DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 25-year-old woman in a weird place in my dating/sex life right now. For a long time, I thought I was a lesbian, until about a year ago when I dated a guy. Unfortunately, I was so anxious about how to be good in a relationship/sexual with a guy, I kind of sent it to it’s doom. Then I went on a date with another guy about six months later and I was kind of coerced into sleeping with him, and he was the first guy I slept with and this gave me even more anxiety.
To help me get over my sexual anxiety with guys, I started having a friends with benefits thing with someone I trusted would actually respect my sexual wishes and wouldn’t make me feel like I couldn’t have input. Now though, the thing seems to be that guys ONLY seem to want sex from me. The last date I went on, I thought I really connected with the guy, but he kept pushing for me to sleep with him, and probably was being way too sexual for a first date (I.E. talking about how he had a boner).
So I guess, my questions are: 1. Does having a friends with benefits situation mean that guys I might date in the future will consider me slutty?, 2. How do I tell if a guy wants to date or just wants sex? and 3. How do I let a guy know whether I want sex or just dating in terms of body language or without being too direct?
Any help would be appreciated.
Bewitched, Bewildered and Befuddled
DEAR BEWITCHED, BEWILDERED AND BEFUDDLED: Here’s something I want you to realize: you’re not alone in this. Like other folks who’ve written in — this week even — you’ve had a fairly circuitous route to your sexuality. As I’ve said before, sexuality isn’t as carved in stone as we like to think. It’s not even a spectrum, so much as it is a multi-axis graph and series of slides. Some people may be staunchly heterosexual or homosexual, some may be bi or pansexual and some folks may slide around attraction over time… just as it seems to have been in your case. That can be an inadvertent source of confusion and anxiety, especially if you’ve spent most of your life identifying one way or another.
Of course, this is going to lead to something of an adjustment period as you start getting used to the social mores of dating men in addition to/ instead of women. You’re used to one set of experiences when it comes to dating and now you’re dealing with something that’s familiar, yet just different enough to be anxiety-producing – a dating uncanny valley as it were. This is can take some getting used to; the skill-sets are essentially the same, but the applications can be different enough to be confusing. Gender roles, particularly surrounding dating, can be a pain in the ass that way.
And let’s be fair: you have some legit reasons to be anxious. Not only are you exploring a different side of yourself, but you’ve had some seriously awful experiences.
But hey! You bounced back from that and you then went and found a good guy to be with – someone who was caring and respectful, listened to you and deferred to your limits and wishes. That’s awesome.
Unfortunately, the guys afterwards… not quite as awesome. But here’s the thing: there’s a difference between correlation and causation, B3. The issue isn’t that you had a FWB relationship with someone and now everyone thinks you’re a slut, the problem is that you seem to be dating jerks.
The first thing you should be doing is figuring out some screening techniques to filter out the jackasses sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, part of the way you learn to filter out these goombas is through experience. Womp womp.
Learning how to tell guys who just want sex versus those who want a relationship is something you learn over time. People of all genders come on a spectrum; there will be guys who will be very obvious about just wanting to fuck and there will be guys who are so restrained that you’ll wonder if they actually see you as a potential partner or just a good friend. There will be guys who will fake wanting to date just so they can get sex and there will be guys who are super-sexual but who’re totally down with something committed. Most of the time, you figure out who’s who by their behavior; are they respectful, or are they pushy? Do they acknowledge your boundaries, or do they take every opportunity to tell you what they want from you?
Let’s take the dude you mention in your letter. You thought you were connecting with this guy. He, on the other hand, seemed to think that this connection was going to be leading straight to his bed and he was being a pushy ass about it. I’m all in favor of some sexy flirting and banter, but there’s flirting and then there’s being an asshat. There’s a time and place for bringing up one’s boner (i.e. heavy make-out sessions). Trying to steer the conversation to sex when you’re not down? Asshat behavior.
Now, I do have a couple questions for you. You’re worried that guys will think you’re a slut because you’ve had a FWB relationship… but how, exactly are they finding this out? If you’re laying out your sexual history – especially on a first date – they might be assuming that you’re signaling that you’re looking for more of the same. As a general rule, if you (general you, not you, B3) are talking about sex a lot on a date – sex you’ve had, sex you’d like to have, etc – it’s likely going to be seen as a sign that you’re down to bone. Which is awesome if you are, but if not, you’re going to end up with some confusion. Same thing with signaling that you’re just looking to date – if you’re bringing up kids, marriage and vacation plans on a first date, people will assume that you’re looking to settle down ASAP, even if that’s not what you mean.
Keep in mind: trying to establish the kind of relationship you’re looking for on a first or even third date can be difficult; one person’s “this is totally casual” is another’s “we’re feeling out potential commitment”.
One of the things I think may be causing you problems is the assumption that wanting to fuck and wanting to date are two entirely different beasts. There can be a lot of overlap there; many, many happy long-term relationships have started out of one-night stands and casual relationships. But if you want to take things at a relaxed pace – totally understandable considering your history and anxieties surrounding sex – then make sure to maintain your boundaries. Having boundaries is part of how you filter out the asshats. Good guys will respect your limits, and the guys who want the same things you do will proceed at the pace you want. As
*les will push and push (case in point, Captain BonerTalk); feel free to kick these dudes to the curb.
But honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being direct and up front with what you want. Letting someone know you want to bone is fairly easy. Signaling that you want to date through body language is… kinda awkward and uncertain. Holding back on sleeping with someone isn’t any more reliable a sign that you’re headed to commitment than sleeping with them on the first date is a sign that you’re not. Guys who’re uncomfortable with your being straightforward about what you’re looking for are demonstrating to you that you’re likely not compatible in the first place.
The other thing to keep in mind: dating men as someone who’s bi or pansexual isn’t really all that different from dating women. There may be some adjustments – after all, some guys are seriously uptight about gender roles and performance when it comes to relationships, while others are more flexible – but you’ve done this before. The plumbing may be different but the hearts are the same.
So establish your boundaries, B3 and find the pace that you’re comfortable with. Find the guys who’re willing to respect them. And don’t be afraid to advocate for what you want, whether it’s sex or something more long-term.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ll keep this brief – I just turned 28 years old and am not looking for a serious relationship. Not now. I am currently working on some things in my life. The past couple of years have been a struggle for various reasons, and while I’ve kicked my ass to the point where I’m doing better, I still have to Improve myself mentally and physically before I can have something to offer.
That said, I am concerned about my future dating prospects. Lots of people from work, old colleagues from school, old friends and so on, are getting engaged and married. This is a surprise to me, as I assumed most people my age would wait till their mid-30’s, and now I’m worried. Forget about being in a serious relationship – I’ve never even dated. Anxieties, social and sexual got in the way, although when I look back I can’t think of anyone I knew who would have been compatible. Suddenly, I’ve been obsessively reading about when the right age to marry is. Apparently, it’s 28-32! Each year past that is 5% more likely to end in divorce! That gives me less than four years to date enough people before I’m sure I’ve found a compatible partner to share my life with! I’m not even dating material yet!!!!Of course, I’m self aware enough to know that some people marry late. But it’s less common, and I’m deeply frightened that by the time I’m ready, it will be harder to find someone, because there will be fewer people my age that haven’t tied the knot.
I think you’ll tell me that everyone goes at their own pace, based on other articles I’ve read on this site. You’ll also tell me that there’s no cutoff point to losing virginity. But I don’t care about my virginity. I don’t just want to get laid in a one night stand. I want to find someone to share my life with. With that in mind… should I be concerned?
I don’t want to rush into a relationship and end up with someone incompatible or abusive – something my Mom’s warned me about. But I also am depressed about the thought of spending my life alone.
Any feedback or advice – about dealing with this anxiety, about challenges that I can expect, or whether it’s too late and I should just give up (ha ha just kidding please don’t tell me it’s too late) – will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for all the work you’ve done, and for reading this far!
DEAR ROADBLOCKED: Alright, I want to give you a little secret, Roadblocked. This is something that I’m not supposed to tell you about marriage, so I need you to lean in close. Ready?
The right age to get married is… when you’re ready.
There is no magical formula about the “ideal” time to marry because what makes a marriage “work” has nothing to do with age and everything to do with the people involved. There’s no age that is going to divorce-proof your marriage because there’s no such thing. The whole “X% more likely” is horses
t. It’s trying to apply statistics and math to social issues by people who understand neither. Every relationship you have will eventually end, until one doesn’t.
And the fact of the matter is: the fact that your relationship ended – even if you got divorced – isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that your relationship failed; it just means it came to its conclusion. We all grow and change over time, and sometimes a relationship that is right for us at one part of our life isn’t going to be right for us in the future. That doesn’t mean that it was bad or you did anything wrong; it just means that it was what you needed at that time in your life and now you’ve both grown past it and it’s time to begin the next stage of your adventure.
And if you’re self-aware to know that people don’t necessarily marry at 32, then you should also know that people find themselves single again at 33… and at 43… and 53. Getting married young doesn’t mean that they’re forever off the market. Marriages end, partners pass away, people realize that their partner isn’t the person they should be with. Nor does it mean that they won’t want to date someone who hasn’t been married before. People who’ve been married before get married to people who’ve never been married before all the goddamn time.
You, my friend, need to take a long, deep breath. You’re losing your shit over patently false information and robbing your own future happiness for no reason. You have no reason to rush. All you’re losing right now is a good night’s sleep because you’re freaking yourself out. Slow down and relax. Take your time, date around and find people you really click with. Love and marriage will come in time… but not if you rush into it because you’re trying to beat a clock that doesn’t actually exist.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)