I want to hold your hand
September 13, 2020 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Dating(?)-filter: Been seeing a dude for a month (I'm a woman), I'm the one always initiating (PG-rated) physical contact, but he never pulls away. I ask him if this is a just-friends type situation, he says no, he's thinking of these as dates. He's never given any indication that he's super religious or ace/demi or not a fan of physical contact in any way. What gives? (Or, for the non-mind readers: how do I talk to him about this? Should I talk to him about it, or just give him some more space, both figuratively and literally?)

Background: I'm a 28 y/o bi woman, he's a 24 y/o straight man. We met online and have gone on a handful of dates over the past month, first talking over the phone, then park picnics, and now visits at each other's homes. (Re: Covid - we've talked about it and are on the same page about our risk profiles and tolerances and that of those around us. For my part, I work from home and live alone so any infection stops at me.) We talk a lot and have a good time, and we take turns initiating and planning dates.

What's confusing to me is: I am the only one who is initiating any sort of physical contact - leaning into his space, casual touching, hugs, etc. He doesn't pull back from any of it, but never is the one to lean in first, either. It's gotten to the point where, today, sitting close together on the couch, I finally point-blank asked him:
Me: These dates we're going on - are they friend-dates, or date-dates?
Him: I've been thinking of them as date-dates.
Me: Me too.
(Extremely long pause while we stare at each other. I try and fail to beam, so are we gonna make out?? directly into his brain. Nothing happens.)
And so on. Finally we kiss at the end of the date, mostly because I ask him, in bafflement more than anything else, "So, um, do you kiss your date-dates?" It was nice. But now I worry that I've been coming on too strong and he's just not been comfortable saying anything, or maybe he's just not into me at all but is going along with the ride (is that a thing that happens?).

I'm pretty OK with being the one to take initiative most of the time, but I admit I have some trouble/insecurity with cishet dudes because I present fairly androgynously and don't fit well into the "woman" mold most days, much less one that is attractive by general societal standards ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Does anyone have any idea what might be going on here? Should I try talking to him more directly about it again, or just pull back and see how things shake out? It's been a month, but things move much slower in covid-times. I am, with 100% sincerity, totally fine with just hanging out with him as a friend, but this ambiguity is frustrating. Any thoughts appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should say: Hey, we’ve been dating a month, and I'm the one always initiating physical contact. I’ve asked you if this is a just-friends type situation, you say no, and you’ve never given any indication that there’s something else going on that would explain it. What gives?”

Then, unless he says something that’s incompatible with you being together, say, “I would like you to initiate physical contact more.”

I had part 1 of this convo with someone who I dated for ~3 months and had sex with maybe 3 times, and he was like “yeah I guess I’m not into sex right now and I don’t know when it’ll get better” and I was like “cool let’s not date then” and it was the best breakup I’ve ever had.
posted by deus ex machina at 10:44 AM on September 13 [17 favorites]

You know this already, but there are a thousand different possibilities. Maybe he’s neurotic about Covid transmission. Maybe he’s sexually inexperienced and nervous about what might happen next. Maybe he prefers a low-risk, low-return strategy of “If I keep postponing physical involvement, I won’t embarrass myself by doing something wrong in that context.” Maybe he has a tattoo on his chest that he’s embarrassed about and he doesn’t want to do anything that would involve taking off his shirt. Maybe he prefers that you, not he, be sexually assertive. Maybe he’s gay and doing his best to stay closeted; maybe he feels sexually ambivalent about you or maybe the ambivalence is more general. Maybe he’s worried that he’s been impotent in similar situations in the past and is nervous about a recurrence.

No one can know what the answer is; he may not even know what the answer is! All you can do is figure out what you need and (in a thoughtful and conpassionate way) pursue it.

I don’t know that directly discussing the issue with him will be fruitful. More indirect ways of approaching the issue might involve telling him that you feel lonely at night and asking him if he would sleep over at your place, wearing scanty pajamas, having a pre-sleep glass of wine, etc. It is certainly true that some men are uncomfortable with taking the role of the sexually assertive one and would enjoy or even prefer to be seduced.
posted by PaulVario at 10:46 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]

I would take him at his word - I mean, why not? He had an easy out if he wasn't attracted to you ("I like you, but I'm feeling more of a friend vibe") and given the whole Covid situation, it feels even less likely than usual that he would be spending time with you if he wasn't actually into you.

Since you don't fit into the "woman" mold most days (your words) why should it be hard for you to believe he doesn't necessarily fit into the "man" mold, at least not in the stereotypical "all men prefer to make the first move/are sexually aggressive/want to move as fast as they possibly can" sense of the term? If he were a woman you were dating, would you read his signs as disinterest, or would you assume you were just dealing with a slightly shyer, slower-moving person, and be okay with that?

I mean, the only way to know is to ask, which you did, and he answered. If you continue to read his behavior as disinterest, you're letting your own insecurity take precedence over what he's explicitly said, which doesn't seem fair to either of you.

Of course, if what you actually feel is that you want a man who is more aggressive/forward/active/overtly sexual - that's a different thing. But don't project what you want onto him. I'd say, stop asking, and just continue to take the lead with the physical contact, and see what happens. Maybe he'll open up and get more comfortable with initiation, or maybe this will always just be his style -- and you'll have to decide for yourself if you're okay with that.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 10:47 AM on September 13 [19 favorites]

On your next date, say something like, "Hey. You should come inside and we should totally make out." And then go from there. Rephrase as you see fit but be clear that you want to get to some serious snogging with this fellow.

Some boys are just shy.
posted by nathanfhtagn at 10:47 AM on September 13 [9 favorites]

Yeah, sounds like he's just shy. This guy could be me when I was 21/22. I had quite a few short relationships where the women ended up dumping me because I did not dare to make a move even when I knew it would be welcome. Absolutely excruciating to think back on now.
posted by cincinnatus c at 10:52 AM on September 13 [15 favorites]

Asking if he’s into you and getting more info about why he’s not initiating physical contact are two different things- you have done the former but not the latter. And it’s not unreasonable to want your partner to demonstrate desire for you at least some of the time. You can take him at his word that he’s into you but still want him to initiate more. I can think of few situations where asking directly for what you want is not the best policy- trying to grease the wheels via alcohol or sexy underwear more will not get you the clear answer you want. If you keep dating, you will need to increasingly have clear and direct conversations about needs, so set the tone for that now!
posted by deus ex machina at 11:01 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]

Merricat Blackwood's answer is spot on, I won't add any more to that besides agreeing with it.

For what it's worth, I don't tend to initiate physical contact very much, at least not compared to my partner. He's much more of a cuddler and would be constantly touching me if it was physically possible, whereas I like having my own space and initiating on my own terms. I've become more relaxed about it over the years we've been together, but we still have moments of having to communicate "hey, I need a hug" and "I could use some space right now".

Maybe this guy just.. isn't very physically intimate. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you're the sort of person who really needs that contact and needs to be reassured by it, this may be a sign that either you're incompatible, or you need to be willing to do some work together to make sure you're both getting what you need.

Also, do NOT "pull back and see how things shake out" if you're thinking of it as some kind of "test" of whether he'll come running to you. That's a crappy way to treat someone. Be honest with him and yourself, don't play games.
posted by fight or flight at 11:04 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]

Socially, you are bolder than him. He might be super bold when it comes to replacing the drywall in your bathroom or fixing you computer, but xyzing you, he needs permission. Give him permission. Next time you pull off your shirt and xyz, tell him to xyz. Tell him you like it. Tell him he can do this whenever he wants. Tell him you want him to want you. Tell him he has 5 days to take off your pants when you're not expecting it or you'll be gone.

Either he needs to be more comfortable accessing your body, or he's not into you. I'm guessing former. So provide permission, make sure you're non-judgemental on what he does (at first) when it happens.

And when a week from now if you're still wanting to ask this same question, move on. He maybe just isn't that into you.

Also, unprompted, you told us you were bi even though it doesn't matter for this question. So i assume you've told him cause this is a thing about you. This can be intimidating for some men. Because lets just assume he wants to make you happy; you've let on that there are other ways to make you happy that he cannot provide. Provide reassurance on this point. Xyz him while explaining this.
posted by ixipkcams at 11:29 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]

Also, entirely possible, from what you describe, he has a kink he's doesn't know how to introduce. Might have to draw it out. And, of course, indulge or not at your own pleasure.
posted by ixipkcams at 11:46 AM on September 13

You are starting this relationship out by doing the emotional labor for both of you.

Have you stated what you want? Are you getting it?
posted by headnsouth at 11:55 AM on September 13 [10 favorites]

Different people are different. He might want to move slowly for any number of reasons, he might prefer that you initiate, he might not have a particularly high libido, etc.

You could tell him that you realize you're doing all of the initiating and have some feelings about that. Tell him what's important to you and what you need from him. Do you need him to initiate sometimes? Or would it be satisfactory if he effectively communicated that he really enjoys it when you initiate? Would it help if he clarified how fast/slow he prefers to move?

He may not be able to articulate what's going in his head. But if physical contact matters to you, and if you find you can't have a physical intimacy with him that feels right to you ... he may not be the one for you.
posted by bunderful at 11:58 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]

I liked Merricat Blackwood's answer, but here's a slightly different take as well:

I couldn't actually tell if you WANT him to initiate more physically, or if you just feel like he should. Also, in your question, you ask should you be more direct, but I don't think you are actually being direct at all. You're giving him cues. You are reading his failure to pick up your cues as him being ambiguous about you, even though he is saying, with words, that he sees these as "date-dates" meaning, they are not platonic.

I think this question is largely your insecurity talking, but I also want to acknowledge that he could be less into you than you are into him. I think you should re-assess after your next date -- it sounds like previously you had not kissed, and now you have. If he's still not initiating at all after that point, I think that's a good time to be direct about what you want or need.
posted by sm1tten at 12:53 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]

I had one of these once, although he was initiating a little little bit. By the time we got to attempting clothes-off activities, he wasn’t...well, let’s just say his body clearly wasn’t into it. For sure ask him about it (maybe he’s just shy and really inexperienced), but this is a yellow flag.
posted by amaire at 3:32 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]

I have less of an issue with regards to who initiates (could be shy), but does he respond back in equal measure when you touch him? When you hug him, does he just freeze or stand there or does he return the hug weakly, or does he equal in his response to you? Even if you kiss him first, is he responding to it with enthusiasm or lukewarmness? Does he ever seem to enjoy it or does he seem extremely blah about all of it?

I suspect from this question that he literally doesn't seem into it or respond much. That is what makes me uncomfortable. I think this may end as deus ex machina's relationship did: he's just not physically into you, or anyone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:34 PM on September 13

If you’ve been dating for a month, you are still very much in the learning-about-each-other phase. Sounds like you want to date someone who pursues you in a physical/sexual way, as well as accepts your advances. You are learning that he is not that guy.
posted by Sublimity at 5:09 PM on September 13

I've been dating someone for months and we haven't kissed since our first date (which was just before COVID got crazy). Maybe he is just anxious about COVID.
posted by catquas at 5:51 PM on September 13

maybe he hasn't made any moves because he's only been on a handful of dates with you over a single month. making out with near-strangers is kind of what you have to do if you obey the conventions of online dating, but not everybody is willing to. maybe he expects to develop more intimacy with and affection for you as a precondition for physical escalation.

or! maybe, since he didn't do anything the first time you made a small move and that didn't put you off immediately, he figures that inaction is working perfectly and if he moves a muscle or alters anything, he might ruin it. maybe he is thinking: Well, she keeps hugging me and last time she even asked for a kiss, so I know she likes me and things are going really well. some people do find a willing passive receptivity very sexy, after all; maybe it's worked for him before.

whatever the explanation, you've been seeing him long enough that it wouldn't be creepy-aggressive to ask him how long he usually likes to know someone before he feels comfortable with physical intimacy. in a hypothetical date-question kind of way, if you worry about it sounding like pressure. he might just tell you. and in return you could tell him that you can't assume his physical interest unless he makes a reciprocal move now and then, that a one-sided seduction campaign is not a good time for you because it makes you worry he's not into it. and then if he never does make a move, you can write him off as uninterested without having to worry that you guessed wrong.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:59 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]

I agree with most advice above, both “maybe he’s shy!” and also “do you want to set yourself to always do the emotional labor”?!

If he’s shy, a good chat and gentle encouragement should remedy it and you’re both set! If he’s lazy, you will be stuck doing all the physical and emotionally heavy lifting until you get so frustrated you end things, be it a few months or years down the line.

I’m a very sexually open & empowered woman. In my 20s, I put up with too much bullshit from people (I’m bisexual) of all genders: I made excuses for them across the board, including sexually. Things started changing in my early 30s and now in my late 30s I know what I want sexually and don’t settle for less. I want someone who’s just as enthusiastic about me as I am about them. I am sure he’s attracted to you! But if he’s unable to show it in a way that makes you feel attractive and wanted, then it’s no good. Please tell him what you want, even share this post (via talking — sending the link would be a little harsh lol.) See how he reacts: if he steps it up, then great! If not, then see if he’s pulling his weight in other parts of your dates. Is he also inviting you out or do you always make the plans, etc.?

There are many ways to look like & act like a woman/womxn in 2020, and they are all wonderful! If being around the person you’re dating isn’t making you feel your best (happy, smart, sexy, etc.) then the problem isn’t you but the chemistry (not your fault!) Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:32 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]

Only reason I'm adding my $0.02 to the many comments already is that I'm (kind of) the guy you're dating. Not really him, but identical in response; you could've been describing me to a T. For me, the reason (and I'm older, he may not have this much self-awareness/self-knowledge yet) would be that I am very rejection-phobic and rejection-sensitive; deep down I'm afraid that I'm not "worth it" and that because of that, it's only a matter of time until a partner finds out. It's no guarantee that my brain is the same as his brain, but if I were he and I read this, my answer would be: I want to. I'm just really inexperienced and don't have my bravery built up on this sort of stuff.

One thing perhaps you could do is see if the stuff can be put in a more light-hearted and even gamified way. "If that bird flies off as we walk by it, you have to give me a kiss." First person to get to such-and-such has to sit through dinner without their shirt on. I don't know, people may wince at those examples, but just stuff that makes him realize - on a visceral level, we're talking his fight-or-flight mechanism - that the stakes are not as high as his fight-or-flight mechanism is building them up to be, and to tell that part of him that his affections are welcome.

I have seen comments here and there where men talk about crying in relief when the women they're with do small gestures of physical affection that the men have never experienced before -- stuff like gently washing his hair in the shower, or him being the little spoon embraced by her, or things like that. There are definitely a whole existing genre of men who are physically starved for gentle affection in a consensual setting, and sometimes it is difficult to tell ourselves that it is "okay" to "unlock". I suspect that may be the case with this guy, and if so, I think my second paragraph may be the way to teach him it is 'safe'.
posted by metabaroque at 8:01 PM on September 13 [14 favorites]

This could be any combination of doesn't know how to express himself physically, too scared to do it, or not attracted to you for whatever reason. Is he really inexperienced? Is he sensitive to touch, maybe due to being on the spectrum or something?

He doesn't pull back when you touch him, but how does he respond? Like when you hug him, does he enthusiastically hug you back or does it seem like he's going through the motions? Also, have you held his hand? I would try that sometime - if you're out walking, lightly brush your hand with yours, ease into holding it... see how he responds. You may need to be the more confident one and show him the way, and do this while not fully knowing if he's totally into you. That's the risks we take though, to try to find human connection.
posted by foxjacket at 7:48 AM on September 14

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