Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

What Does “I’m Not Ready For A Relationship” Really Mean?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been listening and reading your works for a while now, and I have found your insights and advice really helpful —and your obvert feminism and repudiation of pseudoscience wonderfully refreshing, considering what the standards of the industry sometimes seem to be.

I am a 27 year-old straight male that, one year after a friendly break-up that I’ve spent working on self-improvement, feels ready to get back on the dating wagon.

Some weeks ago I met a girl at work whom I found instantly attractive. I got her number and, after another random meeting at work, started messaging her the next two weeks, during a holiday trip she took. What started as simply making sure that my interest was noticed (so that we could maybe meet after her holidays) turned quickly into daily conversations, and soon after into hardcore flirting by both of us.

She proposed to meet the day after she was back, and ended up spending about 10 hours together, from the early afternoon until after midnight. Everything felt natural and clicked, the sexual tension was palpable, and before the date was over we were making out passionately. All in all a wonderful experience.

Thing is: a few days later we met again, and this time she suggested bringing some friends to the meeting. The night was fun and all, but I didn’t feel there was an appropriate time to make out again: no intimate time, no time just the both of us; still, the chemistry was there, so I didn’t make a great deal of it.

Fast forward to a few days ago, when we met alone right before she went again on a trip, and had the conversation I feel really confused and want to ask you about.

She wanted to talk about how she felt about us, and told me that while on the one hand she felt attracted to me and really enjoyed our conversations, and thought we clicked together, on the other she wasn’t sure about wanting to pursue a physical relationship at the moment. She added that there had been times in her life when she felt pressured by the expectations of others to become physical or sexual with other men even when she wasn’t too sure about it, and didn’t want to experience that pressure again. She also said that she was seeing other people, and really didn’t contemplate the possibility of an exclusive relationship for the time being. She enjoyed everything that had happened so far, and didn’t find any fault with me or my doing.

Much of this didn’t bother me: I don’t know that I want anything serious yet, I’m seeing other people too, and, although I’m REALLY attracted to her (sexually and as a person, and I made sure to state this clearly), I’m nowhere close to infatuation.

The question is: should I assume that she’s not really sexually interested in me (her relatively convoluted way of saying that being simply a stylistic choice) and move on? That being the case, how does that make sense after such a (and I really, really don’t think I’m misreading this) passionate and wonderful date, preceded by unmistakable flirtation and followed by what seems to be a genuine interest to see me again and maintain some form of an active relationship (albeit perhaps a non-sexual one)?

The entire story spans only a few weeks, and it ending without getting any further wouldn’t be tragic, but I’m intrigued by what appears to me as an erratic behaviour or inscrutable expectations, and perhaps there is a transcendental truth I’m not seeing to be learnt from this experience.

Not Sure I Understand People

DEAR NOT SURE I UNDERSTAND PEOPLE: I’m gonna help you out here, NSIUP: the transcendental truth to be found here is… literally what she told you. She’s not ready or interested in a physical relationship. More specifically: she’s not ready or interested in pursuing one with you.

A lot of times, after having been on a couple of dates — some times even just one date — people who just aren’t feeling it will do the courteous thing and tell you. And since they don’t want to be harsh or make you feel bad about it, they’ll often add a softener, something that’s meant to take the sting out of it. And since rejection always feels personal — and some dudes really react badly to being rejected — they’ll phrase it in a way that makes it less of a rejection and more of an obstacle that just can’t be overcome. This is why folks will say “it’s not you, it’s me” or  “I’m just not ready to date.” It’s a shame, if circumstances were different then you two would have a chance but they aren’t, so you don’t. Oh well, what can you do, the stars are aligned against us, nothing to be done about it. Occasionally they’ll even add a “right now” to this because, well, it’s not like they’re going to be single forever.

The problem is that while people will do this as a kindness (or occasionally as a way of not getting murked), the people hearing it don’t quite understand what’s actually being said. That’s why when someone says something along the lines of “I’m just not ready to/ interested in/ able to have a relationship”, you have to silently append the unspoken “…with you” to the end of it.  Otherwise you run the risk of giving yourself false hope (or in some cases, ignoring the screamingly obvious) and holding onto the “for now” instead.

Once you start recognizing this, then it’s easier to start working out just what happened.

Let’s look at what happened with you and your friend, NSIUP. You had a lot of chemistry over text, when you met up you had an amazing date that ended with crazy make-outs. All well and good. But the second time you got together, she invited some friends to come too. That in and of itself is… not a warning or red flag, necessarily, but it’s definitely an indication that she wants to ensure that sex or any physical tomfoolery was on the table. That’s something that folks will do when, say, they suspect that their platonic “friend” just invited them on Schrödinger’s Date. So by this point, your friend was sending up a flag of some sort.

The conversation you had afterwards, about how she didn’t want to pursue a physical relationship with you and how sometimes she felt pressured into getting physical when she didn’t want to gives further clarity to her mindset here. This, for example, tells us that the odds are good that her friends were as much chaperones as they were invited to share in cool goings-on.

Now, the interesting part is that she mentions that she’s also seeing other folks. While this could be taken as “so don’t be surprised if you see my relationship status change”, it could also be an indicator of just why she’s telling you this.

So keeping in mind that I’m not a mind reader and the only person who really knows what this all means is her, here’s my best guess at what went down.

You all had a great date… but somewhere along the line she either started feeling weird about things or she started having questions about where this was going. Things may have moved faster than she was necessarily ready for. She may have caught a vibe that you were more into her, and had more expectations, than she was into you. Something you may have said or done may have given her the impression that you wanted more from her than she was ready to (or able to) give. Or that the make-outs on the first date were nice, she wasn’t quite feeling it as much, and wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any awkward “no, we’re not gonna this time” on the second get together.

And then she had the “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation with you and here we all are.

One thing I want to point out: as harsh as this may sound, she’s actually paying you a compliment by having this conversation with you. She was making a point of doing you the courtesy of turning you down in person and respecting your time by being fairly upfront about things. Those are all generally good signs. A lot of folks would just ghost on you or pull the fade.

But over all: you were feeling it. She wasn’t. You two may not have been right for one another, you may have been at incompatible places in life or there may have been some crossed wires. But at the end of the day, both people have to want to turn the key and she just didn’t.

Unfortunately, the best thing you can do is take what you’ve learned here and apply it to your next date.

Good luck.

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