For the past month, I’ve been talking to, hooking up with and going on dates and/or non-dates with a guy who I went to school with. He’s really funny and sweet, and I love talking to him and being around him.
My issue: I just got out of a two-and-a-half-year relationship where I always put my boyfriend first. I am finally enjoying focusing on myself and spending time with my family and friends. I feel independent, and I couldn’t be happier.
Yet this guy asks me to hang out multiple times a week, and I find myself making excuses. He is starting to get a little possessive, and he gets upset whenever I don’t want to hang out. He really is sweet, and I can tell that he’s starting to like me. But it’s moving very fast for me. I really like him, but I am not ready to be someone’s girlfriend again (yet).
How do I ask him to slow things down without hurting his feelings or making him think that I’m not interested in him?
Girl Who Needs A Boy Detox
First, let me say – GOOD FOR YOU! Congrats on getting out of an unequal and unhealthy relationship, and on cultivating your gaggle and rediscovering a connection with an old friend, and on putting yourself first (for once) and prioritizing your friends and family over the needs of a new guy. And for being honest with yourself about all of it. Sounds like your head is in the right place!
As the writer of an advice e-column, it’s always a bit of a surprise to hear from a reader who is not simply focused on “How can I get him to like me?” or “What did this thing that he said mean?” or “Why am I single when I don’t want to be?” God knows we’ve all got those questions as well, but romance is actually a much more complex experience than that. Sometimes we’re the chaser, and other times we’re the chased. Sometimes we want more intensity, and other times we just need everyone to chill the f*@k out. We don’t have to always play the victim. Thanks for reminding me – and hopefully now everyone else – of that.
So! I’m guessing you could use a little of what Becky and I like to call “gaggle hiatus.” At various points, we both have made a point of going on gaggle hiatus in order to refuel after something romantically upsetting has happened, or to take a step back when we’re overwhelmed, or to take stock when something about our love lives just doesn’t feel right.
Going on gaggle hiatus doesn’t demand that you completely stop managing your gaggle – even by not actively managing your relationships with guys, you kind of are managing them, right? Instead, it just means that you allow yourself to focus on you, and what you need and want. You don’t make decisions and plans based around the guys in your life, and you re-shift your focus in whatever direction you choose: career, hobbies, health, sleep, kickball, whatever. You get busy livin’. And you go on gaggle hiatus knowing that, when it’s over, you’ll return to your love life with a fresher and clearer perspective.
But let’s say that it’s too late for an official gaggle hiatus, since you’ve actually met a guy who you’d potentially like to keep around for a while. How to shift the gears in your relationship to hit a speed that you’re more comfortable with? The trick here is – surprise! do I sound like your mother’s shrink yet? – communication.
This is yet another situation where ambiguity and mixed signals have no place. In talking to this guy about what you need and want, you’ll be working against the widespread, culturally ingrained belief that we women NEVER turn down relationships simply for timing reasons (although obviously we do, if much less often than men). We’ve all been taught that men find love along the lines of the taxicab theory of dating, which posits that men either have their “relationship light” ON or OFF. And if it’s OFF, then it doesn’t matter how many women wave their gorgeous, intelligent, charming hands in their faces. A relationship won’t happen or work, because the guy won’t be ready and looking for it.
Of course, the contrast to this is what we’ve been taught about women – that we’re open and willing, 24/7, to commit to a guy if he’s the perfect fit. We’re supposed to be the romantics, banking on true love and throwing everything else to the wind when necessary. Kernels of truth, kernels of old-school misogynistic beliefs about dating.
So given all these expectations, and given the prevalence of the He’s Just Not That Into You-esque belief that if someone doesn’t want to be your super serious partner right now, then they’re Just Not That Into You, your guy is going to assume that, well, you’re just not that into him. That you’re giving him the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech, and letting him off the hook nice and easy. He’s going to freak out inside.
But because you actually do like him, there’s reason to be careful about this conversation and show him that you really, genuinely mean what you’re saying. And then you’ll need to be prepared to show him that, via your actions (words ≠ actions).
Sit him down (talk to him in person after you’ve had a great, fun night together – not over the phone or email! remember, this isn’t a breakup conversation, but he’ll need face-to-face cues to really believe that), and tell him what you told me. That you really like him, enough so that you don’t want to screw this up or send him any mixed signals. Be really clear about it: you Tarzan, me Jane, I like you, end of story. Just explain that you need to move slower because of reasons X and Y, and that you understand if he’s not okay with that but you really hope that he is, because he’s great and you like being with him and don’t want this to be the end of things.
Then ask him what he thinks, listen to his response, quell any knee-jerk reactions that may occur because he thinks he’s being rejected, and actually have a conversation about it. Listen, respond, listen again…see what works for both of you. You’ll have to do this a million more times if you actually end up in a committed relationship, so best to start now.
WTF?! BOTTOM LINE: You’re justified in needing some time and space (“gaggle hiatus”) to recover from your last relationship! So don’t feel guilty, have an honest conversation with this guy, stay true to what you need, and make it 100% clear that you like him and want to continue things at a slower pace. If he can’t cope, then…moving on.
Also – I’d recommend that you keep an eye on all the possessiveness and neediness that you mentioned. This guy may need to adjust his expectations of you, if your relationship is going to go any further.
On one hand, you’re obviously trying to embrace your independence, so maybe his frustration with your availability and commitment isn’t actually so out of line. Or…maybe he’s acting unreasonable. You just got out of a relationship where your boyfriend expected you to put him first, so don’t jump right back into the same thing. Even if, for some reason, you’re attracted to those guys!
It feels good to be needed, of course. But you’ve only got one life, so why spend it catering 24/7 to someone else’s needs, wants and whims? Just something to keep in mind…
Jess is the co-creator of The Gaggle, alongside her childhood best friend Becky Wiegand, and is the author of the book - yep! - The Gaggle. She never tires of hearing your post-dating stories. She wants you to enjoy your love life, and is full of advice on how to do so.
The-Gaggle.com is a website that explores modern romance in the Millennial era – which, let’s be honest, looks nothing like we were taught to expect. We feature essays, advice and social commentary with humor, compassion and brains, and we vow never, ever to publish a piece called “The 10 Best Ways to Satisfy Your Man in Bed”. Do click here to submit your work to us. We love you.