DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a… situation, which I would appreciate your advice on.
A little more than a month ago, I went on a trip with a good friend (Let’s call her Alice) who I had an interest in romantically. Asked her out on the trip, she said no, we moved on gracefully. So far, so good, and I’ve maintained a close contact with her as friends. However, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, there are… complications.
First: her (stated, at least) reasons for rejecting me: One, that I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship; two, that she was still hung up on her ex (her first and only serious relationship thus far); three, that she’s going to be moving for work soon. Just in general, she appeared to be careful to leave the door open for “not now, maybe later”, although obviously I’m aware this might be wishful thinking on my part.
Second: While on this trip, I got relatively close to a girl we met. Nothing intimate, just had a great time with her and clicked pretty well. What was interesting is that Alice got noticeably jealous whenever I spent time with this girl, and spent a fair amount of energy trying to “warn me off” of her and/or convince me that she was just toying with me. In general, Alice acted relatively possessive/protective of me over the course of the trip, more than I would expect from a typical friend.
Third: While on this trip, Alice and I had several intimate discussions of the sort I’m not generally acquainted with having outside of relationships (sex, porn, eventual desire for children, detailed discussions of close friends’ relationships and their pitfalls, etc). Her best friend (also my very good friend, who was aware of and encouraged my interest) was surprised when I later told her what we’d talked about; these conversations were apparently well outside Alice’s norm.
All of this is background to the following: Prior to the end of the trip, Alice strongly suggested I take an extended break from dating to work on myself. The period suggested on the break was, conveniently, about long enough for all her time-sensitive personal issues to work themselves out… and more than long enough to eliminate any residual rebound angst. I agreed to it, but now I’m second-guessing myself. I’m not sure I like the idea of submitting myself to a “vetting period”, which I kinda feel like this is. Taking myself out of circulation for another chunk of time feels counter-productive, especially when one of the things I need to work on is how easily I get attached. And I’m worried about developing Oneitis even more than I fear I already have.
So, all this being said: Is taking a break a good idea? Am I completely bonkers for interpreting her actions the way I have? And, if I’m right… is this really a sound foundation to build a relationship on, when I’m basically being asked to “prove myself” for this extended time period?
Off The Market
DEAR OFF THE MARKET: I’m going to go with “um… no,” OTM. Here’s why:
Alice’s behavior is less the “I want to date you” variety and more of the “I want to keep you around in case I decide I need you,” type. I mean, on the one hand she doesn’t want to date you “right now” (for suitably nebulous values of “right now”), but she certainly doesn’t want you dating other people. She chased off someone you might have wanted to hook up with in the name of “looking out for you,” and then wants you to stop dating in general to “work on yourself” while she’s off doing her thing and will conveniently be ready for you by the time it’s all said and done.
So basically: she wants you put on deep freeze until she decides she’s ready. Well let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that there will be a point when she’s “ready”. This kind of suggests that either she doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the connection you two have or she’s trying to set the tone early for how your relationship will go. Neither of these is cool frankly and they don’t speak well to your future relationship with her. This is also counterproductive if you’re trying to overcome Oneitis; part of the cure for Oneitis is dating other people and realizing that, in the words of Tim Minchin:
“Your love is one in a million
You couldn’t buy it at any price
But of the 9.999 hundred thousand other loves
Statistically, some of them would be equally nice”
In other words: as amazing as this one person might be, there’re others out there who are also amazing if/when it doesn’t work out.
But I’m doubting that “when she’s ready” is a day that will ever come. There are people – both men and women – out there who love to keep people hanging onto the hope of an eventual relationship, even if they never intend to make it happen. They like the attention and emotional charge from the people they keep around without ever actually having to give of themselves in the process. They’ll string people along for as long as possible, dangling just enough encouragement to keep hope alive while always having some very good reason why it just can’t happen… yet. And of course, it’s in their interest to keep their marks single because if they find a relationship, then that hold’s gone, isn’t it?
But hey. You know Alice and I don’t. Maybe she’s just a little quirky but has good intentions. So you’ll have to make that call.
In the meantime, what should you do? Working on yourself’s actually a good idea, so yes, you should be spending your energy there. Putting your dating life on hold however, isn’t. It’s better for you to be out there making mistakes and learning from them than it is to be living a monk-like existence in the name of eventually being ready (a day that – if you don’t practice your social skills – will not come; you’ll never think you’re ready.) This goes double for putting yourself on hold specifically for the chance of dating someone. You and Alice may be friends, but that doesn’t obligate you to give her right of first refusal for future relationships. So do your self-improvement and stay on the market. If Alice gets to the point when she’s ready to date you, you can decide for yourself if you still want her, or if you’ve found one of those 9.999 hundred thousand others who’s just as nice. And if she’s pissed that you didn’t put your life on hold just for her… well, then that’s a pretty good sign she wasn’t right for you in the first place.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been a reader for a while and decided to throw my lady-hat into the ring.
Been with Dr. Boyfriend for a couple years now – he was my boy next door during grad school, and I was his girl next door. We fell pretty hard for each other, then one night we talked about Batman and Grim Fandango until five A.M. and… we’ve now decided to take it further: it’s time to play house, share the bills, try to cram all our books into one student-sized shelf.
But! I’m pretty nervous, Doc! Before Dr. Boyfriend, I was a perennially happy single. To be honest I always thought I’d go through life single, and I was mostly OK with that! I’m independent, like my alone time, JRPGs, reading/writing, and binge-watching The Good Wife. Hardly things you do with others – he dislikes courtroom dramas, to boot! And then, for the last 18 months of the relationship, I actually moved to a nearby city to work while he stayed behind in the village. It’s only a 40 minutes train ride, and we saw each other every weekend and sometimes more, but still… I’ve been living alone and away for a while.
Dr. Boyfriend has more experience in this (he lived with another lady before me) and has promised to help me as much as he can with the transition – give me some time alone when I need it, stuff like that. But, do I ask for it? Do I hope he notices when I need it? Do I just start hissing until he goes away?
So in lieu of any question, care to give a gal some tips? How do you live with others, even more after you’ve been alone for so long? How do you handle personal space, personal time, and (of course) sexy time?
Mi Espacio es tu Espacio
DEAR MI ESPACIO ES TU ESPACIO: Having space is pretty critical in a relationship. Yes, the two of you may be partners in crime and sharing your lives together, but you’re also individuals with your own wants and needs. Stick two people together and don’t give them any room to be by themselves and they’ll start driving each other crazy in short order, no matter how in love they are. So yeah, it’s going to be important that you can get your “me” time when you need it. Just as important is being able to ask for it. Different people have different needs and we tend to assume that our partners have the exact same needs we do. So someone who’s more of an attached-at-the-hip kind of person isn’t going to automatically recognize (or understand, for that matter) that their more independent partner’s squirming to get away. So the best thing you can do before you move in together is to get used to asking for what you need instead of assuming your partner’s a mindreader.
In fact, before you move in is the best time to start laying down the groundwork for the rules about how things will work as housemates as well as boyfriend/girlfriend. You and Dr. Boyfriend should sit down over a period of days before you start boxing up your things and figure out issues like cleaning schedules and routines, dividing up chores and household responsibilities and the like. You’re both going to naturally drift to the areas where you’re either best suited or simply care more than the other. You don’t need to split things exactly evenly – even the most egalitarian relationships are going to have some imbalances – but the overall effort put in by both of you will balance things out in the long run.
Please note: this means actual effort. Unless you specifically negotiate a “you pay the bills, I do the housework” arrangement, just putting money in doesn’t count as balance.
And remember what I said about asking for what you need? This includes literal labor as well as emotional labor. If you want him to do more to help – even if it’s just “keep your clutter in one easily contained area” – then you need to be able to ask for him to do so and expect him to follow through. And he needs to be able to ask the same of you.
Oh and one more secret: if at all possible, have his and her sinks and mirrors in the bathroom. This will save the sanity of you both more than almost anything else.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So my high school boyfriend and I, (we’re both doing year 12) have been going through a rough patch for the past month or so that’s impacted our relationship. In fairness, I was part of this as I hadn’t figured out how to deal with my emotions surrounding my recently divorced parents.
However, although my boyfriend loves me, I feel as if he doesn’t want to be tied down or ‘fully commit’ to our relationship. He recently went to a party and met a couple of college girls from Sydney. I only recently found out he was talking to them, as well as his ex, and a girlfriend of theirs. I’m not really concerned about that, per se – they’re just friends. I worry that he’s beginning to feel the need to talk to these college girls though, and he’s going stray from me. We’re 17 and they’re 20 to 21 years old! Other boys who are in my year, who are friends with my boyfriend, supposedly talk with them too. I don’t want this to come in between our us. I feel that he is loyal, but at the moment he is unhappy. We’re working on it, but I feel that I’m committing to this more than he is. We’re on trial till the end of March and I’m worried he’s just holding out till then, but I don’t want to throw everything away!
End of (High-School) Days
DEAR END OF HIGH-SCHOOL DAYS: Straight talk, EoD: every guy you date from now until the end of time is going to talk to other girls. He’ll likely have girls as friends. In fact, he’ll probably have times where he has crushes on girls who aren’t you. That’s all perfectly normal and to be expected; you’re going to have guy friends and guys you’re attracted to as well, even when you’re in a relationship. The sooner you get used to that idea, the less intimidating it will be; you’ll recognize that attraction and crushes happen and doesn’t actually affect your now-and-future beaus’ bond with you, any more than your occasional crush affects how you feel about them.
The other thing, however, that I’m going to be blunt about is that “trial separations” or putting things on pause or “testing” things and the like are usually precursors to break-ups by people who aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger. So if I’m going to be honest, then I’m going to guess that if you’re in a “trial period” after a rough patch, then in all likelihood, that’s going to end with a break-up. Now to be fair: I could be totally wrong; I’m not there and you’re the expert on your own relationship.
But here’s something to keep in mind: 99.9% of relationships in high-school don’t last past graduation, and the ones that do tend to end before the first year of University is over. This doesn’t mean that your relationship was a failure or that you did anything wrong – it’s just that this particular relationship came to it’s natural end and you’re moving to a new phase of your life. Break ups suck but they don’t necessarily mean that the relationship (or you, for that matter) was a failure just because it didn’t end in one or both of you dying in the saddle. If things end amicably and the two of you are able to be friends or have good feelings about the other… that’s a pretty solidly successful relationship in my book.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)