How can I diffuse my predilection for long-term relationships in order to make the most of things short-term?
February 28, 2007 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to recalibrate my thinking/expectations to accept the circumstances of casual dating?

For as long as I can remember, I have thought of relationships for myself as serious commitments. Dating casually, for me, has always seemed superficial and flaky; I have often said that I don't believe in "dating" as a concept. There was a time when I rejected all semblance of dating outright, and adopted a policy similar to (but modified from) the "courtship" method touted by personages like Joshua Harris.

However, I got into my first relationship via circumstances completely at odds with what I had earlier professed as my requirements regarding dating; this ~1 year committed relationship met its end about a month ago when I ended things due to problems inherent to the relationship, and because I had become increasingly convinced that I might benefit by dating other people.

...Dating?! Numerous people?! It seems my perspective has changed. Now I am faced with a situation wherein I am attracted to a new guy and he is attacted to me. However, there are apparent limits on the seriousness that a relationship between us could progress to, chiefly because within 6-8 months he is almost certain to move out of the city, out of the state, and very likely out of the country. I'm sure this situation wouldn't be a problem for someone who hadn't spent most of their teens and early 20's conceptualizing relationships as long-term undertakings, but that is my unique plight: I cannot conceive of a casual dating atmosphere. My default frame of mind is The Future and Where Things Will Go, and my default expectaion is for Things To Last A While. But, it seems like in my current situation, if I want to enjoy what my options are I have to live in the moment and foster no grandiose expectations.

A few notes for reference:
  • I am 22. I'm female, but I'd appreciate it if responses relied on tactics other than gender distinctions to make a point.
  • Re: New Guy Situation - we have both professed to like each other, have spent a great deal of time together, almost exclusively one-on-one, and generally seem to be quite compatible.
  • "Casual dating" in this scenario means dating one person exclusively, but without long-term aspirations (see aforementioned limits).

So. My question boils down to: what can I do/tell myself to keep from overcommitting emotionally?
posted by dorothy humbird to Human Relations (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The only advice I can offer for not falling too hard is to wait as long as you can before letting things get too physical. In my experience, there are two main ways to stop self from falling a bit, and that is Numero Uno. Number Two is a matter of circumstance: There has to be some personality or character issue with the guy that allows me to not want more. If that exists in this guy, you may be okay. Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 5:14 PM on February 28, 2007

early 20's

You are 22. You cannot refer to this period of time in the past tense yet.

Live in the present moment. If things aren't going anywhere, you won't be distracted by your knowledge of this. If they are going somewhere, you won't be distracted from helping them get there.

I don't think you can internally talk yourself out of emotional commitment. If you don't want to enjoy time with him now only to potentially miss him later (which seems sensible to me, but in opposition to your philosophy) then don't spend time with him now.
posted by phrontist at 5:19 PM on February 28, 2007

Pick up "I Gave Dating a Chance." If you liked anything at all that Harris had to say, I think you'll like this book twice as much (I know I did). Same authors have another great book - He's Hot, She's Hot.

A lot of your opinion on the subject at large is likely based on how you were raised. I'd wager quite confidently that we both have rather similar backgrounds, because in my early 20's (I'm 28, so I'm allowed to call them that), I went through some of the same quandaries. An important thing for me was realizing that not everything I was indoctrinated with - via books, family, circle of friends, et. al. - was necessarily right. I had to in the end decide what core truths I believed in and what they were founded on.

Then, based on that, I could start making new "realities" in my head about how dating and relationships should function in a healthy setting. That said, its a work in progress, to get to really putting that into practice.

what can I do/tell myself to keep from overcommitting emotionally?

Guard your heart. It is that simple, and that complex. You do not give it away lightly. In the end, ideally, you will only ever give it completely to one person. I've heard it said: "Choose your love wisely. Love your choice always."

To do the second means taking PLENTY of time working on the first to make sure you do in fact choose wisely. As you recently found out, you can know a person for a year and still not know enough to be wise on the relationship at large.

Practically speaking, this means not committing too much either financially or time-wise. Your emotions will be generally manifested through either or both of those - in how much time or money you are willing to spend on him and / or to be with him. Limit your time on the phone, limit how deep you let your conversations get, limit the amount of time spent solely one-on-one, etc.. None of these are inherently bad things, but are certainly things you need to keep in check to obtain your goal.

One other thing you might want to consider is forcing your brain to take on said new mindset by forcing yourself to put it into practice: let new guy know you are interested in a casual relationship with potential for long term, but that, while you are keeping it casual, you are open to either one of you seeing other people casually, in the meantime. This will be outside your comfort zone based on where you're coming from, but its an important step.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:38 PM on February 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Oh, and another place to post your question (eventually, if you decide to ask for membership) would be this blog. Just a random group of kids but there's some good feedback being generated on well-thought-out posts.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:40 PM on February 28, 2007

I can't answer your last question but I can give a perspective on the first one.

Is it possible to recalibrate my thinking/expectations to accept the circumstances of casual dating?

I never could. I tried. Deee-saster.

And even someone who is okay with it can't necessarily turn falling for someone on and off, I would think, no matter how firm their intentions to keep things casual, so beware. Or, give it a try and see what happens. If you're like me, well, then you're in for a big ol' mess. But, you know, you'll live.
posted by nanojath at 5:47 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just to make it clear—the Jeramy Clark books recommended by allkindsoftime are really for Christians who only want to date Christians. For example, I Gave Dating a Chance says "God doesn't want us to be partners with non-Christians. God doesn't want us to be best friends with them, or to stroll with them, or to hold their hands." If you believe this, then it might be the book for you.
posted by grouse at 5:56 PM on February 28, 2007

You are a kid. Have fun. You have the rest of your life for serious relationships.
posted by xammerboy at 6:00 PM on February 28, 2007

I would avoid this relationship (just my two cents), there's a big difference between "not expecting everything to be long term" and "knowing something has a finite, predetermined lifetime". Similarly a difference between thinking "this guy would be OK, but only for a night", "this guy is someone I would like to know better", and "am I sure this person is The One"? I'd suggest the middle road, not a relationship that's doomed before it starts or being, er, overly picky.

Some reference: I've generally been inclined toward "serious" relationships, so I may be a bit biased. I don't think a "serious" relationship means you can't have fun, just that you go into it without having the end already in sight.
posted by anaelith at 6:41 PM on February 28, 2007

I'd advise you to recast this as a friends-with-fringe-benefits experience instead of a relationship. The "R" word carries a lot of weight, and I think it will make things unnecessarily difficult for you to try to carry it here.
posted by tkolar at 6:50 PM on February 28, 2007

If you don't want to enjoy time with him now only to potentially miss him later (which seems sensible to me, but in opposition to your philosophy) then don't spend time with him now.

I disagree with this, sound as the rationale is. Here's why:

You intellectually came to the realization that there might be some value for you in casual dating, yes? But emotionally, you know you aren't on board yet.

If this guy is almost certainly leaving, it's a great scenario with which to test the waters.

And then, put it into practice. Work every day at making it a real live casual relationship: don't rush into anything physical (I know that seems contrary, but casual dating isn't the same as casual sex. Chemically, sex creates a bond and that works against your plan here)... go three days between each date/meeting... don't reveal lots of weighty personal bits in conversation... don't get too involved in each other's personal lives (meeting/socializing with co-workers, roommates, family)... don't vent to each other about bad days and bad moods...

In other words, don't move him into a Best Friend or a Boyfriend slot. Make sure he remains merely a Dating Chum. (The time for sex will likely come, and you'll likely miss him when he leaves... but you'll have gone into those things carefully and with eyes wide open.)

Assess how it makes you feel to not be fully invested. After a few weeks, you should have a good idea of whether casual dating is something you can do or not.

If it's not, that's not the end of the world (although at 22, you'll be missing out on a lot of great lessons and experiences if you continue on the Serial Monogamy path). But right now, you're in the catbird seat to find out.
posted by pineapple at 7:08 PM on February 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

what can I do/tell myself to keep from overcommitting emotionally?

You can start by talking with new guy, because maybe he really doesn't want to get involved with someone if he's leaving in 6 months. Especially someone who desperately wants to not believe that every person they date should end up as a LTR. I mean, if you've talked and blahblahblah, I can quite easily imagine him wanting to have nothing to do with someone who is predisposed to thinking about dating as you do.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:28 PM on February 28, 2007

First, eschew the idea that everyone has to approach dating in the exact same way. You are FINE THE WAY YOU ARE, you just need to match up with people who have roughly the same ideas about how they'd like things to work. You do not need to conform to someone else's idea of Dating Perfection to be okay/gain some magic level of experience/blah blah blah. You need to do what's right for you, and that's it.

Second, and perhaps counter-intuitively: date several people at once. This doesn't mean that you need to or even should be physical with all or any of them. But something about seeing several people at once makes the "LET'S GET MARRIED!" part of your brain calm down.

Good luck!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 8:05 PM on February 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

thehmsbeagle is on point. Assuming you've dated since 14, six months is 6.25% of your dating life. Do you really believe that Mr. Wonderful is the only Mr. Wonderful you could be seeing? I don't think you are any other person is that unique in your perfect match needs and your past history of dating others is evidence of some point you had to decide current dating partners were suitable for LTR and that went bust.

My question is how long are the dry spells between LTRs? Weeks? Months? Seasons? A year? Some folks cannot handle being without a partner so create a SO to fill the bill instead of being happily single. The time between LTRs could be one indicator for you to look at your dating pattern.
posted by choragus at 8:30 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are you sure you're not my alternate-universe twin posting my thoughts from 2 months ago?

I'm casually dating for the first time. I'm fortunate enough to have found a cute guy who can spend time with me when I'm not busy but who doesn't call me every evening before bed and doesn't care where I go on weekends if I don't call him. It's wonderful. I also don't see myself going anywhere with him long-term, so there's no pressure.

Speaking from my experience, you need to ask yourself one question: Do you think you're going to get too attached? Do you think you're going to fall in love? Then don't do it. Your instincts are probably right.

But if you think this guy is just someone fun you like to talk to, have dinner with, and smooch, then TRUST ME, it is fun. And allows plenty of opportunity to keep one eye open for a Mr. Right who might pop up in the mean time. Good luck!!
posted by keribear at 9:41 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ârgh, don't believe these americans. Don't casual date.
posted by markovich at 12:00 AM on March 1, 2007

Guy #1 sounds like a bad plan to me.

You date guy #1, four months into it you meet guy #2 who is just as good as guy #1, but interested and available for the long term. What do you do?

You date guy #1, four months into it you find out he's also sleeping with girl #2 and girl #3. How do you feel?

If you know he's leaving, then the time you invest in him you could spend building a relationship with more long term potential or a social network that will entertain/support you. Both of these sound better than guy #1.
posted by ewkpates at 3:18 AM on March 1, 2007

Rather than constructing a magnificent schema to include rules of behavior encompassing all possible dating scenarios, couldn't you just proceed decision-by-decision, trying to make every decision in the way that fits your own life and your own sense of integrity?

I think you'll find it's easier that way.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:56 AM on March 1, 2007 [4 favorites]

There's often a difference between casual dating, where you don't get deeply attached, and a serious-ish expiry-date relationship. Sometimes getting emotionally involved is worth it even if you know there's a day it will end. Also, the expiry date doesn't obligate you to date until the instant he goes away. You can go out with him this week, and again next week, and try to keep things (physically and emotionally) casual while you see where the next few months take you (like what I think ikkyu2 is saying). If you find that you two are comfortable with it, great. If you feel that you're getting too attached and won't be able to take the heartbreak that deeper involvement will bring, then it's probably time to break it off. Good luck.
posted by bassjump at 1:46 PM on March 1, 2007

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