29 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

You seem like you want us to provide you with magical stories about how our simmering connections with people in unlikely and imperfect situations blossomed into soulmate true love scenarios. And that all the hesitancy and what ifs amidst the great sex turned out to be for nothing, and now we all are living happily ever after.

Here's the thing:

You and the person you're with write your own love story/stories: your own shared narrative(s) about what your relationship history entails and what it means. And if you're looking to the internet to write it or part of it for you, then there's a problem already.

You don't need an askme for the answer to this question, unless you don't like the answer your partner or the relationship is already giving you.
posted by pinkacademic at 6:23 PM on June 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm also a trauma survivor. I've had similar relationships - really intense, not-sure-if-platonic feelings, triggering each other, needing to take breaks from each other because of the triggers - and sadly, in every case, it's ended poorly.

One of them I described as my "platonic soulmate" and we lived together for a year. I honestly thought I was going to be in her life for the next several decades. I was happy to be there for her. However, when I needed support or when her behaviour hurt me, I did not get the support I needed back. I felt stifled. I tried to make it work because I felt safe with her and it was so important for me to feel safe, to feel like someone wanted to be part of something with me, but she never quite stepped up the way I needed her to. I'm not sure why she didn't. I moved out for school, she didn't try to keep in touch, we had a weird fight after I stayed over for the holidays, and now (2 years later) she's planning her wedding without me in it. It sucks, it's awkward, and I miss what I felt we had but the reality of it didn't match up with my feelings.

The other one was a really good friend of mine and we dated briefly. Again, I felt safe around them and I wanted so dearly to make things work because I wanted to be with someone who didn't terrify me. But our insecurities didn't play well together. When I got triggered, I would shut down, which would trigger them. When I wasn't responsive enough, it triggered them, and then I'd feel obligated to fix it which would trigger me. We've recently reconnected (3 years later) and I feel like things are much better now. Sometimes I still feel these weird "should we date? do I want to date them?" feelings that I am still working through. It might be different now that we've developed our own coping mechanisms (especially me) but I'm not sure that it's a good idea.

As a counterpoint, I have a wonderfully supportive close friend who is also a trauma survivor with whom I have no pull-intense feelings. We do not fight. We have never had to go no contact. I feel incredibly safe around her. Our friendship has lasted through moves and hard life events and good life events. It's all the good parts with none of the weird bad parts. In my experience, intense pull feelings = trouble.

I don't know if your case will end the same way my first two examples did. Trauma makes everything hard. However, it sounds like your feelings are bigger than the amount of enjoyable interactions you've had. It also doesn't sound like you two make reparations well, you don't mention how you reconcile, and there doesn't seem to be much of a commitment aspect there. It sounds like there's a pattern of: intense feelings - blow out - no contact - get back in contact - intense feelings etc. That's... not sustainable and doesn't bode well for an actual dating relationship.

It also doesn't sound like you actually want to date him. It sounds like you feel towed in by something inexplicable and you're not sure whether you should fight to free yourself from it. I'm not sure what is contributing to this, whether you feel like he is someone you should want to date, or whether that's how you think people do feel when they're dating someone, but it doesn't seem to be genuine liking for the guy. There's nothing that's driving you to choose this specific person, he's just... a safe enough person who happens to be in your life right now and he's the right gender so why NOT date him right? That usually doesn't lead to a good relationship. A relationship based on nothing but inertia is just... there's no glue other than the sunk cost fallacy and it's a recipe for trouble if you're the kind of person who ignores your needs and has a wonky understanding of what healthy relationships look like.

I would let things stay as they are and I would encourage you to expand your social circle as part of your healing process. Don't force yourself into something that you don't seem to want just because you feel like it's what you should be doing or just because you feel like you won't get another chance. You don't need to act on every feeling you have, even the intense ones. (If you can, I would encourage you to examine what exactly is pushing you to date this guy, because I don't see much other than a sense of "we're going through the motions and should make this official and get on the relationship escalator", and I feel like untangling that root would help dissipate some of the intensity.)

Best of luck!
posted by buteo at 6:33 PM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

OK this sounds terrible. You have minimum all contact with this person. No, you cannot be platonic soul mates because you've been physically intimidate. Also because your relationship sucks. Fighting should not make you think you'll never see them again. Disagree is natural, and should not feel this way.

Counseling counseling counseling to help you sort this out. This is how a bad relationship feels. Also, mindfulness training (meditation) may also help you tune into your feelings.
posted by Kalmya at 7:34 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

One note of caution: if you're someone with a history of abusive relationships, then that's possibly the thing you're (currently) wired for. It's worth being careful when you find yourself thinking something is fate or soulmates.
posted by salvia at 9:42 PM on June 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

My wife and I had a slow and sort of tortured start. But there was no fighting. There was not fighting later. 13 years and 2 kids later? no fights so far.

Fighting is common but not healthy. Fighting is not a necessary component of attachment.

Sounds like you have sparks and co-dependence.
posted by French Fry at 8:53 AM on June 3, 2016

Even after we have a fight about something and I don't know if we will be in touch again, I always have this peaceful feeling that I know I'll see him again when we are ready. I feel safe and accepted with him in a way my past relationships have not made me feel. He is someone I can open up to about my family abuse and my genuine feelings

I don't think that's cause of him. I think it's because you've fought since your trauma to reclaim your feelings, your self-worth, and your ability to feel safe and accepted, and you have won.

You sound like you're on your way to being in a really great place. It sounds like he might have been a sort-of ok companion for some of that, but I'd guess you know in your heart of hearts that he won't be your lifelong partner on the journey. Don't be afraid to spend some of that journey alone, I've found it enormously helpful in terms of figuring out who I am and what I need.
posted by greenish at 10:17 AM on June 3, 2016

Thank you for the replies! They are all so insightful in their own way.

To address the fights: I'm sorry to be vague and I think I overstated them. We've actually just had one period of no-contact. It was when we first met and was following the dating model. It became too intense and we both said that it felt too much like a real relationship and we were feeling smothered. It wasn't so much a fight as a sudden flame-out.

A few months after that, he got back in touch. We saw each other twice, with good interactions.

But then, a few months ago, two things happened: (1) my ex physically assaulted me and verbally abused me with a word I've never been called before; (2) I went to see my OKC-man and he used the same word, although in a different and non-abusive context. I didn't understand how I had associated that word with violence, and just freaked out. I started invalidating everything he was saying, which then triggered him. He asked me to leave, which I felt was rude so I didn't speak to him again. He reached out to apologize about a month after that and we have been good since. He has continually apologized and been sensitive about the word. I have also apologized. It's a word that's unfortunately used often in common parlance but is associated with violence against women as well.

Even if I overstated the fights, I think the comments about how there is something I'm uncomfortable with are right on. He might simply not provide the entirely safe relationship that I want, because I know that he is himself going through a transition. My distrust might have nothing to do with him so much as a recognition that we are both in transition periods. I don't want to start a relationship like this in case one or neither of us is sufficiently "settled" into our post-LTR lives. I hope that makes sense.

Thank you again. So grateful for this community.
posted by minoraltercation at 1:49 PM on June 3, 2016

It's a word that's unfortunately used often in common parlance but is associated with violence against women as well.

Be very, very careful with any guy who uses words like this "affectionately" or "playfully".

The best case scenario is that he is careless or clueless (which means he might not be competent in emotional labor, which requires attention and effort). The worst case scenario is that he has abusive tendencies and is testing your boundaries. All abusers do that, one way or the other, often disguised as a joke, a flippant remark, a playful provocation.
posted by sively at 6:34 AM on June 4, 2016

« Older Confidence issues & Making friends   |   Power on the Playa Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.