DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So I’ve not been looking much into dating with the pandemic going on. But since things seem to be turning the corner I’ve been reconsidering and thinking about what I can improve from the past.
The past year has had some personal changes not just pandemic related. The first is finally getting a good combo of meds and finally managing my anxiety and depression. The other is that while thinking about what interests me in someone, I’ve realized I’m demiromantic. I realize this knowledge is helpful, but I’m seeing trouble. I realize I don’t want to date someone until I have a sense of who they are, but almost any woman I’m likely interested in has made up her mind by then.
I’ve noticed a pattern: I catch feelings for someone I’ve known for a bit, usually a friend, but they don’t feel the same way and want to stay friends.
You and others have said that attraction should be established early on, since people will decide what kind of relationship that have and want based on early interactions. The problem is that I don’t know if I want to date someone until we’re already somewhat friendly.
How can I keep the possibility of a relationship open until I know if I’m interested?
DEAR SLOW BURN: As a general rule, I believe that folks should make their interest known early on. This encourages people to be direct and up front, helps eliminate confusion and mixed signals and helps folks avoid getting stuck in “The Friend Zone”.1 It’s easier, faster and more efficient over all.
But while I believe this is the best practice, it’s not the only way people meet or start to date. Demisexuals and demiromantics, for example, will take time to develop attraction to someone as they build emotional intimacy or get to know people. That means that making your intentions known early on difficult because… well, most of the time, you either don’t know your intentions or your intentions are friendship.
The issue in play here is the idea that folks have two settings: “friend” or “romantic/sexual interest”, and once you’re locked in on one of those… that’s it. Which is demonstrably not true — ex-lovers will can and do stay friends afterwards, for example — but that doesn’t mean that people don’t treat it like a rule handed down on carved tablets.
The thing to keep in mind is that while some folks do keep their friends and potential lovers strictly separate, there are plenty of people for whom the line is a little squishier. Not that they see their friends as potential f--k-buddies but that they can acknowledge that hey, Slow Burn is kinda hot, y’know? And hey, if he were to ask them out on a date… well, they’d definitely have to think about it, but they’d probably be down.
Now that’s obviously not going to be the case with everyone, and there are definitely folks who will just not be into you romantically or sexually no matter what. But if you’re starting to be into someone, you can throw out a light ping and see if they’re at least interested. A little light flirting or even “hey, you’re gorgeous, you know?” can give you an opportunity to gauge potential interest from them and see if they’re interested in more. If you do catch a vibe, then you can tell them “hey, I really like you and I’m interested in seeing if there’s something more here than just friendship. If you’re down, I would love to take you on an actual date.”
Part of the key to making this work is to invite the no. Tell them up front that it’s totally ok if they’re not interested and you’re cool with them saying ‘no’ helps make it a little less awkward; you’re letting them know in advance that it’s ok to let you down and that you’re not going to be one of the asshats who is going to turn around and make everything about “BUT WHY WON’T YOU GIVE ME A CHAAAAAANCE”.
The other key is, simply be a good, socially calibrated and well-liked guy. While this may seem like a “duh, George” kind of thing, the people who tend to move from friends to lovers are usually the ones who are confident, who are socially well-calibrated and who are all around good people. That doesn’t mean that you need to be the shiniest penny in the jar, don’t get me wrong. It just means that folks who are good boyfriend material overall do better. Being your best self, the kind of person who folks like to hang around with, makes it much more likely that when you start catching feelings for someone, they’re more likely to have some feelings of their own.
And here’s the thing: playing the long game can work in your favor. The more someone gets to know you, the more attractive they tend to find you to be.
Will there be times that the person you start to be into will date someone else? Yes… but that’s always going to be a risk, even if you make your intentions known early on. And while you could, theoretically, be the kind of person who tries to keep people’s interest until they’re ready… that gets tedious really damn fast, and it’s not fair to the other person.
So, while it may not be as quick, easy or efficient for folks who form attractions quickly, being demisexual or demiromantic isn’t the one-way ticket to The Friend Zone that folks often assume it is. As it often is for folks who have more common attraction patterns, it’s about being your best, most attractive self and knowing when someone may be interested in exploring something more with you. The only difference is, ultimately, the timing.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org