Ask Dr. NerdLove: Can She Be Pushing Me Into A Relationship?

Hey Doc,

Longtime listener, first time caller. I (35M)’m about one month from a two-and-a-half year relationship. We part on good terms, we just realized we {} a excellent longer-term fit. The part that made me a terrible fit was that I had been immersed in my career and hobbies that she felt as though she was not a priority. It is a fair charge, but it is not the entire story and I will leave it there.
I enjoy being single. I think it’s fun meeting new and interesting and attractive folks. It’s also much easier on my schedule that’s chaotic and packaged by design. I am contented with my hobbyjob and comfortable with all the consequences of deciding to prioritize that part of my life. I have recent, definitive evidence that even a excellent and supportive partner isn’t going to be a fantastic match unless we can share aspirations. I am fine with that, and I am okay with the possibility of not finding that individual for a while or ever.
A couple weeks before, from the enthusiastic rush of becoming single again, I happened to reactivate a relationship account mostly with the intent of looking around to see what was out there. I got a message from somebody, and because I figured it’d be interesting I decided to meet her for drinks. During that date I explained to her what my situation was: recently single, very active, looking to concentrate on career stuff. She wanted to get together again, which we did twice on events spread out over the last month.
She is very attractive and has a fantastic personality and sense of humor, so I’d love to keep spending time with her. She is also not a person whose aspirations I see being compatible with mine. But she has done a few things that make me believe she’s much more interested in a relationship than I am (and her relationship profile indicates the same, but she and it are clear that she is not interested in having kids ). She’s described us as”relationship”, dropped casually into conversation a small number of occasions including on our next date. She texts frequently, often just asking me about my day or wanting to chat. She makes regular reference to needing to see each other again (while acknowledging the boundaries I have set around my period ).
I’m wondering if I’m overthinking or underthinking things at this time. She is an adult who appears to have no difficulty saying what she wants. I have made clear on a few occasions what sort of emotional position I am in. I want to keep watching her on a casual and intermittent basis but I do not know whether she will be comfortable with that. If I expect her to make it clear if she’s expecting something more than what we are currently doing? I really don’t want to hurt her, but I also don’t want to mug myself.
Thanks!

I think what you have here is your setup for a Mitch Hedberg joke:”I don’t have a girlfriend, I just know a woman who would be really mad to hear me say that.”

The issue I see here is some thing I have seen over and over again in relationship — somebody who is ostensibly listening but not really hearing what you are saying. Occasionally we meet somebody who’s seemingly perfect for us except for one minor, itsy-bitsy problem: we need a connection and they do not. The conflict arises when we do not take that battle seriously. So we try to ignore the issue. We pretend it is not there, or that it is not a significant deal-breaker. Sometimes we pretend we are cool with something casual — even if we are not. Other times we assume that we could only… wait it out. We assume that as they are ideal for us, we have to be ideal for them. Therefore it becomes a waiting game. But we can not forget that this is a one-sided arrangement… and so we attempt to force folks’ hands.

Sometimes it means that people get passive-aggressive, treating any mention of additional partners, other programs or the casual nature of the connection with scorn or obvious disapproval. Other times people will attempt to backdoor their way to a connection, dropping references to relationship and future plans to casual conversation. If you do not immediately push back, then well, that has to be tacit acceptance of this connection framework, right?

This is something I have seen people do… hell this is something I have done in previous relationships. Problem is: it does not work and it only makes everyone unhappy in the procedure.

I can not say for certain this is exactly what your friend is doing… but it certainly appears like she is chosen to ignore the fact that you are not relationship material at the moment. The situations you describe — falling”dating” to the dialogue, texting you just to discuss your daily life, etc? That’s all of the type of behaviour I expect to see from somebody who’s moving towards a committed relationship, not something casual. While I am certainly not a believer in any type of artificial limit of how many times you’re”supposed” to speak to someone you are not wanting to date, the frequency and topics sound far more somebody assuming a degree of familiarity that you don’t have — and yet in your case — you are uninterested in.

A number of this could just be a matter of different relationship styles. She can have a different definition of”relationship” than you. She might well be the type of person that has these kinds of conversations with all her friends. I doubt it, but it is certainly possible.

But the only way to figure out this is — as I am so frequently saying — to use your own words. If she brings up the notion that you are dating, then you might want to ask her exactly what that means to her. This doesn’t have to be accusatory; it is just that you might have different expectations and you need to make certain the both of you are on the same page. That may also be a great time to have the Defining The Relationship talk; when she has not grasped you do not see this as going anywhere long term, then it is time to make sure she knows that. But if she isn’t prepared to acknowledge that you have chosen to prioritize your career over relationship today? Then it’s far better to finish things earlier rather than later. This way the two of you can be free to find people that are perfect for you — someone who is looking to date severely for her and someone who just needs something low-key for you.

Very good luck.

I am currently in an area of frustration and stress that’s been going on for far too long and I want to know if I the need the chair leg of truth or just to just calm the hell down.

To make a long story short I met this girl, who we’ll call Sarah a couple of years back when I had been, at the moment, a psychological mess. I’d just moved from my parent’s home and was about a year to treatment for depression and anxiety.

When I first saw Sarah I was instantly drawn to her but, knowing where my head was at, made it a point to keep things strictly platonic. I told myself I had to expand my social circle and group of friends which had dwindled down to almost nothing after graduating from school before I even thought of having a girlfriend.

Fast forward a year and things quickly took off. I have gathered a strong new set of friends, we are getting together almost every weekend and I’m getting invited to innumerable parties and get togethers. At precisely the exact same time I am getting closer with Sarah who’s also in exactly the exact same group of friends but I am still telling myself to keep it platonic. Having read your work, I am watching for indications of attention from her and coming up empty. But, our mutual friends begin asking me if we’re dating that, more than anything else, just confuses me. Why would they believe that? Granted we usually wind up speaking at meetups and gravitate to each other but that is about it. I brush it off as a wonderful compliment that hey, it should not seem as awkward as I feel like it’s when I am chatting her up.

I’m also crashing on her couch after celebrations. My confidence has skyrocketed, I have been going to the gym regularly and my social skills overall have improved dramatically. We are seeing each other just about every single weekend and she is always pleased to see me and attend things together. The one thing that’s missing is your physicality.

Now do not get me wrong, it is not that I do not want to get my hands on her, I am simply incredibly uncomfortable with physicality generally. On numerous occasions the minute is crying to get intimate or request a kiss. {But there I sit{} acting like I have a force field around myself which prevents me from so much as giving her a hug goodbye, which makes me bang my head against my steering wheel in frustration as I drive home. |}

After getting asked by mutual friends again when we’re dating, I muster up the courage to ask her the same question; are we dating? When I ask her she looks just as clueless as I am. It’s clear she’s simply been enjoying time together as far as I have and had not given much thought to making it exclusive or serious. We continue to speak more private and we make plans to go on a few trips out of town together.

Tragedy would unfortunately attack when a family member suddenly dies and she had to fly home to assist her siblings. It soon beacane clear she will have to return home to care for the home and handle the family member’s effects. This gives us only a month or two before she moves several states away. It seems like the endgame today, and by the way she’s currently acting I can tell she feels the exact same way. She’s currently becoming noticeably more physical, always sitting right next to me at group works but what’s more, a whole lot more intimate when lonely. Now we are cuddling on the couch, she is putting her head in my lap, etc.. However, I’m crashing on the couch at night and we’ve never kissed. In this time I refrain from pressing her further about the connection status since I do not need to bring any unnecessary strain on her and what is the point? That is all coming to an end soon anyways perfect?

Well we continue to call and text during the next few months during which time my attention with her does not waiver. Supporting this fixation is a couple of guys from our mutual group of friends who’ve basically been sending us. They tell me how they’ve understood Sarah more than I have and never saw her act the way she had me around. They need her to return and keep inviting me to maintain that goal living.

It’s been close to a year now because she moved and since then I’ve seen her twice in between the telephone calls and texts. She flew out to see me for a couple of days while I was visiting a new city on business and I flew out to her home for a couple of days. I have sadly failed to have the connection talk during trip, rationalizing that we just had a couple of days together and why make it serious/awkward?

She’s not a big texter, two, she’s busy with her job during the week and 3. Each time that I do predict she always picks up and is happy to speak. Still, I fall back into grief and tell myself I want to get over her before one of us necessarily texts another and all is well with the world again.

As it stands now I am hoping she will be returning for at least a week over the next few months but it remains to be seen whether she will actually be returning long term. So my question to you Doc is if our connection, as it is now, is doing more damage than good to me. If I continue to hold out for her possible return to grow and continue our relationship or should I proceed?

I am currently searching for a new therapist to speak to about this and my apparent lingering problems with anxiety and confidence.

Hanging By The Telephone

I am not the person you should be speaking to, HBTP. That would be Sarah. The two of you are circling around one another like protagonists at a love manga, both of you obviously interested in one another but neither of you prepared to really muscle up and take responsibility for your own feelings. You both appear to have determined that neither of you wanted to afford the chance of getting rejected or danger”destroying” the friendship and so the two of you just lived in that frustrating limbo where all of your friends could tell exactly what was happening but neither of you wanted to listen.

But the issue is that you all are not in a love manga or a romcom or a CW telenovela. In all those, the status quo can go on indefinitely. Two destined fans can circle each other like planets around a star until circumstances eventually induce you to make your move. And — seriously — people proceed. In the end, two people might have the capacity for an remarkable relationship… but possible does not mean a damn thing if it’s not acted upon. The perfect possible relationship is finally less desirable than the imperfect relationship with somebody who really made a move. And the more you won’t make a move, the greater the chances are that someone else will.

A willingness to wait for as long as it requires can be kind of candy in films, if you don’t consider it too hard, but it does not work in the actual world. Nobody will wait that long, nor should they. And holding out hope that she might return? That is just another way of stating that you are not eager to make your move.

So in case you would like this relationship to really occur — or get closed on what could have been — then you are going to need to stop talking to some loudmouth with an advice column and really speak to her. You’re going to need to get over whatever hang up that is keeping you from really addressing the elephant in the room and spit it out already. And I do not mean falling”Hey, I love you” in her lap and walking away like a kitty depositing a dead bird on the front step or requesting her to say”yes we are dating”. I mean stepping up and saying”I enjoy our friendship but I feel like there is more here and I need to date you. May I take you out on the right date?”

1 way or another, you will get your answer. Either she will admit the obvious and say that yes, she want to give this a try, or she will say thank you but no. In any event, you will have finally gotten a response and be able to move ahead… either with a connection with your sweetie, or with the freedom to eventually find someone who does want to date you.

Very good luck.

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The Magic of Boundaries: Date Well, Marry the Perfect Person and Enjoy Hard Forever

Yep. We are talking about bounds again. They are THAT important.

Because I am a hack author (or perhaps just because each and every individual on earth has not read or does not remember all of my articles ), our discussions about boundaries are becoming gray and cloudy like a sucky winter in Cleveland.

And that is bad. Because bounds are magical. Just like when the sun comes out through the rain and presents you a candy rainbow to frolic on, or how God does not strike me dead when I purchase groceries online and an underpaid high school child loads them in my Jeep for me curbside while elsewhere deserving men and women starve.

The best thing I’ve ever read on borders was composed by Mark Manson (who coincidentally published a new book this week AND graciously consented to some Q&A with me that you should clearly read).

For the 90 percent of you who won’t read Mark’s piece, I will share a little part as it’s crucial. From Mark:

  • Would you feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions to their own profit?
  • Would you feel as if you’re always having to’rescue’ people near you and fix their problems all of the time?
  • Can you end up sucked into unnecessary fighting or debating frequently?
  • Can you end up faaaaar more spent or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you have known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are constantly either amazing or horrible without a in-between? Or maybe you go through the break-up/reunion routine every couple of months?
  • Can you spend a whole lot of time defending yourself for things you think are not your fault?

“If you answered’yes’ to {} of the above, then you probably place and maintain bad boundaries in your relationships. If you answered a resounding’yes’ to most or all the items above, you do not just have a significant boundary problem on your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal issues going on in your life.”

If you are like me, you nodded your head’yes’ a few too many times as it hits a little too close to home, or as you recall how the younger you did all of those things and maybe that is why lots of shitty things happened.

Emotionally healthy individuals have and apply strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and implementing strong boundaries makes you mentally healthier.

Having strong bounds means that you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I think we have to vigilantly enforce our bounds (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we will need to be ready to walk away and cut them out of our own lives, which is a very hard thing to do.

You can not always just walk away from individuals to enforce boundaries without innocents (like your children or other family members or friends) becoming casualties of this choice.

1 thing we can be certain of is that if we are in this spot, it is because at some time previously, we failed to enforce our bounds in healthy ways, and after we suffer the consequences.

We are going to leave the household and friendship play for another time.

For now, I am focused exclusively on enforcing boundaries while relationship. And then afterwards, during marriage.

Let’s discuss why.

Girl meets Boy. It is all flowers and Facebook status changes and sexting and climaxes.

But Hedonic Adaptation does exactly what it ALWAYS does, and the lovey-dovey stuff wears off to the Boy.

Communicating infrequently. Spending more time with friends or maybe other women.

Boy’s behaviour makes her feel awful. She tells her friends and her journal, but she does not tell the Boy.

Meal planning, domestic housework, calendar scheduling, and sharing tools comes more into play.

Boy’s behaviour forces Girl to take on lion’s share of the work because he is totally disengaged out of the date-ish time together.

Girl finally informs Boy that she is upset, possibly because he eventually asks her what is wrong, or because she works up the courage to say something even though she is afraid of the possible struggle or making him feel helpless and pushing him off.

Boy tells her she is delusional. That she is imagining things. That she is crazy. “OF COURSE I adore you!” he says.

But no matter how much he tells her she is being too emotional or misreading the circumstance, she continues to feel unhappy and anxious about his behaviour. He says her feelings are not real.

Girl keeps feeling uncomfortable, but she does not want to split up.

Maybe he will change one day, she believes.

Perhaps she talks to her mother about it. “Oh that’s just how men are, honey,” Mom tells her while cleaning up after a weekend dinner while Dad goes to another room to watch TV. He’s a fantastic man. This is just the way it is.”

It appears a bit depressing to Girl. But she has spent two or three years at the connection, all of her girlfriends are getting married, and all the men do things to upset them once in a while.

I guess this is really just the way life is, she believes.

Girl marries Boy.

Five to seven decades later, they are miserable because the identical behavior that hurt her feelings while relationship hurts even more now that he promised to love and care for her forever, but she does not feel loved, nor cared for, nor emotionally safe or protected at all.

Girl gets a telephone call. Her mom had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

She feels responsible for caring for her father who does not know how to cook and clean for himself. She wants to grieve but it’s hard because there’s no one else around to take care of Life Things.

Girl takes care of Life Matters till she eventually collapses emotionally.

Boy is absolutely zero relaxation. She did not understand it right now–but he does not feel steady like her mother did. He can not comfort her when he tries.

One or both of these seek comfort in the arms and privates of somebody they are not married to.

More breakage.

And though it is not her fault, it’s her duty .

This occurred because she did not enforce her personal boundaries while relationship.

I work in advertising.

It’s a total waste of time and detrimental to promotion programs to attempt and sell services and products to individuals unlikely to want or need them.

You don’t need to open a fishing lure store in the middle of the desert. You need to start one by waters used for fishing.

You don’t need to market”Make America Great Again” hats at Hillary Clinton political rallies. You need to sell them to fans of her political competition.

For marketing programs to be successful, we have to target customers intelligently.

And so it goes in relationship.

I have written repeatedly that I believe folks should vigilantly enforce their bounds while relationship .

That doesn’t mean that you cut somebody off the very first time that they upset you. Nobody would EVER stay together if this was the case.

However, what if Girl made different choices from the above example? Imagine if, when she began exhibiting behaviours she had been uncomfortable with, she just communicated that to him?

What if she said: “Hey. I truly care about you and want to see where this can go, but you will need to understand that I felt really crappy when X happened before. Maybe I am misunderstanding, or getting something wrong. But I have loads of things in Life that hurt and will hurt me later on. The person I will devote the rest of my life with WILL NOT be one of them when I could do anything about it. I just want you to know what occurred crosses a hardline border with me”?

One of three things occur afterward.

He can act like he does and try to describe to her {} wrong and her feelings are dumb, then she can walk away toward a future where she gives someone else a chance to show actual love and esteem.
He can promise to try harder and neglect. She averts a sad divorce afterwards.
He can promise to try harder and triumph. They’ve a healthy marriage.

When folks enforce their bounds vigilantly while relationship, ONLY people who have a high probability for success could ever wind up exchanging wedding vows with one another.

Are there a shit-ton more break-ups? Absolutely. But explain to me what the issue is. If all the people destined for divorce or shitty unions do not wind up getting married, how does that make the world a worse place?

In the perfect scenario where everybody is making great Life choices, two assholes incapable of healthy marriage do not wind up marrying each other in the first location.

That means border enforcement during marriage rarely rises to the level of inducing divorce. Two individuals vigilantly enforcing their relationship boundaries are WELL PREPARED for the sorts of unselfishness and communication required to thrive.

But we do not live in a perfect world. And nobody owns a kick-ass DeLorean time machine. And that means many people find ourselves in shitty relationships where the standards for being prepared to walk away in the connection can not be just like that of the unattached dater with choices.

There is a basic difference between two individuals that are dating, and two individuals that are married.

When you are dating, you are able to throw somebody over something petty like how loudly they chew their food, or how they root for a sports team you hate. When you are dating, you’re permitted to have any personal boundaries you want. It isn’t important what someone else believes is reasonable. You’re not beholden to anybody.

You’re free to create or remove any border you need, for any reason, at any time.

The main thing is that when someone crosses your line and inflicts pain, when they KNOW they did, they display guilt and a desire to avoid causing future pain.

If they dismiss what you are saying and feeling, signaling this shitty thing will continue to happen over and over again? We ought to walk away.

Our union boundaries should not be superficial.

And our vigilance ought to be restricted to major vow-breaking offenses, rather than just a struggle over what to put on the TV that night or if you are going to attend the household get-together next weekend.

And that’s because if we get married, we vow–VOW–to love generously. Forever.

We promise to forfeit. To forgive. To lift up another when they have fallen. To choose love each and every day irrespective of how inconvenient it may feel.

That is exactly what it means when we say”I do.”

Our unions are shit now because the younger, dumber versions of ourselves did not know what we did not know. And today we have some hard choices to make. Choose to love, though it isn’t straightforward? Or divorce, though it isn’t straightforward?

Not straightforward.

People today will need to do what they have to do. People today will need to make mistakes and figure out things. That is how human beings learned that water and fire –two amazing, life-giving things–may also kill us.

Marriages suspended in poor border enforcement will be difficult and dysfunctional.

However, the conversation about border enforcement changes between people that are dating and people that are married.

We apply boundaries while dating so as to attain a healthy and productive relationship.

Not because we feel like it daily. Since we choose it every day.

We choose it now. And then tomorrow. And then the following day.

And when our partners do the same in return, Forever happens.

Rarely straightforward.

Often worth it.

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Have you read the first anthology which was the catalyst for Your Great Men Project? Purchase here: The Great Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood

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