Can I turn this situationship into a relationship?
April 6, 2018 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a... situation?... with someone I met online. I've started to have feelings and the situation is becoming increasingly something that I'd like really to move forward to a real relationship, if possible - or at least get some clarity on, if not. I don't know how much longer I can take this ambiguity. Help?

I (a woman) met someone on an online dating site - reconnected, actually, as it turned out we were apparently acquaintances from grad school a number of years ago. Because of this, in some ways it's more like we met in person than online, in terms of natural overlap in shared contexts of old friends and similar experiences, etc. We also share religious and other leanings that are somewhat unusual, and have uncannily similar backgrounds and beliefs. We met online in January (he messaged me). We soon switched to email. (We live about 6 hours apart, so we weren't able to meet right away.) We exchanged a number of long emails at first (about our backgrounds, etc., introducing ourselves in various respects). This shifted to shorter but more frequent emails (a couple of times a week, probably) about more topical issues in the news, etc. We have met up twice - once a couple of months ago for several hours, and then a month ago for an overnight trip together (about 24 hours). I initiated the first meet-up, although I think he was reasonably eager, and he initiated the second. Being together in person felt comfortable and natural to me, and based on his comments I think he would agree. We're both quite religiously conservative, so there's been no physical contact at all (not even kissing), even during the overnight when we stayed in the same hotel room (separate beds). I don't do any physical contact at all until I'm in an exclusive/serious relationship, and I would imagine he either agrees with that himself, or has sensed that about me and hasn't made a move because of that - although I suppose it's also possible that he simply doesn't find me physically attractive. Since the first time we met up (i.e. for a couple of months now), we've texted on most days (not everyday) - sometimes longer conversations and sometimes just a simple hi or check in. We've also been Skyping once or twice a week for the past couple of months (since after our first meet-up): these calls usually last a couple of hours (sometimes more), and are fun and animated and we never lack for conversation.

Recently, in a conversation about past relationships, he mentioned that he likes to keep things ambiguous while dating, in order to let things develop organically without putting pressure on (his view is that if and when two people get into an official relationship, things become more intentional and explicit about commitment, a shared future, etc.). I actually agree with this in theory, but the problem is that I am starting to really like him a lot. I miss him on the days when I don't hear from him, and think about him a lot during the day. I feel like I am on the path towards falling in love with him. I am still actively dating other men (no physical contact), because on principle I don't do exclusive dating - either I'm in a committed relationship headed ideally towards marriage, or I'm single. But when I talk to other men, it feels weird and I can't help thinking of him. I know that for the past couple months (i.e. since before we met in person the first time) he hasn't been using the dating site we met on, and I'm reasonably sure from things that he's said that he hasn't been seeing anyone else during this period - yet in passing during another conversation a month ago he mentioned that he considers himself to be single. I also feel like in the last couple of weeks, I've been initiating more than half of the contact (texts, emails), although he typically seems to reply with a fair amount of enthusiasm (previously I think he initiated more). I know that he's had some big stuff at work, though, so I'm not sure whether that's significant in terms of him not initiating so much stuff recently.

What does this level of contact sound like to you all? Is it (casual?) dating? Does it sound like the beginning of a relationship? Or the beginning of a friendship? Would someone typically invest this much energy into something they had no interest in turning into a relationship? Am I crazy for hoping for a relationship out of this, or for feeling myself starting to get attached?

What I would really like is to get some clarity about where we stand with relation to each other and what possibility there is of a shared romantic future together. I guess what I'd like to know is whether he wants to be in an exclusive relationship, or - if he's not there yet - whether he could see himself being there sometime in the near future. I'd also like to know whether he finds me sexually attractive (men in general have typically considered me quite sexually attractive, and all of my numerous guy friends in the past have fallen in love with me, which makes the fact that he hasn't made a move or said anything even more nerve-wracking). I've never initiated such a conversation before, since men generally pursue me, so I'm really not experienced or comfortable with it. My concern is that I don't want to scare him off by coming on too strong, or having the conversation too early. I know we've only technically been on two "dates", although since one was an overnight and since we've had regular Skypes and emails in the meantime, it seems to me that we've reached a stage beyond what "two dates" would normally entail. I suppose my questions are:

(1) Does it seem too early to try to get some explicitness about where we are and where we might be headed, or will it seem premature or desperate at this juncture? This situation feels like torture to me. If I must wait longer to clarify, how much longer must I wait?

(2) How do I find out whether he finds me sexually attractive? I'm a bit terrified that he doesn't and that he's continuing on with this in the hope that maybe he'll change his mind (a tactic I myself have tried before with men, with little success in changing my level of attraction to them).

(3) The man in question is objectively rather devastatingly good-looking and accomplished. I haven't had many serious relationships before, but those that I have had have been with men who were very accomplished but not so universally physically attractive. I'm a bit intimidated actually, and have almost been tempted not to pursue it for that reason. Does this change anything?

(4) We're both in our 30s and I know that we both really want marriage and children ultimately (for me, ideally soon, and I think probably for him too). I want to give this a fair shake, because I haven't been this excited about anyone in a long time. But I also don't have tons of time simply to wait in a murky state of "are we or aren't we?" ambiguity. How long is reasonable? If we decide to do a relationship, I'd like more contact - particularly, him to initiate more texts, and maybe a bit more emailing. How do I ask for this?

(5) How do I have this whole conversation? Like, what words do I say? And should I even be having this conversation at this stage? If he doesn't want a serious relationship, I think I might need to go no contact so I can get over my feelings for him and so I can hopefully fall for someone else. How do I express this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's too early to try to figure this out. I think you should figure out concretely what you want to happen next, and then ask him if he's ready for it- for example, I could imagine you are ready to publicly be attached and start seeing each other in person more regularly. I think you should tell him you're developing strong feelings for him, tell him what you want, and ask him what he thinks. He might not have an answer right away; he might need a day or two to think about it. I agree that going no-contact is a good idea if he's not interesting in pursuing anything further. Good luck! Keep us posted!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:37 AM on April 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Being exclusive isn't about the other person, it's about you.

Are you ready to date this man seriously? If you are, say so. Since you can't find the words + you are actively keeping a lot of potential other partners at arm's length, I respectfully offer the advice that you don't seem ready yet?

I know you have a lot in common, sometimes that feels like destiny or similar. The problem I see is that you've spent so long in your mindset of "dating and single" you seem unsure how to drop that strategy from your life. Does that make sense?

To be plain, you might not be ready to transition into a relationship with this person if you can't see emotional and practical relationship intimacy possible without directly leading to marriage. What happens if he changes his mind a few weeks or months into a new agreement and stops dating you? Will you feel betrayed? Or will you be able to accept he feels incompatible on a deeper level? Will that wreck you for weeks or months? Longer?

I think you should explore some of this in therapy before trying to more seriously date anyone. It's hard to make relationship promises when you don't really deeply know each other. It goes both ways. I want you to feel comfortable being emotionally intimate and I don't get a sense that you are from this askme.

I'm just an internet stranger and do not know you. YMMV.

You could just tell him you want to date more seriously and see where it goes...

"Bob, I like so many things about you and I would like to explore a more serious relationship with you. Do you feel the same way about me?"
posted by jbenben at 7:41 AM on April 6, 2018 [9 favorites]

(1) Clarity is good for everyone. There's no reason why you can't ask right now, in a frank and honest way.

(2) Whether he finds you sexually attractive will follow from his answer on (1).

(3) No, it doesn't change anything, if you choose not to let it change anything.

(4) I don't see why you need to wait at all. You're at a perfectly reasonable time to ask already.

(5) The script jbenjen offered will do just fine.

All of that said -- there's this: "We live about 6 hours apart".

What do you see as a realistic go-forward given that substantial separation? That's a pretty big deal. Is that separation likely to end anytime soon? I don't want to harsh on your good feelings, but... that's an obstacle.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:10 AM on April 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

There are conversations that are hard because it's hard to know what to say, then there are conversations that are hard because you fear the outcome of the conversation won't be what you want. This is clearly the second of those two.

It's not that you can't say the wrong thing (I would recommend against marriage proposals), but something like what jbenben suggests is perfect. I think you could hedge a bit, but you do want to be straightforward. If I paste together a few things you said here, I might say something like this:

"I know you mentioned that you like to keep things ambiguous while dating, in order to let things develop organically without putting pressure on. I actually agree with this in theory, but the problem is that I am starting to really like you a lot. I guess what I'd like to know is whether you want to be in an exclusive relationship, or - if you're not there yet - whether you could see yourself being there sometime in the near future. What do you think?"
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:12 AM on April 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've asked a few questions here about similar situations and know very well the level of angst that comes through in your post. My takeaway from times I've been similarly confused, painful as it was, has been that just because the other person is single doesn't mean they're available. And that there are some perfectly lovely people out there who are incapable of answering even the most direct questions. I think that a direct conversation, as scary as it is, is the best route. You need answers with concrete details, not things that you agree with "in theory," and not mumbo jumbo about organic development. It hurts so much to think about and have these conversations, but until you do, he'll keep using his love of ambiguity to shield what he's not saying. It sucks to be so excited about someone and to have this feeling of unrest. I hope you're able to get clarity about this situation.
posted by mermaidcafe at 10:27 AM on April 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

his view is that if and when two people get into an official relationship, things become more intentional and explicit about

that's everyone's view. it's the whole appeal of official relationships.

it's great that he likes to keep things ambiguous while dating, but since you don't actually know if you're dating him or not, that doesn't apply. make him answer the question. and don't phrase it as "are we dating," as if it's for him alone to decide. say that your interactions have felt like dates to you, and this is a good thing because you want to be dating him. does he agree, or no? and don't continue anything if he won't give you a simple, clear answer.

Wait to indulge his ambiguous desires until you know you're dating him; before that point you've got no reason to cater to them. that studied vagueness is something he can only require from women he's ambiguously dating, not from intimate friends or whatever else he may consider the two of you to be.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:42 AM on April 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

I don't do any physical contact at all until I'm in an exclusive/serious relationship, and I would imagine he either agrees with that himself, or has sensed that about me and hasn't made a move because of that

addendum: he has not sensed this about you because it is a moderately complex philosophical position and that cannot be sensed; it must be communicated verbally.

though he cannot know the reason, he may have sensed that you not only aren't initiating but wouldn't welcome physical contact. you may want to clarify that though this is true, it's not due to lack of attraction, but rather the aforementioned personal policy. but since he himself is philosophically anti-clarification, maybe you don't.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:07 AM on April 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

In my experience, most dudes who want to let things "develop organically," "stay ambiguous," etc., really just don't want to feel they have to have the relationship on any terms but their own, and prefer to not even have to say what those terms are. While it's more understandable when you're younger, I'd find this verrrrry off-putting in a man in his thirties.

However! Assuming you want to stay in it, you also are in this relationship (of whatever nature), and you are a grown woman, too. You get clarity by providing yours and asking for his in return. Scripts above are good.

Like the man said in the Wrinkle in Time movie, it's okay to fear the answers, but you can't avoid them.
posted by praemunire at 11:31 AM on April 6, 2018 [19 favorites]

Recently, in a conversation about past relationships, he mentioned that he likes to keep things ambiguous while dating, in order to let things develop organically without putting pressure on (his view is that if and when two people get into an official relationship, things become more intentional and explicit about commitment, a shared future, etc.).

Um, yeah, they do. And you want something "more intentional" and "explicit about commitment." So you owe it to yourself to say you want this.

I think this is one of those things where you're asking MetaFilter to be in your relationship. And we can't, and we don't know how he's going to answer. So you need to actually ask him these questions yourself. It is a normal thing to do. Ambiguity is not your friend - and especially not when you're in your 30s and you want children. If he's not interested in being "intentional," you need to know so you can move on.

One thing that happens in LD relationships is that when you're apart you can really start to idealize the partner. They're not right there in front of you with their flaws and unpredictability, so you can fall in love with your mental and emotional image of them which is not the same as Real Human Them. So that's the other piece here. If you decide you want to get serious, then do get serious and start seeing more of each other, because spending a lot of time apart daydreaming is a sure way to develop an idea of someone that does not reflect their reality, and have a big collision with reality at some point.
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think it's a good idea to get some clarity, if only so you don't waste energy on someone 6 hours away for 3 more months. Here are some things that are hard to read:

1) What do you (and he) think about starting a relationship when you are 6 hours apart? For some people, that would be only okay for a very casual relationship or a friendship. For others, it's the ideal romantic relationship.

2) No physical contact. I would read this as disinterest in a romantic relationship, but since you and he didn't discuss it, and you both are religious and conservative, who knows how he reads this?

3) He considers himself single. I considered myself single until I was married, so I'm not sure how to parse that information on your behalf.

4) He likes things to unfold organically without being intentional. Is this with everyone or just in this situation? If he's always like this, maybe he's not commitment-oriented or likes to dictate the terms of his relationships (I have found statements like these to come from people who wanted an excuse to disappear for long periods and expect me to drop everything should they deign to text me). If he's just like this with you, it's an indirect way of saying he's not interested in the romantic, committed relationship you are seeking.

It's really hard to read these tea leaves. It's okay to ask for some direction and to back off if he's not where you are. If it feels too direct to ask, "Hey, do you want a committed romantic relationship with me?" you could just ask something more open-ended about how these interactions are going for him and what he thinks about being a little more intentional and what you think about no physical contact so he knows what that means on your part.
posted by *s at 1:21 PM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

He messaged you, on a dating site -- I think he finds you attractive. And you've been in contact a lot these weeks.

You can tell he hasn't been using the dating site, and you're reasonably sure he hasn't been seeing anyone else, but you have. Of course he considers himself single, as do you (given that you're still dating around). If he knows you're seeing others, it's possible his comments were trying to clarify your intentions toward him, as well as protecting/distancing himself a bit. If it's seeming less likely to him that you're romantically interested in him, he may be initiating less in response.

(Of course, he could just be a guy who likes to have the world on a string. If that's so, the sooner you two part ways, the better.)

You're both in your 30s, you say you're both marriage-and-family-minded, and you do communicate often, so I agree with the others that it's not too early to have this conversation. But definitely get on the same page with your distance issue.

(Feeling too vulnerable? If it helps, most everyone does. At the very least, start by disabling your dating profile and _tell him_ that you've done that. If romance ensues and your now-boyfriend isn't initiating more contact, organically, you can make that request. That's what works best for you in a relationship, and it's not unreasonable. If anything, it's especially understandable given the physical distance.)

It's a gift to know what you want. Best wishes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:52 PM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Something happens to us straight women when we don't know if the man we're starting to have feelings for is attracted to us. It becomes larger than what's going on between the two people; it pushes all sorts of anxiety and insecurity buttons, even if you already know you're attractive based on other people's reactions to you. (If you are reassuring yourself that you're attractive using other guy's responses to you as data, you aren't just comfortable in your own quirky, unique, not-necessarily-conventially beautiful attractiveness, the kind that is about your own specific connection to someone.) I think you should be careful that this uncertainty isn't riling up your combined adrenaline of desire and "am I attractive enough" anxiety/insecurity. So imho, take the "does he find me attractive" question completely off the table. Assume he does or he wouldn't be here, going on trips with you, Skyping with you, as someone he met on a dating site. Instead pay attention to the dynamic between you. See if when "does he find me attractive" gets cut clean out of the picture, does your anxiety about it all subside at all? ... ALSO -- a lot of people who are a bit introverted start out initiating more and then, once they are more or less secure that they'll talk to you at some point, they start to initiate less. It does not necessarily mean they're less interested than they were. But it's something you really have to find out. Is he someone who only needs to talk to his S.O. twice a week in order to feel OK? This is something that has repercussions as things develop, so pay attention to his attachment style -- and whether it works for YOU. Good luck!
posted by velveeta underground at 4:08 PM on April 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

My concern is that I don't want to scare him off by coming on too strong, or having the conversation too early

3 months of communication is not too early to say "I find that I like you more than other men I'm dating. I would like to see you in person more often, and perhaps in the near future date exclusively. What do you think about that?" (Or whatever sentiments along those lines are true for you).

If he responds poorly, or confusingly, or in a way that makes you feel ashamed for having asked, or if he does a slow fade, or ghosts or whatever, it won't be because you came on too strong or had the conversation too soon. It will be because he didn't want the same things you wanted. You cannot derail a relationship that otherwise would have happened just by expressing your feelings after 3 months of communication.

I mean, I hope he responds by saying "yes I want those things too." But if he responds by saying something like "I don't know what I want yet, can we do this for awhile longer" you're perfectly within your rights to say "ok" and internally give it another month or so, and bail if nothing has changed in a month. If he says something like "I don't like to label things" again, well then you know you're a bad match because you're at a point where his desire to not label things is trumping your desire to label things. To keep him happy, you have to be unhappy. And that's not the kind of sacrifice that pays off long term. Relationships that start with one person sacrificing their emotional comfort for the other person usually continue that way.
posted by mrmurbles at 8:32 PM on April 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Some of his comments about ambiguity and pressure seem like red flags to me, possible signs of commitment issues. But you won't know for sure till you venture down that path. Could you plan another face-to-face date and bring up the topic of dating more seriously then?
posted by sunflower16 at 3:53 AM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

You may not like this answer. I took everything that you said and separated it into two piles:

Pile 1: a date several months ago, an overnight trip a few weeks ago where there was no physical interaction, he likes ambiguity, you live 6 hours apart.

Pile 2: things you imagine, things you sense, based on his comments, you're reasonably sure, from things he's said, he may be busy at work.

From where I'm standing, this person does not want to embark on a serious relationship. You are far too much in your head about this--trying to get deeper meanings out of everything he says and does and that shit is just exhausting. You need to just look at his actions. You've hung out twice, no more. He is not contacting you on the regular. He is not saying he's really into you and wants to see you more.

I get that you are having a nice time with this guy but compare pile 1 (reality) versus pile 2 (everything in your head) and you can see there's really no future with this person. You're going on other dates? That's great. Keep doing that, forget about this guy because there's no future with him.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:58 AM on April 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

It took me a long time to learn to pay at least as much attention to someone's actions as to their words.
posted by theora55 at 7:18 AM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Upon re-read, I agree with these last two responses by "yes I said yes I will Yes" and theora55: his actions are not exactly screaming "I'm so into you and want a relationship". I don't think you have anything to lose by asking him if he wants to meet up in person and then bring up the dating conversation - at least that way you will get an answer one way or another (and if he weasels out of answering, I would take that as a "no"). But agree you should try to temper expectations here because he doesn't seem to be making a lot of effort towards a relationship with you.
posted by sunflower16 at 4:09 PM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

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