My pal Susan Walsh is on vacation, and to give her a breather I’ve taken on a couple of recent calls for help left on one of her old but oft-commented pages where readers tend to chime in with problems.
“on again, off again” writes:
Need some insight… Was dating a guy and everything was going great, met his friends, he told his family about us, all signs were pointing to serious relationship… then he disappears. I was pissed and I let him know. Didn’t talk to him for a month and then he got up the nerve to apologize for being a dick. Amazing. Anyway, since then we’ve just hooked up. Twice. The second time he tells me he’s confused and doesn’t want this to be just a “hook up”. I basically said, “Duh, me either!” We talked about how much we like each other, blah, blah, blah. He called me the next day to hang out but I already had plans… same thing happened the following day. It was 4th of July weekend – I have a life. I tried to get ahold of him twice after the weekend – no response. It’s been 2 weeks and I haven’t heard anything from him. I guess he changed his mind??? Maybe he’s mad that I didn’t ditch my plans? I really want to call him and ask what the hell is going on, but I don’t want to look like a loser that couldn’t take the hint. Maybe he just needed to get laid… but why all the talk?
Several things are going on here, some of which concern you directly and some that serve as teaching moments for others.
First off, disappearing for a month after seriously building towards relationship status is strange behavior, so you may simply be dealing with an erratic dude (more on that below). You can’t control that. What you can control is the terms under which you interact with him. When he decided to return he did the best thing possible, which is to apologize for leaving you in the lurch; at that point, it’s totally fine for you to make it clear what you expect as the relationship re-starts. That you say you have “just hooked up” since then suggests you didn’t discuss this before hopping back in the sack – which communicates to him that you are satisfied with an uncommitted, sexually peripatetic relationship.
Most men tend to respond to the expectations put in front of them, so you have a lot more to gain than to lose by initiating a DTR (define-the-relationship) talk at that point. Also consider that a lot of guys have been burned asking for commitment too early themselves, so some men let the woman bring it up as a self-protection strategy…if she never does, they both lose what they want.
PURSUIT IS A TWO-WAY STREET
He called me the next day to hang out but I already had plans… same thing happened the following day. It was 4th of July weekend – I have a life.
I think what may have been salvageable probably died at this point. The man called you twice over a holiday weekend trying to spend time with you. Unless you went out of town, there had to be some free hours somewhere in there. This is a critical point to meet him halfway. Your response was apparently simply, “sorry, I’m busy,” with no suggestion of an alternate time or place. Now perhaps you wanted him to grovel and continue to pursue as a sort of penance for his vanishing act, or you didn’t want to look too “available,” but a guy who is experienced with women is going to read a lack of counteroffer as a very strong signal of rejection.
This is as universal a game lesson as we can give to other guys: “if she says she’s busy and doesn’t offer another time she’s free, she’s not interested. Move on.” We know this from our own experience – a woman that wants to spend time with a man she’s attracted to will go far to do it. She’ll go in late to work, or get off early. She’ll cancel plans with BFFs. She’ll move dates with other guys (a key signal to dudes that you may not be her first choice.) Or she’ll simply steer you to a time on her calendar when she’s free – “I can’t do Tuesday, but how about Thursday?” Meanwhile a woman rejecting us will come up with all number of incredulous reasons, or none at all – “sorry, I’m busy on Wednesday.”
I don’t think he’s upset you didn’t ditch your plans – I think he just feels rejected and is taking a hint you may not have intended to send. You’ve reached out to him twice since then, which means the ball is back in his court. If he’s not contacting you he’s probably moved on, and in any case I think both of you have spent enough energy on this thing that’s not really getting off the ground. If he tries to come back into your sphere again it’s best for the both of you if you were to politely decline.
Let’s recap the lessons:
1. If you want to have a relationship, you need to articulate that expectation to your partner when the time is right.
2. When a man you like asks to spend time with you, it is as much your job as his to make it happen. It is not his job to play the Roulette wheel of pursuit until he magically hits the date and time you happen to be available.
HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO ANYBODY
As to why this dude went silent for a month, I can’t say for certain but I’d like to bring up a phenomenon women need to be aware of: guys who are not that interested in relationships at all. I’m not talking about players, who compulsively seek sexual variety, or commitment-phobic men who are averse to LTR opportunity costs (and of which there are fewer than women believe).
A lot of women would be surprised by the degree to which a subset of men are just not really interested in women personally. They don’t have “commitment” issues, they’re not misogynists, they’re not Peter Pans, they’re just not that interested in female companionship and for the most part they never will be. There’s nothing hostile about it…they just find the whole thing kind of boring and unrewarding. Sometimes they are highly attractive guys who have grown numb to the ubiquitous interest of women they don’t find interesting themselves. They might go through the motions of dating to get laid, but even that is not really on the radar screen for some of these types.
Every guy has probably had a friend like this. He comes over on Friday and between cold ones you ask “hey, what happened with Sasha last weekend?”
“Oh her? Yeah, we banged.”
[nonplussed] “It was pretty hot.”
[confused] “Sooo, are you going to go out again or what? Sounds like she’s pretty into you.”
“Dunno. I’m just kinda bored by the whole thing. Deal the next hand, brah.”
Of course, because they have intrinsic aloof game, these types usually have a couple of female orbiters at any time who are working for a crack at him. They’re sometimes flat-out irritated by the attention, meanwhile the rest of us guys can’t believe their good fortune.
LISTEN TO THE MAN
I am so glad I found your site. I have been “hanging out” with this guy lately that I am crazy about. I met him almost a year ago and he liked me right from the start, but unfortunately I was still not over another guy. We dated and he asked me out and I turned him down. Then I changed my mind and we went out but I was honestly not ready. Then I went on tour for a month and we broke up a week after I got back. So the whole relationship was kinda not there, it was a mutual break up, even though I was really sad about it, and really liked him by that time. The whole thing just seemed like a false start. Now, many month later, we have been hanging out regularly as friends. At first in a group but for over a month now it’s almost always just me and him. We go to dinner and movies and other special things that only we like to do. A month ago he asked me if I wanted to be “friends with benefits” I told him I didn’t want if it wasn’t going to mean anything more than that to him. I was worried he would stop hanging out with me when I gave him that answer … but if anything, he has been more caring and thoughtful since that happened. He is REALLY bad at talking about anything serious, not even just relationship stuff. All his friends know this about him, he is far worse than the average guy in that department. So that is why I haven’t talked to him. He is however a very good guy and person, has very good values and not the type that would ever cheat or lie. Just a couple days ago our “relationship” became more sexual … I am wondering if this is a sign that I could mean more to him, since I said before I didn’t want a sexual relationship unless it meant more to him. We haven’t had sex yet, but I am wondering if we should or if that would be a bad move.
BLUF: It would be an incredibly bad move, because he has clearly communicated that you are not going to get what you want.
First, I understand how in love you are, most of us have been there. But it’s a bad idea to get into a relationship with someone who is “REALLY bad at talking about anything serious.” That reflects either a communication deficiency or a habitual lack of attention to long-term planning.
Secondly, there is no reason to believe he wants to be your boyfriend, whether or not he has sex with you. He has clearly articulated what he does want – to hang out with you and to sleep with you, but not be your boyfriend. Sleeping with you fits directly into that plan. There’s nothing boyfriend about being caring and thoughtful; friends do that for each other all the time. (In fact, caring and thoughtful is a way many guys send themselves out of the boyfriend zone.)
This is such a common scenario for young women that it should be in Susan’s FAQ: “He said he didn’t want a relationship, but then we had sex so does that mean he does want a relationship?”
The answer is no. It’s what psychologists call “projection” – assuming motivations for others’ actions that match what your motivations would be were you doing the same actions.
(Public Service Announcement: Don’t sell the guys short, this can happen in the other direction as well – the woman wants some sex because she’s horny or wants validation, the guy wants the full commitment and thinks if she has sex with him that means she wants it too…I know because it happened to me. Guys are sold hard on the “women don’t have sex without commitment” trope despite evidence everywhere that it’s just not true. So of course I thought that her sexual expression reflected an investment. Knowing what I know now, I can easily see that she was not playing for the long term. But enough about me.)
Why you might think that having sex = he wants to be in a relationship is understandable – when you (as a guy or a girl) hang around someone you are crazy about, the rationalization hamster starts to spin like crazy, creating an an alternate reality by reinterpreting everything that happens into a sign that things are going where you want them to.
It’s also understandable why you are loath to bring the issue up – as you said, it’s loss aversion, the fear of getting nothing at all instead of the half of what you want you have now. I am sorry you are so deeply smitten for a guy who doesn’t want everything you do.
But the fact is that he’s been very honest about what he wants; you need to respect him for that by listening to what he is communicating, not presume to read his mind and not create a false expectation that will serve to make you mad at him when it doesn’t come true. You also need to respect yourself by not talking yourself into accepting this halfway-house arrangement you have. It’s hard to hear now, but it’s better for your pride to be without him entirely than to be pining in his presence.
You have set a price, a reasonable one (relationship context) for sex. If you give him sex without him clearly offering you what you want, you have met him at his price point and not yours. This not only denies you what you want, it tells him that your prices are negotiable.