Not Ready to Dive In
November 18, 2017 9:29 PM   Subscribe

Should I abandon ship whenever someone tells me they’re not ready to dive into a relationship? Snowflakes inside.

I’m just curious if running should be an automatic response to hearing the phrase above.

For context, this question is about the same guy from my last question. I didn’t bail even though I have moments where I think I should (this is relative to my personal issues and his recent divorce), just because I like how he’s been treating me and because I like the pace of things so far. I’m kind of glad I didn’t end things but I still have a (healthy, I believe) fear that things are going to blow up.

I think it’s becoming quite clear through action that he does have feelings for me. Not the big L but he seems very fond of me (for the record, I care about him but it’s not love yet). The affection is increasing, the contact is decent (but not smothering and I like that), and we are still seeing each other 4x a week or so. We made it last through the trips we had to take (spent 2 weeks apart) and he will be gone for the holidays, visiting family.

So now it’s been a little over a month and a half. I know we both consider this new. We talked about his divorce more and he seems to think of his last relationship as a learning experience. He told me he was afraid he’d never be happy again but he’s getting there and I’m a big part of that. I thought it was a positive but I’m not so sure. I’m quite suspicious of doing someone else’s emotional labor but whatever. That night though, I thought if I’d have left his life then and there, he’d be upset. It’s all purely speculation, however.

I saw him recently and we celebrated his going away/me losing a bet and so I cooked him dinner. I enjoyed the time there but he talked about his other upcoming trips where he’d be with family again (cool) and another trip with a single guy who likes to party (also cool). It just got the wheels turning enough for me to ask him some questions.

I asked him if he’s sleeping with anyone else and if he had any intentions on doing so while he was gone. He said he didn’t and he hasn’t been. He said he’d tell me if it got to a point where he was going to or if he would and he’d expect the same from me. He said he knew I wouldn’t do anything like that when I was gone because I don’t seem like the type to do so and neither is he. He says he doesn’t like sleeping around and needs an emotional connection to feel comfortable doing so. He did say that if I had slept with someone he really couldn’t hold it against me because we aren’t committed.

This was the closest thing I got to exclusivity. We established that in the present, it’s mine for the taking. I’m fine with that. He doesn’t know, but I wouldn’t see him anymore if he were to sleep with someone else.

He got into the topic of relationships and told me he’s not ready to dive into anything super serious right now and said he thought I felt the same way. I told him that although I’m not quite in a position to support a relationship right now, I DO WANT one. He said he does as well but he wants to take it slowly. He emphasized that he’s not stringing me along or anything like that. I’m just not sure what he means though.

We finished up talking and I felt okay about things but this is kind of different than what I’m used to. In the past, most guys didn’t care to know me, or even bother trying to get to know me. They were just trying to fill a void of some sort. Some were more honest about it than others, but I always got the “you’re amazing, but I’m not looking for a relationship right now” speech. He hasn’t called me amazing yet, so I feel good about that too. When a guy compliments me in that way, I know it’s totally over. No joke. I’m really not so amazing if they don’t want to lock me down.

I’ve pretty much been enjoying this for the most part. I’ve started to miss him. He tells me he misses me. I understand he’s quite fresh out of a divorce now (4-ish months) after 6 years of being in a relationship. But I’m not trying to invest in something I think will have an expiration date. It literally does weigh me down and casts a shadow on things because I know I can’t allow myself to have feelings.

This one is hard for me because in the past, all the niceties were just dinner and talking about work. I didn’t need to be interesting because I was never challenged to be. I knew even if I didn’t want to believe it that these men only wanted my body. And now, there’s someone who listens, shares, and cares. And I’m all confused because I want to develop my feelings. I want to share them and show him. I could get used to someone tucking my hair behind my ears, kissing me on the neck when I’m doing something, or asking to see me.

I’m also a huge introvert and like being alone but I sacrifice the energy I build for myself to spend time with him.

I guess we will see how the holidays and traveling go, but I’m concerned he’s going to start being hot and cold or something. I’m really just worried. :(
posted by AlexandriaParis to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not the best person to advise on taking it slow, but this does sound like taking it slow is really wise; only four months out of a divorce is a pretty fresh wound. I don't get the sense from what you write that he's being manipulative or anything. It sounds like he's a decent sort of guy who has a level head about his situation.

Therefore, no I don't think you should abandon this. However I do get concerned over this phrase: I sacrifice the energy I build for myself to spend time with him. If I'm reading this right, you mean you're putting him before your own needs for energy. I think that's natural, but I think it also could be setting up up in case he does get to complicated points in his emotional process where he gets confused or needs to be alone. I've never been divorced, but I would think he's going to need lots of space to sort out his baggage before being completely present and available to move on.

If I were you, I'd hang in there but take it glacially slow and try to put more energy into your own needs/hobbies/etc and don't look for him to fill any of them right now. I just don't think he'll have the emotional energy, but that doesn't mean he's the wrong guy. It's just a timing thing.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:13 PM on November 18, 2017

Shiiiiit. I was all set to say ok, just take it slow and you see other people too. But this made me think maybe you should eliminate him (as a serious partner).

“He said he knew I wouldn’t do anything like that when I was gone because I don’t seem like the type to do so and neither is he. He says he doesn’t like sleeping around and needs an emotional connection to feel comfortable doing so.”

That’s a power imbalance if he thinks he probably won’t sleep around and yet he KNOWS you’re not the type to. This is turning what should be an intimate conversation into declaiming qualities about himself and yourself. Couples should take care of each other more naturally than this, so it does sound like he is VERY into you with the amount of time and fun you have together, but it doesn’t sound like he is necessarily a great catch.

The talk about people filling a void with you makes my heart ache for you. In my opinion this is an unhealthy way of seeing even short term relationships. It seems like a distortion. You also have so many anxieties around specific indicators like being called awesome that make me wonder if your self image is ok. I think therapy would help so much.
posted by karmachameleon at 10:24 PM on November 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree that therapy might be a good idea; I know how it is to expect too much from too little and it's a very painful thing to go through. You might be setting yourself up for a lot of hurt by expecting anything from him. If you were able to be light about it, then yeah, but protect yourself and your heart no matter what you decide to do.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:34 PM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I answered your last question about the guy the same way - this is more of the same. Someone who doesn’t want a serious relationship. He even stated the assumption that irked me initially which is that he wants to have sex with more people than you want to. It may be true but it’s an unpleasant thing to explicitly size up and say. Even “hey you, you’re great but I haven’t been laid much in many years so give me a sec to decide” would be more charmingly honest in my opinion. The way he has put things is much less candid about being wishy washy and maybe wanting to explore. He’s like we will be doing this and I will be doing this and I assume you will be doing this. Which wasn’t what you asked, presumably you were checking if he is a big hearted man with good communication skills.
posted by karmachameleon at 10:40 PM on November 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

sorry for the repeat posts, but dang, I missed this: I’m kind of glad I didn’t end things but I still have a (healthy, I believe) fear that things are going to blow up. I don't know if you're automatically a negative thinker but damn, that's a bad intuition to have...kind of changes everything. Do you always have this feeling or just with this guy? Because if it's just with this guy, then I'd run.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:18 PM on November 18, 2017

What would happen if you stopped sacrificing "the energy you build for yourself" to spend time with him?

Or if you asked him exactly what he means when he says that he wants to take things slowly?

Or if you told him that you wouldn't keep seeing him if he slept with someone else?

Because some of your phrasing suggests that you're holding parts of yourself back to avoid scaring him away. That's totally understandable--I've done it too. But doing that creates a dynamic in which everything is on his emotional terms, which is one risk of dating people who aren't fully ready for a relationship.

If you're willing to live dangerously, I'd suggest taking some of the risks that I just mentioned--that is, asserting and acting upon your own preferences and needs rather than just responding to his. I suspect that his responses will provide you with useful information.
posted by socialjusticeworrier at 11:57 PM on November 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

The person that cares the least has the power. Right now that's him because he wants to explore his options and he knows you're really into him. He's also decided you're a 'nice girl' who will wait for him until he comes back but has reserved the right to sleep with someone else if he feels an emotional connection. Keeping in mind this connection could simply be for that night, for all you know.

This man is using a lot of nice pc terms while giving himself enough weaselwords to keep you on the back burner and himself flexibility to do whatever he wants without being the bad guy - because he told you it wasn't serious!

I'd call his bluff. Cease contact of any kind. Eventually he will call. Tell him you're not waiting for him and to enjoy the trip, life's too short to wait for him and you have your own fun to find. People like him thrive on game playing and you've made it no fun by being available. End the game and find a grownup, he's fresh out of a divorce, he clearly can't do relationship right now. Believe him.
posted by Jubey at 1:38 AM on November 19, 2017 [18 favorites]

He did say that if I had slept with someone he really couldn’t hold it against me because we aren’t committed. This was the closest thing I got to exclusivity.

That is the opposite of exclusivity. He is saying that you are not exclusive, that sleeping with other people is not a deal-breaker.

He emphasized that he’s not stringing me along or anything like that. I’m just not sure what he means though.

It means he is checking in with you to be sure you understand that he does not want a relationship with you and that he wants to leave the door open to see other peiple.

He doesn’t know, but I wouldn’t see him anymore if he were to sleep with someone else.

You are asking him what his feelings/expectations are so that you can make an informed decision whether to stay the course or move on. Don't you think he has a right to know your feelings/expectations so that he can do the same? Are you afraid he would leave if you said that was a deal-breaker for you?

Don't hide your principles from people. There is nothing but heartbreak ahead for a monogamous/serious person who pretends to be ok with nonmonogamy/casual so as not to scare the other person off - or worse, in hopes that the other person will change over time.

This guy sounds like a nice person, and you do too. But it does not sound like you want the same things.
posted by headnsouth at 1:50 AM on November 19, 2017 [22 favorites]

Should I abandon ship whenever someone tells me they’re not ready to dive into a relationship?

Only if you want a relationship, which you do. He's telling you he does not want anything serious and no amount of effort on your part is going to change this. I completely understand that the actual being together may be very nice; otherwise, you wouldn't be spending any time at all with this person. No doubt he's a lovely man who emphatically does not want a long-term thing.

He emphasized that he’s not stringing me along or anything like that. I’m just not sure what he means though.

He means that he does not want to date you exclusively and is going to see other people when the right opportunity presents itself. Listen, nobody in their right mind will say the actual words, "Well yes, actually; I am stringing you along until something better comes along," but that's exactly what this guy is saying. Of course it's confusing.

I still have a (healthy, I believe) fear that things are going to blow up.

That's because you know on some level that staying with this guy is not going to end well for you. He's already told you it's not going to end well. Stop spinning yourself into knots over this; the handwriting is on the wall.

What I'm more concerned about is why you're willing to accept a quasi-relationship that rightfully feeds your insecurity because you know it's not what you want. Give this guy his walking papers and date someone who wants a relationship. I can guarantee what you have right now is going to end in tears. Being alone for now is far, far better than being with someone who tells you their goal is to NOT stay with you.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:25 AM on November 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

I've been there. Here is what I realized after the dust settled:

I was his divorce-rebound girl. I was the one he thought he deserved, to be there to soothe him and repair him and sympathize with him and be his therapy-with-benefits, during his most vulnerable period. He desperately wanted someone to want him, to choose him, to desire him, immediately after the time when he'd felt the most unwanted and rejected. His marriage ended, he was a failure, and now he said he was ready to find someone new, but in truth- no. He was in divorce recovery mode, wholly incapable of making a real, honest connection with anyone else.

I was there to offer whatever was needed, occasionally getting something in return, but only enough to trick me into thinking it was worthwhile to stay. (He was unaware of any of these dynamics, of course, and could not articulate any of it. He had no idea he had zero business trying to be in a relationship so soon after a divorce that had decimated him emotionally).

He likes you a lot, I am sure. But in his current state, does he truly see YOU as a living, breathing, viable relationship partner, with valid needs and desires? He can't, even if he wanted to. He is still so deep into his own issues, trying to recover, trying to reclaim his own identity and come to terms with the breakup of the marriage. He needs a real therapist, not a pseudo-one.

why you're willing to accept a quasi-relationship that rightfully feeds your insecurity because you know it's not what you want.

He's also decided you're a 'nice girl' who will wait for him until he comes back but has reserved the right to sleep with someone else if he feels an emotional connection.

Those ring true for me. I settled for less because I thought there was far more "there" there. But it was an illusion. Don't settle for crumbs. You deserve someone who wants you for who you are, not for what you can do for them. Let this guy go off and do his own self-work. Rebound relationships are almost never worth it... trust your gut and let him go do this thing.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:39 AM on November 19, 2017 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you have a lot of anxiety about dating. Which I totally get! The problem is that everyone has different expectations, desires, and tolerances in a relationship.

I’ve had bad experiences dating people just out of LTRs, so it would probably be an instant dealbreaker for me. However, i have a friend who started dating a just-divorced guy, and everyone joked about her being the rebound, but they are still together 3 years later and are just perfect together.

He sounds like a sweet guy who clearly has feelings for you (i.e., yes it would bother him if you were seeing someone else), but will either take a long time to commit or will never commit. But a month and a half is still super new, my “relationship timeline” is that 3 months is how long it takes to get to know someone long enough to figure out if they have long term potential. I don’t think he’s given you a reason to kick him to the curb quite yet, and you’re happy. See what you’re feeling in another month or two, see how he treats you while you’re apart, see if you’re both still into it at the 3 month mark. Don’t jump the gun because he MIGHT hurt you, give reality a chance to show you what he’s really like.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:26 AM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you for responding. I hear all your points on this and think about these things.

Just to clarify, I’ve been in therapy before and addressed my own issues while I was there. I naturally do have a tendency to think negatively about dating and that’s because I’ve seen a lot. No amount of talking about it will change it. Therapy lasted for over three years.

I’m highly intuitive and can usually read a situation really fast and to a “T”, but with this guy, I can’t. It really can turn out either way.

Since he wants to take things slowly, I’m just wondering if he really doesn’t want to hurt me because he’s intelligent enough to realize he’s not ready. I don’t believe he’s out screwing around or even looking for that. And I think it would be unfair of me to make demands with this being so new.

Is what he said really up the alley of not wanting to date me in the future? Or is it a responsible approach? That’s what I can’t tell. I see some of you think he’s definitely saying that I’m just here for now until he finds someone better, but is everything really so black and white?

Then I see stories of dating someone fresh off the press and they’re together years later. It’s tough to tell.

Should I give this until after the holidays and then see where we are? He told me that while he does want to take things slow, he doesn’t want them to be so slow it feels like things aren’t going anywhere.

FWIW, he’s a good guy. None of you are wrong about that. And I still enjoy him. I’m really just trying to identify a cut off point because it is still early. People do move at different paces.
posted by AlexandriaParis at 5:30 AM on November 19, 2017

I know I can’t allow myself to have feelings.
There's your answer. Why are you putting yourself inside of a box? Why are you cutting yourself down? You're allowed to have feelings. Not allowing yourself to have feelings is only going to drive you into despair. Why have you decided to prioritize his "maybe" over your reality? Get rid of this guy and take care of yourself.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 5:43 AM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

And I think it would be unfair of me to make demands with this being so new.

It would not be unfair at all. It would be the only fair thing for both of you. But what you are calling "demands" are really your own dating/relationship preferences. Your question isand followup are full of you respecting and understanding and defending his needs/preferences and keeping your own under wraps.

You know what you want. Stating and standing up for your desires is not demanding anything of anyone - it is the only way you will get what you want. I would argue that not doing so is exactly what's getting you these guys who think you are amazing but won't commit to you. You are amazing because you meet their needs, but there is no need for them to reciprocate. If you don't prioritize your needs, why would you think they would?

You deserve 100% but your only chance at getting it is to have standards/dealbreakers/clearly stated wants and needs, and not be afraid to stick with them. The risk is that this guy may hear your desires and decide he can't fulfill them. But the reward is the guy who hears your desires, respects you for stating them, and wants the same things.
posted by headnsouth at 6:13 AM on November 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

When I was dating in my 30s, I found that a lot of recently-divorced men really aren't ready to dive in, and they don't necessarily know it, and they don't know how to behave. Most of the relationships they have don't "take" (just statistically) and it can be really easy to feel like you're a "transitional" partner - fun to have fun with and get used to dating again, but not a serious partnership prospect. And the more recent the divorce, the more true this seemed. You are right to notice that he might be saying things even he doesn't believe, because he's just not at all sure how to operate here. There's often an issue of people saying sort-of the right things to please you or at least not lose you as an opportunity, but not really understanding what they mean or whether they're really feeling capable of following through.

we aren’t committed....This was the closest thing I got to exclusivity

And that's not close at all. You don't have exclusivity, and you're not committed.

He doesn’t know, but I wouldn’t see him anymore if he were to sleep with someone else.

He should know this. My advice would be that in this stage of life and especially with a partner at his position in life, you need to know quite clearly what your goals, standards, and non-negotiables are. If you don't want to be seeing someone who's sleeping with other people, you need to be clear on that. Represent yourself well. By stuffing down your own needs and desires and just trying to adapt to his, you are setting yourself up for resentment and disappointment when he doesn't behave as you would want - and without even knowing what it is you want.

Now is a very good time to sit down with yourself and determine the shape, form and style of the relationship you want. The next, and harder, step is to reject relationship opportunities that don't fit that form. This relationship doesn't fit the form of your own desire, which seems (though relatively unexpressed ever here) to be for a stable, minimally stressful and guesswork-involving, relationship moving toward increase intimacy and commitment. You are absolutely in the right to want what you want - a tender and loving relationship with someone who appreciates and respects and cares for you. This isn't what that really looks like. It's complicated because even in the most charitable light and if he were the greatest guy on earth, you've caught him in a phase where he doesn't want to get right back into a deep relationship. This is what people mean when they say "the timing wasn't right" - and it may never be, but it's impossible to know when two people who aren't entirely being honest with themselves about what they want and what they need are trying to make something of their connection. It's just not likely to go where you want it to. Look for something less complicated. This is too stressed a question for a month and a half-long relationship. Thank him kindly for his time, wish him the best, and move on.

And I second the recommendation of individual therapy. It could help you get clearer about what you need, strengthen your self-esteem and self-value so you don't sacrifice things that are important for you, and make you more easily able to articulate what you want in a relationship clearly, so you can have more meaningful negotiations about things like sexual exclusivity.
posted by Miko at 6:33 AM on November 19, 2017 [11 favorites]

Then I see stories of dating someone fresh off the press and they’re together years later.

Just to respond to this: those stories exist because they're black swans. They're extremely rare. They are vastly outweighed by the far more normal situation that people really do take a long time, and a lot of tries, to move from one deeply committed long-term relationship that ended in pain and fracture, to another relationship down the road. It's enormously rare that that happens so simply, and in the unusual cases in which it does, it usually doesn't begin where the two of you are. That's a fantasy - it would be a great story if it happened, but it doesn't seem to be happening here and so it's not worth reasoning from.
posted by Miko at 6:42 AM on November 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

I get the feeling from your followup that you want us to tell you that it'll work out with this guy, and we give you the green light to stick with it.

Unfortunately, that's not the overall response you're getting. He is already telling you he doesn't want a genuine commitment and he wouldn't hold it against you if were sleeping with other people.

I completely understand that no doubt he is a very nice person, but he is not relationship material.

And I think it would be unfair of me to make demands with this being so new.

Why? It is not unfair to begin a relationship stating that you're looking for a long-term partner. This guy has made it clear that he is not looking for that.

Then I see stories of dating someone fresh off the press and they’re together years later.

Okay, sure. But you're not getting your needs met now. Why would you hold out for the promise of a future that your partner has clearly told you is not in the cards?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:25 AM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

He's enjoying your company. It's not a Relationship, just an arrangement. You are a pleasant way to pass the time.

And that would be fine if that's what you wanted too, but it's clear you do not and it's clear you are into him and struggling like crazy to match his distance. It's very unlikely he doesn't see this, but men believe they are allowed to turn a blind eye to this, and dance that little dance of "well I NEVER SAID I wasn't going to fuck around" (later: "you knew I wasn't looking for a relationship with you, and now I've met someone I actually want to be my girlfriend why are you being so crazy?"), and he's choosing to do this to you rather than breaking it off because the power differential is inappropriate. That makes him a piece of shit weasel, and you need to have a think about whether you are settling.

The thing is: it's never going to be you. When he's ready to dive in, he will go find a new pool. It's sometimes known as the "cab light" theory: a person (man) isn't ready for commitment until he is, and then his cab light comes on and he picks up the next passenger he sees. That's not going to be you. You're the one who's going to get out of the cab so the light can come on.

And it doesn't sound like that's okay with you. I think you're hanging around waiting for him to pick you, because you think one day he's going to wake up ready and there you are! But when he wakes up ready he's going to want a brand new chase, a new round of thrilling oxytocin sexytimes, and someone he hasn't treated like shit already. That's not going to be you.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 AM on November 19, 2017 [17 favorites]

Lynn Never and I have clearly dated the same man! Amen to this.
posted by Jubey at 12:04 PM on November 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I suspect that I dated the same man as Jubey and Lyn Never--and that many other responders here did too. *scoots over on bench to make room*
posted by socialjusticeworrier at 12:42 PM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also dated a slightly different variant of this guy. Like you, I bonsai'd myself to make a pleasant, happy, attractive environment for a guy I really, really liked. Sadly, he was never really that into me, and my willingness to compromise my own needs just made him think less of me.

I do get it, though - rules and standards are all great, but when you (finally) have a living, breathing guy who treats you nicely (at least some of the time) and whose company you enjoy, it's difficult to draw a hard boundary.

My advice? Do it anyway. You deserve to have a guy who is ready for a relationship RIGHT NOW, and is willing and eager to be with you. Don't settle for crumbs.

(thanks for the bench, y'all!)
posted by dancing_angel at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

If your gut says this could go either way, then that's probably right. If you're enjoying this, then it's ok to keep enjoying it. You've said you're good at reading situations. My guess is this guy is hard to read because he genuinely hasn't made up his mind yet. You'll know when he's ready, or you'll know when it's time to let go.

Use the time while he's away to enjoy being "single" in the sense of focusing on yourself. That way, there will be so much of you and your energy when you talk to him next or see him next, that either it will intensify his attraction to you, or he will quickly want you to start putting yourself aside for his needs again. It could be very revealing.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 6:44 PM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is just guesswork on my part, but I think there's a difference between men who get separated/divorced and then you find out there was Someone Else already there whom they stay with, versus they get separated/divorced and then immediately find their next someone and stay with that person, versus the ones who separate from their partners and then want to "play the field" for awhile.

So, in that sense, I disagree with the poster above who said that the men who seem to segue right into their next committed relationship are "black swans." In my experience (and I'm old, and a therapist (yet not your therapist)) there are a TON of people who won't leave a partner unless there's somebody else waiting in the wings, and TONS of people who scoot directly into their next relationship. A lot of people don't want to be alone for a second! and a lot of men (and women) are perfectly happy to look around for a minute and say, "oh! there's a nice one, I'll bite!" and get those needs taken care of for the next 40-50 years or however long so they can concentrate on other stuff that's more fun and interesting (and less aggravating) than dating (e.g. just about everything else in the world).

However you have no control over which one of those people you're with! Well, you have a little bit of control - you have the power to check them out for an amount of time that seems reasonable to you, after which, if they're clearly not committing (like, saying "I love you! I'm so lucky I found you! You're the love of my life! Of COURSE I'm not going to sleep with/date anybody else! It's YOU I want! etc.), then your power is to say, "Buh-BYE" and cut your losses.

Heartbreak may be involved! But unless you enjoy the torture/doubt and/or believe in your heart that you won't find anybody you like as much EVER, it's well worth it to move on (VERY hard, I know!)
posted by DMelanogaster at 11:49 AM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

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