Dating on the Other Side of the Train Tracks
August 12, 2018 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I've found myself seeing someone who I get along with insanely well and am quite fond of, but it turns out their lifestyle and experiences are vastly, VASTLY different from mine when it comes to drug use and sexual norms and other things that I've always considered to be risky. Help me figure out how (if?) I should proceed.

I've been talking to/dating somebody for a few weeks now who I find absolutely fascinating and who I can have conversations with like I have never had with another person before. We just seem to "get" each other on so many levels. They encourage me to be the best version of myself and are completely understanding of my fears and flaws in ways that nobody has been before and I am crushing on them hard. It seems to be very much mutual. However, after a few long discussions it's come out that their experiences, norms and perhaps expectations are wildly different from mine, and I'm not sure if I am naive and being needlessly fearful over this, or if I should walk or run in the other direction. Looking for some outside perspectives as I have never been in this situation before. I know that different doesn't necessarily equal BAD, but how do I figure out where my own line should be drawn?

Just to throw some examples out there, I consider myself a pretty straight laced person. Didn't have sex until I was 18 and my sexual preferences are about as vanilla as they get. I've always had monogamous, long term relationships because hookups and one night stands and casual sex have never been something I've been interested in at all. I can count on one hand the number of people I've slept with, because to me, sex is something that comes after you've established a strong comfort level with someone. I don't have any fetishes or kinks and prefer to keep things, well, simple, sexually. I've also never been into drugs/heavy drinking/partying in any shape or form. I've tried weed a few times and even that was uncomfortable (though I don't oppose mild to moderate weed usage). I didn't drink until I was 20 and just never had much interest in those sorts of things, whereas I watched many of my high school peers go to parties and smoke and drink and hook up and that just was not my thing.

During some long talks about our past experiences, I've found out that this person I am seeing had a meth addiction for two or three years until they joined the military. The addiction is long gone, according to them, as this was nearly 20 years ago, but they told stories of an ex friend in prison for dealing meth and what have you. I have never, ever, EVER thought about trying anything harder than weed. I've never had run ins with law enforcement. They are a regular weed user, which in itself doesn't bother me, but I've also never been with someone who uses in that capacity. They also use E several times a year.

While I can count on one hand the number of sexual partners I've had, they describe many experiences with numerous partners simultaneously, describing themselves as "a bit of a sexual deviant". The sexual exploits that they describe boggle my mind as they are only things I have seen in porn. They have probably had more sexual experience in high school than I have had in my entire life. Their ex and co-parent of their children works as an exotic dancer and is known to be manipulative, but is still involved heavily in their life because of the children, and comes with a bunch of baggage into the situation.

I have explained my concerns about not being enough for them sexually, and was told that I am like having ice cream when they have only had cake. I might think I am "boring", but to them I am new and different and interesting as they have only been with people who have similar backgrounds of their own. Touche. They seem very interested in pursuing something with me, but I am afraid that I will not be "enough" for them, sexually or experientally or ???

In my inexperience and naivety, I wonder if these differences are red flags, or just simply two individuals who have had very different experiences but could still be compatible. Because we get along fascinatingly on an intellectual level and support each other to grow and be better people. We are both self employed and driven and ambitious and I feel like we have so much to share with each other. But their past just blows my mind.

I am trying to go into this with an open mind and not be judgmental of their experiences, but I also do not want to overlook any serious red flags in the midst of all of this excitement. Because I have never dealt with somebody with this sort of lifestyle before, this is new to me and I don't know how to approach this. Is it okay to proceed with caution? Should I walk away? Should I run? Above everything else I want to be true to myself first and foremost, and not get hurt or sucked into something that is way over my head.
posted by Malleable to Human Relations (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

I'm so glad you've found someone with whom you click so much!! It sounds like you have a wonderful connection and that so many of the differences can be overcome or really are even part of the mutual attraction. As for its future, you would just need to see how things play out with time. You hope for the best but prepare for the worst; you see what happens and act accordingly.

There is really only one thing that gives me pause so far. You say, "Their ex and co-parent of their children works as an exotic dancer and is known to be manipulative, but is still involved heavily in their life because of the children, and comes with a bunch of baggage into the situation."

Hmmmmmm. First, working as a stripper/exotic dance is something I fully respect: just like any parent, she's working at the job to support her children and doing the best she can. It sounds like he judges her and so you do for her profession: there are many things to judge people on but this wouldn't be one of them for me.

I'm not saying she isn't manipulative, etc. but he's made himself out to be the hero-parent when likely he's also part of the problem. He chose to have not only one but multiple children with this woman but clearly distrusts and disrespects her: I would be willing to consider a relationship with a single parent but not a (male) one who is so disrespectful or negative towards their (female) ex, however awful they were. Perhaps she is as bad as he says but I have generally found the reality to be more nuanced than the man presents it at first. You can see with time: for now, I'd ask him about that relationship and see if he is willing or able to accept some of the blame or responsibility for it not working out. If not, I'd run.
posted by smorgasbord at 7:47 PM on August 12, 2018 [24 favorites]

I’m more concerned about the fact you have only known someone a few weeks and they seem to be ramping up the intimacy/vulnerability/sharing of pretty personal details pretty quick. It makes me feel like they are controlling the narrative a lot. I worry their oversharing would be to exploit your insecurities. If you are a woman and they are a man, I think their risk-taking behaviour comes from a different socialisation - a woman who was addicted to drugs and had multiple sexual partners would be viewed by many as a “druggie/slut” but a man with those same behaviour is “manly/virile”. And I always pay attention to how an ex is described and assume it is 99% projection (good OR bad), maybe she truly IS manipulative, which is a sad way to live her life - but HE choose to have children with someone he knew was manipulative. (I’d also want to be clear on how much he is seeing his own children - every chance he can get, or is he blowing them off to spend time with you?). So, hrmmm, I’m not seeing a lot of positives.

(I say all this having had a best friend who was a sex-worker, I have lots of friends with 200+ partners, lots of heavy drugs accessible to me etc, so no judgement on the lifestyle people choose, but judging what appears to be a lack of insight or self-awareness).
posted by saucysault at 7:48 PM on August 12, 2018 [19 favorites]

"...but to them I am new and different and interesting as they have only been with people who have similar backgrounds of their own."

This jumped off the page for me. What happens when you are not new and different anymore? Based on what you have written, I worry a little that down the road, you may find yourself feeling like you need to engage sexually in ways that are outside your comfort zone, or be expected to be one of several partners for this person, just to compensate for your lack of "newness."

Otherwise, you seem to really know yourself, so I'd suggest you trust your instincts either way.

Good luck.
posted by 4ster at 7:50 PM on August 12, 2018 [18 favorites]

Sorry, not threadsitting but wanted to add some more clarification. The "manipulative" descriptor of the ex came from me based on actions I have observed. They are not talking shit about the ex, and they accept full responsibility for their part in the breakup. They are doing their best to try to co-parent successfully from what I can tell, and the person I am dating is heavily invested in making sure the kids come first and doing what is best for the kids, putting the kids before me which is completely admirable and understandable from my point of view. The ex has been doing things like not showing up for their 50% custody time with the kids when scheduled, or drunk at strange early morning hours to pick up the kids, etc.

Also I have known this person casually for several months but just started dating a few weeks ago. Thanks for the input so far! Carry on.
posted by Malleable at 8:06 PM on August 12, 2018

working as a stripper/exotic dance is something I fully respect

There is nothing wrong with sex work, but there /is/ a super unhealthy dynamic with military dudes and sex workers /specifically/ that would be a red flag for me. If he met her elsewhere and they got in a relationship, that’s one thing and perfectly fine- if he met her at her place of employment, that would be a red flag for me because it’s part and parcel of someone who has boundaries that aren’t great.

Which is kind of the broader point. How does he talk about these things? Are his sexual activities something he talks about as being a “wild and crazy guy” or does he talk seriously about the problems of navigating consent with multiple partners? He does E several times a year - why? Is it to “feel good” or is he self medicating for PTSD? If the latter, has he tried therapy? How did it go? Experiences themselves aren’t a barrier, it’s what lessons he’s learned from them that truly matter.
posted by corb at 8:09 PM on August 12, 2018 [21 favorites]

there's no inherent red flag in you both finding each other equally exotic because of your different histories of preferences and experiences. there's a lot wrong with you describing your own tastes as variously boring, naive, simple, vanilla, lacking. you don't need to seek out any particular experience unless it interests you; you do need to have both the ego strength and the self-respect to not falsely disparage, for example, physical intimacy with a long-term partner as dull just because you're afraid it's too weird for them. if that were really what you thought of the practice, you wouldn't have kept doing it your whole life. (presumably. if you were interested in other stuff but never had the nerve, that would be another thing. but still not a red flag.)

them being different from you is not a problem. positioning yourself as the potentially inadequate one is a problem. when people do the same things over and over throughout their adult sexual lives, it usually means that thing is compelling, fascinating, has some psychological hold on them. sleeping with people you love is a practice that's got a grip on you. anyone interested in you will find this fact about you interesting.

if you don't really think you're boring and are just saying it because putting yourself down is just one of those things women traditionally do, fight the self-deprecatory reflex. do not talk like they outranks you. you have had experiences they hasn't had, not just the reverse. seriously. the more you belittle your own sexual identity, the more likely it becomes that someone will agree with you to your face, and that is painful even if you see it coming. and if you don't feel passionate about your own lifestyle, why continue it? respect the things, attitudes, and actions you love and like. you've known them such a short time, you need to be finding out if he's enough for you, not if you're enough for him.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:44 PM on August 12, 2018 [38 favorites]

I was an absolute sex/drugs/rock n' roll party pig compared to my partner, and we've been together since the Clinton administration. I don't see any red flags here. Just talk to each other and be honest.

(The OP has been very consistent with the "they/them/their" pronouns, so let's maybe not assume we're talking about a "he" here, huh?)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:45 PM on August 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

(The OP has been very consistent with the "they/them/their" pronouns, so let's maybe not assume we're talking about a "he" here, huh?

thanks for pointing that out. the edit window closed all too soon so my own comment now has bad grammar as well as a few lingering pronoun errors, but if I could remove them, I would. though I wouldn't alter the advice itself.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:53 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hm, I had a relationship like that one. It went pretty well until the commitmentphobic issues kicked in, at least. I hope that doesn't come up for you, and hopefully you're not dating my ex. My ex didn't seem to mind too much that I was a "good girl," nor did he try to entice me into the magical world of drugs that I wasn't into. This didn't faze him. I think you can deal if they are more of a "former bad" rather than say, still involved in meth and/or getting arrested on the regular. Mine very occasionally did some around me but it ended up not being a big deal.

I wouldn't be concerned with weed (I knew someone who smoked every day for 8 years and then just got bored and quit it, no problem), but E concerns me because I've heard that permanently affects your serotonin levels. I actually talked my ex out of taking that one when we were together.

As for the kinky stuff, well, it was a polyamorous relationship so that worked out for everyone on that level. I don't know how to advise you on monogamy and different kink levels. I've heard enough Dan Savage letter writers to be pretty sure that eventually the person is going to want to get kinky with you and then you will have to figure out if you are good, giving, and game and going to try what they are interested in or not, or if you're willing to let them get those needs met by someone else. If anything breaks this up, I suspect that area would if either of you can't compromise there sufficiently.

You might want to look up things online (probably YouTube mostly, I just don't recall which videos cover this topic) about Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, who are a good girl/bad boy couple that have made it work.

Overall, I'd say that I think you should go for it, but proceed with caution and try not to get too attached too fast. This may not be a long term relationship that can work out forever if the sex stuff can't eventually be compromised on, but you can enjoy it while it lasts.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:15 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've always been happier when I've been on the same page with partners, or even just friends, about risk aversion. Invariably the more risk-averse partner is pressured to accommodate the less risk-averse one (the Grease effect, if you will).
posted by ziggly at 9:46 PM on August 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Just wanted to chime in to ask you to think about what you want in a relationship and what you value first and foremost and to ask yourself do they fulfill these for you? I think it's awesome that you are clicking really well, but I get your hesitation because they are unlike anyone you've dated before, which can be refreshing but also scary.

The only red flag that came up for me, which I think others have mentioned, is that you are also different and "new" to them, which makes me wonder if it's a game to them or whether they are sincerely into you authentically not just the idea of you. Like, I hope that this isn't a case of wanting to see if they can "corrupt" you or get you to go beyond your boundaries.

I would also be worried about the E usage-- it does mess with your brain quite a bit, and I could imagine that it could be something to think about. Would you want to be around them when high? Would you be around them when coming down from his high? And let me tell you, that is like diving into a deep deep deep hole of depression. I think it shows their transparency to mention this but still, it's something for you to consider -- again look at your values.

Also, how involved do you want to be with their kids?

In any case, dating can be fun and interesting for this simple reason of meeting different people and expanding your experiences. If that's what you're looking for, I would say keep going, but just take things slowly. Check in with yourself to make sure you're still true to what you need and value. Good luck!
posted by jj's.mama at 10:53 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Well first, behavior is not the same as values. Three different people could take meth for three different reasons, and it could mean three different things.

But you seem to be pointing to something of a cross-cutting cultural difference, and these kind of cultural differences are hard to overcome. (I say this from experience.)

It's hard not to let normative assumptions come between you. Example: how do you feel like equals with someone when part of you is thinking "he used to do Bad things like drugs but now has Changed?" How does he feel being judged? Do your own efforts to not judge alienate you from your own instincts and judgment (as in "using good judgment") in a way that could be increasingly destabilizing over time? Do you want to be kinda half monitoring his drug usage out of the corner of your eye? You come across as pretty contemptuous of his ex, so in the middle of some disagreement with him is part of you going to contemptuously think "now I know why you and she were so compatible!"?

The behavioral differences that you see could result from underlying factors (personality traits, upbringing, beliefs and values) that continue to generate smaller differences and could resurface in a big way at any time. The guy I tried not to judge for his previous alcohol use became an active alcoholic again. I tried not to judge (was intrigued by) his penchant for owning a firearm but was then horrified when he wanted to bring it to a hostile meeting with his neighbors. But there were a million smaller things, too. The things I knew about were the tip of an iceberg that included eating different things; having different views on littering, feminism, long showers, and tons of other things; and having very different approaches to handling conflict.

And then there's family stuff. Like maybe your guy tried meth then quit, but it'll eventually come out that his brother is still kind of an addict, and then what? You guys kind of can never do Thanksgiving with his family because there's this danger factor with his paranoid brother, but then eventually his love for his family leads him to feel like it's not so dangerous and to resent you for not wanting to go?

Again, though, in your post you focus on a few pieces of behavior, and that can sometimes be very different from someone's values and family upbringing. I could tell some stories about my past, but those integrate into a value system that leaves me leading a really straight-laced life now, as part of an even-more-conventional extended family. If it's just a couple activities from his past, I'd say it's no big deal. But if that's all it is, why has it been so present in your current relationship?

I think relationships generally work best when people have the same values -- maybe from coming from families who taught them the same things, maybe because one or both people determinedly remade their life in accordance with values different from their family's. But having values that are different and kind of exotic to one another is, in my opinion, a recipe for ongoing tension. It might work out in some instances, especially if you really want to become more like the other person, but still, I think that wears off over time and then the differences create challenges.

Don't get me wrong, though. Relationships can be positive and change your life for the better even if they don't work out. The relationship I'm alluding to here did, even though it did not last. But I would hold off from doing anything you'd only do if you were pretty sure it was going to work out (like combining finances or getting any kids emotionally attached).
posted by salvia at 12:33 AM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Honestly, while nothing you have said about this person is of itself a huge red flag, the fact that they are so different from you may be a significant problem in the long run.

I don't do drugs and I barely drink. I know myself well enough to know that I cannot be in a relationship with someone who does anything more than light social drinking and occasional weed-smoking. That's a really hard boundary for me. What about for you?

Also, I'm very vanilla and prefer not to know all the details of a partner's previous sex life, and the fact that my partner feels the same has made life a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. My husband and I have a general idea of the other's sexual history but it isn't overly specific...What do you prefer when it comes to these things?

I think you need to spend some time really thinking about this so you know where your boundaries are and can tell if they are being encroached upon. The red flag isn't in whether this person has a certain past but in whether their behaviour will cross your boundaries in the present.
posted by thereader at 12:35 AM on August 13, 2018

The potential red flag I see is: right now, how stable is this person emotionally and how stable is their life? It's hard to tell on paper; someone with the background you describe could absolutely be super stable. Or, you know, not. I don't let people into my life who will bring chaos (got a family of origin who excels at that thanks), so I'm super wary about this sort of thing. Promiscuity and occasional drug use are actually not deal breakers for me at all, to a greater or lesser degree you could use those descriptors for most of my partners and for me. A former addiction is, as is an ex with baggage and kids, and something about the way you described this person's background and life made me want to run away. I feel like I'm not explaining it well, and I'm possibly dragging too much of my own issues/baggage into this. It's just . . . this sounds like a lot of people I am related to, and they just spend their lives lurching from crisis to crisis, and if it really is a completely unknown world to you, you might not be aware/ready of what you're in for.
posted by tiger tiger at 1:00 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

i don't see anything inherently incompatible between the levels of experience you have at all, they just sound like a fairly regular person whose a little bit older would be my read. but the way it's being framed does worry me- that might just be the nature of reading a small bit of text though! here's what stood out for me, feel free to ignore it if it doesn't resonate

i've had relationships where the other person has had lots of experiences like you describe. in the better relationships honestly it wouldn't have come up so soon though, because there was lots more to talk about and it honestly on some level isn't that interesting. so i would wonder, why have they talked about it? this kind of quick intimacy and deep connection feels profound but often is actually manipulation.

tbh to me what jumps out is that you sound quite young and they sound older and like they're feeding you a line where they get to be wild and 'a bit of a sexual deviant' to someone younger and move naive as a way to set you up for being in a relationship where you feel like you have less power and are insecure.

my main concern would be if they act at all like they value your newness and naivety because it's such a contrast to what they've had before while also (maybe subtly over time) hinting like they're not sure it'll be quite enough for them (could also be framed by them as them not being enough for you), they're too damaged in a way you wouldn't understand, then run you're being manipulated.

also and i may be projecting but i worry a little bit about you mention a few times that you encourage each other to grow and develop as people. on one level that sounds great and supportive! but it seems like you haven't known each other that long and to me that kind of supportiveness would tend to come a bit later, when you've had a chance to get to know each other, have fun times and memories and learn about each other in a more relaxed way. talking about growing as a person can also be a way for the other person to manipulate and criticise you in a socially acceptable way or conversely be a way of drawing you quicker into their issues and making you feel responsible for them than would normally be acceptable. so i would be on the lookout for if that might be happening.

greener flags to me would be them just not having that much investment in how different and inexperienced you are but focussing on almost smaller boring stuff they like about you that you also like about yourself, not abstract stuff like connection but things that are really specific to you as a person. and if you talk about your worries about being inexperienced, them giving space for that but also redirecting to stuff they specifically like about you as a person.
posted by mosswinter at 1:59 AM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am you. I have dated your ex. Trust me, it works out. Don't overthink it. Just do it. Even if it goes up in flames, you will never regret the sex.
posted by liminal_shadows at 3:14 AM on August 13, 2018

this kind of quick intimacy and deep connection feels profound but often is actually manipulation.

Quoted for truth. Getting this close this quickly is a huge red flag.
posted by sockermom at 5:47 AM on August 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

On Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard (who, I agree, are a great example of navigating this with their eyes wide open, and seem to share many parallels), Episode 1 of Dax's Podcast is a great place to start and understand how they approached things.
posted by mosst at 7:59 AM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you are looking for a long-term relationship. Does this person have any history of that? If their drug addiction is well in the past, I would not worry about it. If they are still occasionally using anything beyond moderate alcohol and weed, that might be hard for you to deal with. Someone who has been addicted is at risk for addiction. Over time, someone who describes themself as a sexual deviant seems likely to want to have more adventurous sex. Think about how you feel about that. Sex that's more adventurous than vanilla can be really great, think about whether you might be willing to expand your boundaries, and how that might happen.

You have different backgrounds, but what about your values? Pay attention to their behavior and how it reflects their values, and see how it goes.
posted by theora55 at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Double-quoted for truth: this kind of quick intimacy and deep connection feels profound but often is actually manipulation. Getting this close this quickly is a huge red flag.

That warning said, I agree that values and boundaries and stability are the major things to be looking at. If you tell them you're not ready to share about X yet, do they respect that? Do they share anyway? Do they try to get you to talk about it anyway?

How long have they lived in one town? In one place? Have you met their friends? Are their friends nice people?

Is your "less than" feeling coming from within or is it being implied by this person? (Do they treat you like some weird alien or other?)

I hope they really are wonderful because connecting with someone like that is special. These are just the questions I'd suggest considering.
posted by purple_bird at 2:52 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Current exotic dancer who sees a lot of red flags here. In no particular order:

— The ice cream and cake comment is gross and demeaning to both you and his former partners. The madonna/whore dynamic he’s pushing here is not good.

— Concerns about contempt for his ex revealing an abusive personality. The toxic dynamic between military men and sex workers corb brings up— almost always authoritarian, misogynist men pursuing “wild” women to abuse and control— is a big, dangerous thing. They are only a subcategory of men who get involved with sex workers to act out their misogyny and carry that out into strings of damaging relationships. I’ve known former teen meth addicts who went on to be healthy adults; former drug dealers or their friends; exotic dancers with drinking problems— all of these are people I’ve known to pull their lives together and who I count as good people. I have never met a male, heterosexual former military or former law enforcement partner of an exotic dancer who has been a safe partner.

— This guy is about 10 years older than you and you don’t have any experience navigating his world.

— Giving you all the details of his sex life going back to high school when you’ve known each other for a couple of weeks means either manipulation, poor boundaries, or, given the insecurity you’re having over how much more experienced he is than you, power games.

— The biggest one for last: If this guy was really trying to put his children first, there is NO WAY IN HELL he would be setting things up so that someone he’s known for a few WEEKS would ever be on the scene to witness a custody transfer, never mind multiple pickups at “strange early morning hours.” Yeah, it sounds like his ex is coming to get the kids after work (this is why she’s exhausted/inebriated at early hours), and she may well have a substance abuse problem, but why have you been on hand multiple times to witness that? No matter how well you click intellectually with this guy, you are basically a stranger to him and especially to his children, and it’s deeply inappropriate for him to bring you anywhere near his family custody handoffs. You have been “dating/talking to” this guy for less than a month and you’re already being involved in his custody issues— you need a reality check if you think this isn’t incredibly manipulative and unhealthy. You are also a young, respectable, attractive stranger in her early twenties. Please think for a minute about why he is deliberatly putting you in a position where you and his ex are physically encountering each other, during an already stressful time like kid drop-offs. He is using you to destabilize and hurt his ex, he is flaunting you in front of her, and setting the stage for the two of you to fight each other over his and the children’s time and attention. Please take care of yourself, this does not sound like a healthy person who is interested in a healthy relationship with you.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:30 PM on August 13, 2018 [23 favorites]

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