How to take a step back in a relationship (without being a jerk)
July 10, 2018 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I started seeing someone a month ago, felt like we connected pretty well on the first couple dates, but now I'm starting to feel we moved too fast. I enjoy her company but in terms of entering a more committed relationship, I feel like I'm not feeling something I should be feeling. I need to figure out how to talk to her about this without hurting her.

Long story short, I took a leap and started meeting women online (after years of not dating AT ALL). Went on a couple dates, most didn't go anywhere, but were fun, until I "clicked" with one woman. I wasn't super attracted to her, but I had a good time on our first couple of dates-she's sweet and has a good sense of humor-and so we've been going out about once a week for the past month. Texting frequently. Sounds great, right?

PROBLEM: Things are not going according to plan, more so after getting physical. I like her, but I'm not sure I have strong enough feelings (or even attraction in general) to enter a more committed relationship with her specifically. I'm not sure how much of it has to do with her and how much of it is me beginning to feel depressed or preoccupied with other stuff in my life, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm not feeling as excited as I was. She asked me if we were moving too fast, and at the time, I didn't think we I'm not sure. I don't feel good about this. I don't want to be some sleazy guy playing some stereotypical "I can't get tied down...just want to the play the field, baaaaabe" angle (which isn't the case, but I could see it coming across that way), especially after I told her I'm not seeing anyone else when she asked (because that's true. I don't think I can focus on more than one person at a time, especially after we've gone on a few dates that went well). Even though I've enjoyed our physical contact, I'm starting to feel it was a mistake (although I appreciate her asserting some boundaries, especially as I'm starting to have cold feet about this relationship. It'd be better not to mess around again until I'm sure how I feel). She's begun to hint around that she would like to move on from dating casually, and I don't think it's fair for me to give her vague answers.

I don't like feeling this indecisive, and I also feel like she deserves to be with someone who is a definite "yes" when it comes to dating her. I'd like to see her a few more times and see if I start to feel that initial spark again, but I'm starting to suspect that, being fairly inexperienced, I just got too excited about someone being interested in me and let it get too physical too fast (if this doesn't work out, I'd sincerely like to be friends, if possible-because I feel a lot of affection for her-but I'm not super optimistic about that possibility). I know there's nothing I can do to control how she reacts, but I'm looking for ways to navigate this without either hurting her (or at least avoiding this as much as possible) or leading her on.
posted by EyesDarting to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been in this situation before. If you were me, this would be my advice:

You're just not that into her (and that's okay!), but you should acknowledge it for both of your sakes. It's possible you could say you'd like to spend more time seeing how it goes, but you already know inside and what's holding you back is not wanting to hurt her feelings. It's worse to drag it out.

I read your previous question when you posted it but didn't respond because it was too on the nose for things I'd gone through. You're not a bad person for feeling this way, by the way.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:27 AM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

My inclination would be to tell her a good portion of just what you said above. You had a really nice time, feel a lot of affection for her, and are feeling like she wants to take another step forward in the relationship. But you're concerned that maybe you got over-excited and moved too fast physically as a result, and now you don't want to take more steps until you've sorted things out and had a chance to parse out some confusion you're feeling in the relationship from the other preoccupations/depression you're feeling coming from other areas of your life. You feel bad about not being ready and don't want to come across as someone who is avoiding commitment, but you also don't want to do something that isn't right for either of you.

And move the conversation from there. When I've had potentially tricky conversations like this I've had success prefacing them with something like, "It might take me a couple minutes to say all that I'm thinking - can you give me a minute to say everything I need to?"

And then make sure to keep communicating about it and working on it. Stay true to your word and don't string her along if you do realize that it's not anything outside the relationship that's making you feel a little distant now.

But I tend to be pretty direct - I've been told occasionally blunt - about conversations like this.
posted by Urban Winter at 11:53 AM on July 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you don't want to step back so much as step away. If you aren't feeling it, well then there isn't anything to do but kindly tell her you aren't feeling it. Don't elaborate it's because you aren't attracted to her. Don't ask her to be your friend.

It might hurt her, because no one likes being dumped. But trying to be nice dumping someone usually ends up with them holding onto false hope. Let her move on. That is kindness.
posted by KMoney at 12:04 PM on July 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

"Are you seeing anyone else" tends to be the first steps into the conversations that lead to being exclusive, and the understanding of getting more serious. I have had several relationships in my life that were exclusive, but casual, but this doesn't seem to be the default setting--most people, in my experience, will read "exclusive" as "committed." We had conversations at the point of exclusivity and were on the same page that we wouldn't see other people, but that we weren't going to overly enmesh our lives. (These relationships also tended to get out of hand and someone inevitably got their feelings hurt, but YMMV).

The next time you see each other (before anything physical happens), I would bring it up again. Let her know that, although you're not seeing anyone else right now, you're not really sure that you're ready to take any more forward steps in terms of escalating the relationship. I do think "I'm not ready for anything serious" is totally fine to say; it is the truth.

Maybe she will want to continue the relationship in a longer-term, casual way. Maybe she's much more invested than you and would rather break things off at this point. Maybe you're overthinking it, and she also wants to slow things down. The only way to know is to ask.

Next time you're in a "are we going to fast?" conversation, use that as a starting point to check in. Why does the other person think it might be going too fast? What is Person looking for right now? What are you looking for right now? Is it different than what you thought you were looking for when you swiped, or when you finished the first couple dates? Things change and it's good to check in.

Good luck!
posted by assenav at 12:18 PM on July 10, 2018

I think it is best to be honest at this point. Tell her that you like her as a person but aren't feeling a spark, or however you want to put it. I have been the woman in this situation and the guy just came out and very honestly said the above. I was a bit hurt but understood and got over it super quickly (like a day) because he was firm and honest. Don't tell her maybe, don't waste her time. Don't say 'it's not you, it's me'. It will be so much easier for her to accept if it is to the point.
posted by thereader at 12:56 PM on July 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Kindly her you're not feeling a relationship with her and then let her be.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:57 PM on July 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you've only been on four or five dates then it's still at the early "seeing where it goes stage" but probably good to have a chat about what you're both looking for and mention that you're not ready to commit or get that serious at the moment.
posted by JonB at 2:07 PM on July 10, 2018

Agree with the others who say just tell her that the spark is not there, and then move on. She will not want to be with someone who isn't excited about her.

You're not a jerk to feel (or not feel) anything, but wasting her time would be unkind.
posted by rpfields at 4:46 PM on July 10, 2018

You are not a jerk for feeling this way. However, what you do, based on the feelings you're having now, could be jerky, so you're really right and thoughtful to ask this question and want to proceed with care.

Having been on the other side of this back in my dating days, and with all of the perspective of being an old lady now, here is what I hope you will *not* do:

- Keep dating and being physical for a little while longer to see if the spark appears or comes back (be aware that while you're doing this "for science", her attachment to you will very likely grow)
- Say you would like to "slow down" or "just be friends" but continue to stay in touch with her about the same amount as you already have been - sending flirty communications, liking facebook posts and inviting her to social events, and showing some physical affection, but like, a weird amount because you're not sure what you want?
- Send mixed signals about what you're feeling which makes her behavior get a little wonky because she can't read you and isn't sure what to do (and may begin to think the problem is her, like, slightly imperfect thighs or something, because we live in an icky society that tells us that), making you like her a little less than you did before because she is less fun than she was at first, until you suddenly...
- Ghost

If you do any of those things above, not only are you likely to cause her some frustration and pain if she is really into you, but you may also trigger her into pursuing you more if she is of an anxious attachment kinda personality, mistaking your ambivalence for avoidant attachment (you can read more at the link), which could confuse you and/or make it harder for you to do the right thing and end it!

Some people see 4 or 5 dates and maybe a couple of hookups as still in the casual green zone. Others are already picking out wedding china patterns by that point. This is truly a treacherous point in dating, EyesDarting (holy eponysterical name, batman!) - because it's the point where you find out which type of dater you are (still casual at 4 dates vs ready to lock it IN at 4 dates) and if you don't match, it's probably gonna be a bad time if you let it go on too long.

When I was dating, if I met a guy I wanted to be in the same room with for another hour, let alone one that I liked enough to sleep with or go on 4-5 dates with, I was quite stoked, and to be honest, almost every one of my girlfriends has been like that. Dating for women requires kissing a lot of frogs -- some VERY froggy ones in fact, so you also can appear very not froggy in contrast as well. Just something to keep in mind in your next interactions.

You say she's already asked you if you're seeing anybody else and you've said no, which I think indicates how she's feeling about you, and I believe a lot of women would interpret your response as GREEN LIGHTS ALL THE WAY! You also probably sense her enthusiasm which is leading you to ask this question and ask for advice.

So what *should* you do? Well - if I was dating you back in the past, I personally would have wished you would have just set me free. Be honest, use Miko's storied breakup script, and call it a day. Maybe your paths will cross again.

Now, if you're not ready to do that and you do still want to give it time and see where it goes, then I would challenge you to look within yourself and ask yourself why? What is it that makes you afraid to cut bait? Do you think that maybe the attraction can be there and will grow and you need to work it out? Or are you uncomfortable with the truth about whatever is it that is making you feel ambivalent about your attraction to her. Be honest with yourself - really honest - and make sure you can really get past it, whatever it is, if you want to move ahead. Forgive yourself for it if it's something you feel bad about (i.e. if it is her slightly imperfect thighs, and you feel bad about that, well, that's kinda bad, and you should probably work on that).

Also, some food for thought, based on your previous question. You have been out of the dating scene for a while and it seems like you had some pretty high expectations (unrealistic expectations) for how "together" you should be in order to be a viable dating partner. Is it possible you are also projecting some of those unrealistic expectations on to the women you date now that you believe you're "ready"? If there's a nugget of truth in there, please do set her free. You probably do need to work this root unrealistic expectation issue out in order to have a truly happy relationship one day, but you shouldn't use an actual dating relationship as your testing ground.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:02 PM on July 10, 2018 [14 favorites]

Break it off with her using Miko's breakup script. That script was made for situations like these. It's pretty clear that you're not feeling it and that's fine. What's not fine is just meeting up with her a few more times to see if you'll feel differently about her. She's looking for something more serious now, and you know in your gut, inexperienced or not, that she's not right for you. So do yourselves both a favour, and end it.

And think about what you want when you get back out there again: do you want something serious, or casual? Or maybe your approach might be more like letter writer #1094 at (sorry can't link, on phone).
posted by foxjacket at 8:04 PM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I've been in this situation, I've said the truest thing in as kindly a manner as possible. My script is on this spectrum - 'I'm glad we met and got to learn a bit about each other in the last month, but I can't see us becoming partners.'

It's the terrible part of dating, but it is the point of dating - to see if the other person/you have potential. I rarely quantified why i wasn't seeing potential in detail, because it's amazing how many people will litigate these things, making the whole dance worse. I usually said (if I meant it) that I'd like to meet up as friends next time and usually that was ~ 6 weeks later, if at all.

One month, even if sex is involved, is about how long it would take things to be move in/off potential partner for me. She has already opened the door to the discussion.
posted by honey-barbara at 11:29 PM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

UPDATE: We had a nice, casual dinner. She could probably tell I was holding back a little on touch, and I let her know (briefly) that I wasn't feeling it . I didn't say it the way I wanted to (started second-guessing myself the moment I started talking) but I made it clear that I do really like her and am just not feeling...something.

I feel pretty awful (it would be much easier to do this with someone I didn't like, or found irritating in some way, which is not the case here), and I'm sure she feels hurt, but I guess that was (more or less) the right thing to do. I feel like I'm learning things the hard way that I wish I'd learned back in my early twenties.
posted by EyesDarting at 9:24 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

You are just not that into her. It happens! You couldn't predict or prevent it, and you have not committed a crime by being with her, or by telling her that you are not feeling it. It was brave, and right of you to say that you her, because that's the truth.

NOW, if you really want to be kind to her. Stop all contact. Let her be, DO NOT try to be friends. If she has developed deeper feeling for you during this time (possible?), she might cling to the idea of being friends or "taking things slower," in hopes that it might turn in time into something more. Once you see how great she really is, or once you see that she's working on this or that aspect of her, or once she's bent enough to accommodate you, etc. A painful trip for her, really. Don't be that guy. Just wish her well, let her go, and focus on finding someone who sets your world on fire.
posted by LakeDream at 9:33 PM on July 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

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