Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
44

Ask Polly: Should I Play It Cool—Or Ask Him For More And Be "That Girl"?

adsfjklasdfkljadfsDear Polly,

I’ve been seeing a dude for about three months. We met online, during an intensive dating-people-online phase of mine prompted by the end of a six-month relationship prior. When we met, I had pretty much given up—not in a resigned, self-pitying way; my attitude was that online dating was wasting too much of my time and energy, with unsatisfactory results, so I was going to keep myself open to romantic possibility, but not actively pursue finding someone.

Then I met this dude—we went for coffee, and I was surprised at the ease of our conversation, and we kept seeing each other and it kept being really nice. About a month later, we had a vague relationship talk (he asked something along the lines of whether I considered him my boyfriend) and thereafter considered ourselves exclusive.

He is not the type of dude I usually go for, and this is a refreshing change. Throughout most of my 20s (for 8 and a half years), I was in (what I now have come to acknowledge as) an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship with a man-child artistic type. This new dude is very independent, has travelled the world, has strong family values, loves his job, and is equal parts nerd and jock. (Relevant information? His longest relationship was three months.) While New Dude and I do have good conversations and a similar sense of humor, we do not share the same depth of intellectual connection as did my ex and I—this intellectual connection was one of the major initial factors in us hooking up. I was also spoiled by the Ex (a three-year remove has allowed me to acknowledge some of the positives of our failed relationship) in that he was extremely articulate and communicative. He sent me daily, multi-paragraph emails full of cute details and in-jokes. On the down side, he also expected several phone calls a day and needed to know where I was all the time—I fully realize that a lot of what I thought was sweet and thoughtful at the time was pretty damn toxic. But I think I’ve subconsciously conflated “caring” with “tons of communication” in a relationship, and this is something that is not happening with New Dude. He doesn’t communicate very frequently—lately, because he did at the very beginning. Is this a settling-into-the-relationship thing? Is three months too soon for this behavior to start? My friends have told me I need to talk to him about this, but my issue (one of my issues) is that I don’t feel that the timing is right to have a chat like this, and that he should be aware of it and shouldn’t need to be told to send a “hey, how’s it going” text every coupla days, and what if the lack of that communication is just indicative of the bigger issue that’s troubling me, i.e. what if our levels of emotional investment are not matched? And what can I do about that—make him like me as much as I like him? I guess that’s what keeps me from wanting to sit down and chat about what’s bothering me—maybe he doesn’t even really care. All I have to go on is the fact that whenever we hang out (twice a week at least, although it’s mostly me initiating / making plans) we have a great time; but the lag in between spending time together fills me with doubts and anxieties, and frankly I don’t wanna be That Girl.

I realize this sounds very trite and trivial. What is my question? Okay, here it is: How can I know if I should fully invest in this relationship?

I realize any new relationship is fraught with scary uncertainties, but I guess I’m just not ready to invest more if it’s not reciprocal (although, who does, right?). Should I sit him and down and talk it out? See if things change? Make myself mellow out and realize New Dude is different than The Ex, has a different style and adjust to that?

(I should add that when we exchanged Christmas cards, he signed his "Your Pal." I signed mine "Love." Telling, no? I should also add, though, that we do call each other “dude," “chief," etc.—very casual jovial terms. Am I letting this argot unintentionally set the tone for our emotional interactions?)

Or is my question: do I even like this guy that much, or am I settling? Should I hold out for the absolute best, someone who matches me in all the ways that count, or is he that guy and more time will uncover that truth? It’s so hard to know yourself, right? What if I’m just terrible at self-assessment and can easily talk myself in and out of things?

Any input you have would be much appreciated.

Sincerely,

Anxious About Reciprocity




Dear AAR,

I want you to think about Lorde for a second. Not Lorde the actual teenager—I don't know much about her, and if you do, scrape that information out of your head. I mean Lorde the brand, the performer, the girl in the dark purple lipstick who gets up on stage at the Grammys and does this.

Pop, sure. Teenager, sure. But undeniably bad ass. And even if the real Lorde turns out to be obsessed with aristocracy and genuinely would LOVE to be a royal, the branded, polished, performing Lorde, the imaginary bad ass, is basically saying, "We reject your horse shit universe of bling, you shallow, worthless fucks you." Lorde the brand works because Lorde the brand stands for something very clear and concrete. Lorde the brand stands for living the life you have right now, and savoring it, and saying NO to all of the shit that doesn't jibe with your ideals and passions.

Now let me ask you this: Would Lorde put up with whatever from this dude you're dating, or would Lorde snort derisively at his card signed "Your Pal" and then toss it into an enormous incinerator and stomp away in her glitter-encrusted hobnail boots?

If you were happy floating along with this, if you didn't mind NOT having an intense intellectual connection, if you were cool with seeing him twice a week, if you didn't get a strange feeling when you read the words "Your Pal" on that flinchy piece of shit Christmas card, that would be one thing. But you don't like the way things are going right now. You don't like it one bit.

And this is not about demanding a lifelong commitment immediately. This is about you. You know what you want. You don't necessarily want someone who texts you fifteen times a day. But you DO want to be in love. You want to be loved by someone who wants to talk a lot, who wants to share himself completely, who WANTS to fall in love and thinks you're extra super special and more than a fucking pal.

So be honest about your true desires here. The single best thing you can do, as a single person and as someone who's just started to date someone new, is be very, very clear about what you want, and what you don't want.

When you don't communicate what you want, because doing so somehow makes you THAT GIRL—unattractive because she has the audacity to ask for exactly what she wants from men (which isn't actually unattractive, ahem)—guess what happens? You are treated as a pal and you are expected to go with the flow. When you sell a guy a fictional story about how cool and easy-going you are, how well you can hang, how low-maintenance you are about everything, all you're doing is torturing yourself and delaying the inevitable moment when he realizes that you can't deliver the low-key gal you promised from the start. Why play along with "Your Pal" and "dude" and "Hey, let's hang out occasionally and ignore each other the rest of the time" when that's not the life you want?

And what's so fucking attractive about that easy-going, no-problem girl anyway? Does she have a single fucking thing in common with Lorde, or is she inadvertently aspiring to be a muted, high-fiving fuck doll? Do you want to be a person, or do you want to be an emotional Hooters waitress, serving up cuddles and hot wings and laughing it off when your ass gets pinched for the 15th million time?

You're not even sure that you're crazy about this guy. You're just trying to WIN HIM, like a big ugly cheap toy at the state fair. You won't know if you really do like him a ton until HE'S IN IT COMPLETELY. If you keep playing along with his "pal" routine, you might trick yourself into thinking that you're in love with him, simply because he's half-assed and therefore slightly mysterious. The last thing you want in your life is to get hung up on someone simply because he's apathetic towards you. What's nuts is that it's sometimes easier to feel feelings for a guy who's WRONG for you and essentially uninterested and unavailable than it is to fall for someone who's totally and completely in your life, present, willing, interested, invested, etc. Cardboard cutouts make great love objects, particularly if you spent too much of your childhood watching The Little Mermaid on repeat, thinking that giving up your excellent tail and your soulful singing voice would be just fine, if it meant spending eternity with that big, bland, macho-zero-nothing Prince Eric.

Why play make-believe just to keep Prince Pal in your life, anyway? You don't NEED a guy—ANY GUY!—in your life, do you? You aren't risking anything by telling a guy who's not really delivering much value to your life EXACTLY what you want, are you? But you ARE risking a lot when you DON'T tell a guy exactly what you want. You're risking wasting a lot of time and emotional energy on someone who's not remotely prepared to share himself with you. DON'T DO IT.

I had a boyfriend who didn't tell me he loved me for a year. It became kind of a joke between us, and I was very patient, because it was obvious that he loved me. But you know what? He was too immature for me. Same thing with the boyfriend who didn't want to talk about the future, didn't want to get a job or put down the bong, but also didn't want to break up or move out. He wanted to maintain the status quo, because that was easier than changing things, showing up, growing up, moving on, or doing anything at all.

When I met my husband, I was 34 years old and had been in several 2-year-long relationships. I was very clear with him about what I would and wouldn't settle for. My husband is not a pushover. But my self-respect and clarity set the tone for our relationship, and allowed us to expect a lot from each other, behavior-wise, instead of allowing lots of room for mutual sloppiness and disrespect. We talked a lot about what it means to accept another person for who they are. We talked about honesty and maintaining a spirit of generosity—which, by the way, if you do it from the very start, really pays off. Instead of saying "You owe me this!" you end up saying "I think I should give you more on this front" or "Why don't you take a break and let me handle this part?"

I'm not saying there aren't snags or fights along the way. But look, if what you REALLY WANT is a strong, healthy, resilient relationship, you don't get it by playing it cool forever. In fact, when you wait too long to say exactly what you want, it comes out all resentful and needy and weak. I'm not saying you have to lay out a plan for your upcoming wedding. I'm just saying you have to make it clear that you'd like to see him regularly, that you want to be honest and open with him about your feelings and have him do the same, and that you don't see the two of you as "pals" and can't really proceed in a relationship that masquerades as a friendship with benefits. Without these things, you don't feel that you'll get to know him any better, and therefore you'll be frustrated AND you'll be wasting your time, time that could be spent getting to know some OTHER GUY who's looking for the same kind of honest, intellectually stimulating, emotionally rich relationship that you are. YOU ARE NOT THE KIND OF WOMAN WHO WANTS TO WASTE HER TIME BULLSHITTING AROUND WITH SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T GIVE A FUCK. If that makes you "That Girl," so be it.

And beware waiting too long. Because if you put off this conversation until you've already bit your tongue and been disappointed a bunch of times, until you're already a little angry about how things have gone, what fucking good is that? You'll end up sounding like someone who's been faking it for too long, who's a little passive aggressive and nuts, who can't be trusted to tell the truth about anything, or who's TOO INSECURE to tell the truth about anything. You assume that leveling with him now will seem needy and insecure, but in fact it'll make you look like a woman who knows what she wants and is confident enough to ask for it. You'll look like a woman who doesn't mind losing a dude who's not all that into her.

BEFORE he disappoints you (again), tell him what you want from him. If he can't give you what you want, that's ok. Move on. Better to figure that out now. Yes, you'll think, "Why did I have to open my fucking mouth?" when things fall apart. But what is the goal here? To stay in a shitty half-assed thing at all costs?

Because I'm telling you, if you don't say a word, this picture doesn't improve. You just get more and more anxious, and then the relationship ends just the same.

AND there's a smallish chance that he'll say, "Yeah, I can do that. I want to be with you." When you stand up for what you want, and you aren't afraid to say it out loud, you'd be amazed how well the world responds to that.

But, let's be honest, lots of guys don't like it. You know what kinds of guys don't like it? The guys who are hiding from themselves, the guys who don't want to be seen, the guys who don't want to show up. AND THEY ARE FUCKING EVERYWHERE, dude. But you don't want someone like that. You want one of the good ones, the ones who can look you in the eye and say, "YES. What you want is not unreasonable. I want to be intellectually met, too. I want to be emotionally open, too. I want to be with YOU."

Acting casual and nonchalant is fine for a while. You don't want to get too intense and over the top straight out of the gate. Who does? But three months into a relationship? It's not only ok to ask for what you need, it's healthy to do so.

I played along with anything and everything for so many years, and it never did anything for me. It just made me feel like a crazy, needy person once the truth came out, that I didn't want to just hang around and act like a guy for the rest of my life. I settled for whatever, time and again, without bringing the full force of who I was into the picture. Eventually, I found myself, through music and writing and through a few strong, committed friendships. And once I understood my own ideas and beliefs about love, and I felt confident enough to express them, I could finally stand up for what I really wanted. I had courage in my convictions. I didn't have to roll along with ways of living that I knew would never serve me or create a happy, fulfilling relationship.

And look, once you make a very clear distinction (This is what I want from a relationship. This is what I DON'T want.) you can actually HAVE FAITH THAT YOU WILL NOT SUFFER THROUGH BULLSHIT AGAIN. You can trust yourself to walk away from bad situations. You can trust that you won't sell yourself short. You can trust yourself to give voice to your desires, and to honor the deepest, truest parts of your soul.

HOW FUCKING GREAT IS THAT? To trust yourself to take care of yourself and honor your soul. When you hit the point where you're not going to sell your fucking soul up the river for a pretty face? That's the turning point into adulthood. That's the beginning of true happiness.

You probably aren't that anxious to sit down and make demands of this guy. But I want you to see this as your big moment of truth. You aren't making demands of anyone. You are simply stating what is real and true for you. He can understand and appreciate it, or he can resist it and move on. Either way, you give him your blessing and your love and there are no hard feelings. You simply know what you want.

Do some writing about what you really, really want from love. Make a list. Then list the things that make you feel disappointed and sad. Talk it all through with a few friends. Revise your list. Spend some time alone and really feel your way through this. You shouldn't be talking yourself into or out of anything. You should be looking deep inside and asking yourself what you want, how you want to live. You should be reaching for the very best possible love and life for yourself. You should be thinking of your favorite bad ass. Don't you deserve to treat yourself with as much adoration and love as Lorde does? And if not WHY THE FUCK NOT? Why don't you cherish yourself and who you are like THAT? What damns you to half-assed fucking men, exactly?

So anyway, tell him. Don't do it when you're angry or disappointed in him. Do it when you feel good about everything. But don't wait too long. Don't wait until you're upset. Do it soon. Tell him what you want. Not "I want marriage and kids right now." But: "I want an intellectually stimulating relationship between equals, where two people share their ideas and feelings." Be specific. And be kind. Let him off the hook. He hasn't promised you anything. Try to accept that this may not be true love. Try to allow him room to want different things.

It's ok if he doesn't want what you want, and he's willing to say it. That's a good outcome, actually. He will be doing you a huge favor if he is honest and tells you that now. The harder thing is the guy who PRETENDS he wants it, kind of, but mostly just doesn't want to move his fear-changing ass off your couch.

Listen to me closely now: The people who dare to ask for an expansive, life-altering love, who will be alone rather than settle for less, are the ones who find it. People who accept less, who figure they don't deserve any better, who figure that it's too much of a risk to tell the truth and scare men off, are the ones who live with a constant feeling of disappointment and neglect. When you neglect yourself and your feelings, you get neglected by others, too.

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for what you want. Does that make you That Girl?

Then BE. THAT. GIRL.

Because That Girl is a shining beacon to the rest of us. That Girl doesn't play along and call herself whatever some dude is calling her, whether it's "pal" or "that chick I'm sleeping with" or "her, over there." That Girl doesn't sit through drifty, disconnected conversations with men who can't show up. That Girl doesn't care if you think she's attractive or appropriate or easy to be around or not. She's not caught up in some dude's love affair—with himself, with his stuff, with his fantasy of how easy and sexy and mysterious True Love will be when he finally finds it, just like a porn flick starring him with a soundtrack by The Shins. That Girl is willing to risk his disapproval for the sake of her own happiness.

Fuck the critics. Fuck the onlookers. Fuck this cold, disapproving world, that doesn't like That Girl or really any fucking girl at all, when it boils right down to it. BE THAT GIRL.

Polly




If your boyfriend spills the wine, does that mean he digs That Girl? Write to Polly and find out!

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo by ArtFamily from Shutterstock.

44 Comments / Post A Comment

HelloTheFuture (#259,085)

Also: read "Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find-and Keep-Love" by Amir Levine, or the awesome awesome awesome "A Scientific Guide to Successful Relationships" by Emily Nagoski. Both of these books address "how to communicate with an avoidant partner," because this dude is AVOIDING, hard.

Taffeta Darling (#260,337)

@HelloTheFuture I don't think this guy is really avoiding, because there's not much to avoid. I think Polly's right in that the LW should clearly lay down her desires and needs, but this guy doesn't need to be pushed into anything—he's clearly not that invested. Fuck it.

Werner Hedgehog (#11,170)

@HelloTheFuture There's not actually much information about Dude, here, so it's hard to tell.

For all we know, LW might finally indicate her needs to him, and he responds positively. Or he could respond negatively, but in a forthright manner characteristic of a secure style.

Taffeta Darling (#260,337)

@Werner Hedgehog True, true.

HelloTheFuture (#259,085)

@Werner Hedgehog That's totally fair. I read "he doesn't initiate communication" and assumed avoidant, but I could be wrong. Either way they're good books to read, yes?

Taffeta Darling (#260,337)

@HelloTheFuture Sure!

enic (#241,103)

@HelloTheFuture Yeah, some guys just suck at texting, or being The One To Call? It doesn't mean you can't ask for that and/or establish a communicative relationship where you're just generally the One That Calls and it's not actually a power play.

Also, the "Your Pal" thing sounds like it could've been a poorly-thought-out joke?

Don'tcallmeJenny (#245,210)

@HelloTheFuture @Enic: I am the girl that sucks at texting or being "The One to Call". My husband had to do ALL the communication heavy lifting early on in our relationship because while I am a chatterbox in person I never really got into communicating via text and I have serious issues understanding most people (and especially most men) on the phone.

HelloTheFuture (#259,085)

@enic Plus, if you read the timeline, they may have barely started dating by Christmas.

registeredtrout (#260,423)

@Werner Hedgehog every time i see your name i think about how i wish i had thought of it and started a band called werner hedgehog. that's all. <3

That. Was fucking awesome. Thank you Polly.

nonvolleyball (#9,329)

it's so sad to me that I'll Be the Cool Uncaring Girl & Soon Everything Will Be Perfect is such a common phase–I went through it too, & it only served to teach me what an exercise in futility it really is.

some of my facebook friends were having a discussion of why "I won't tell you why I'm mad; you should know" is considered a trope of female argumentation & I think it comes from the same place: not feeling like it's okay to speak up for yourself, thus silently stewing in the vain hope that somehow your needs will become magically known & met.

be That Girl, letter writer. always & forever. That Girl is way happier than the "cool" one who pretends she doesn't care.

paddlepickle (#8,731)

FIST PUMP.

Also, I knew this relationship was doomed as soon as she started analyzing all the differences between this relationship and the current one, how the intellectual connection is different and the communication is different and blah blah blah. . .one thing I have realized is that if you are analyzing a relationship to death it means it's just not right. When you meet the right person, you won't have to spend endless hours figuring out whether this or that thing is OK because it'll just be. . .right. I completely forget about this rule every time I fall head over heels for some wrong-for-me moron, but it's become very easy for me to spot it in my friends.

City_Dater (#2,500)

Heather, you are such a good writer and a THINKING PERSON.
If women would just back away from the jackass self-help books and speak up for themselves, knowing that a guy who responds badly to honesty isn't The Right Guy, the world would be a better place.

lemonadefish (#259,518)

The best thing anyone's ever done for me is once a friend-with-benefits told me that I am not actually low maintenance at all. It was quite a revelation. it's okay to have needs, and best if you can express them.

rosyfive (#252,114)

OH. MY. GOD. I JUST went through this almost exact-same scenario, and I hope my story can help.

BACKGROUND: A guy I'd grown up with started pursuing me pretty intensely, and we started the early-stages of dating, long distance. But after going on about 4 or so dates, he basically dropped off the face of the planet and started only contacting me once or twice a month (when he was out of town or traveling.) Then he'd pop back into town, and ask me out on dates, act all sweet, and then….repeat. Looking back now, I wince that I made so many excuses (he was busy! It was too early on for me to expect much! he has a crazy schedule and unusual career!) for him and put up with this behavior. Like you, emergency flares were going off in my gut but I think I didn't want to admit this was another guy who was possibly just not that into me. I internalize every time a guy loses interest or treats me like crap, so facing rejection is something I was just avoiding and delaying.

Overall, we were casually dating for about 4 months, and I had put myself through about 2-3 months of emotional torture – wondering why he wasn't getting in touch more often, blaming myself for not being lovable enough that he'd call me more often, trying to tell myself to stop being needy – before I just couldn't take it anymore. Actually, Polly's semi-recent post on telling tepid guys to FUCK OFF came right around the time when I had just had it up to here. At this point, he was still being sweet/pursuing me in certain ways/giving me JUST enough attention, so that it hadn't dissolved into full-on booty call status yet (although I was definitely aware I was basically just his quasi-girlfriend in x city), so I wasn't yet fully angry, mad or upset. And so I said to him, calmly, with no bitterness, point blank, one night while sitting on my blue couch: "I like you a lot, I want a relationship with you and in general, and I want to know what's happening.. If you don't want those same things, I've got to move on".

Was that needy, crazy, desperate? Some of my friends balked when I told them this story. But you know what's ACTUALLY crazy, needy and desperate? Allowing a guy to treat you like an option, while a part of you dies inside and you start to hate yourself for not having the balls to walk away. Blowing up at him and crying about how he "doesn't love you enough" after you've strung the situation on too long and have reached an emotional breaking point. Like Polly says, saying what you want and relaying it in a calm, open manner shows that: you're mature and smart enough to know what you want, you think you deserve to get what you want, you're not ashamed of what you want, and basically that you know your self-worth and it's HIGH.

My guy was actually appreciative that I was so direct, and honest in his response: he told me he couldn't give me what I needed because he lives 3,000 miles from me and his career forces him to travel so often that we'd barely see each other (Valid. Although it doesn't really explain his inability to text, he doesn't live in Yemen.) So I ended it. And it gave me a lot of closure, knowing I had been 100% honest, knew where we stood, and that I could now close that chapter, look forward, and move on. I'm the type of person who can't lie to myself about wanting something or feeling things for someone – admitting it out loud and communicating about it took away the anxiety and shame, and set me free.

He was upset, and the next time he came into town he got all emotional and told me I was so amazing/too good for him. He was probably just trying to get into my pants again, but I do believe that – as an added bonus of sorts – he thought I was a classy person of value for having an honest discussion with him, not settling for something I didn't want, and not getting passive-aggressive and dramatic about his mixed-signals. It communicated: I like you a lot and want something with you – but I like me more, and I'm going to make sure I'm getting what I want first and foremost. Ironically, I went from feeling rejected for 3 months to actually rejecting him.

Sorry, rambling here…but as a person who didn't *technically* get what she wanted out of this situation, I just want to say that there are still payoffs and that Polly's right. Maybe, in the end, I'm not with this guy – but I see now that he couldn't give me what I want anyways. I have a major tendency, which I'm just realizing now, to want to "win" a guy or make him fall for me when I'm not even sure how I feel about him. But guys like this, in the end, can't deliver us what we want – if we want real, deep, honest, open love. So, yes, you might not get the guy from this, but what you gain is a sense of control, a sense of empowerment, a sense that no matter what you will be able to have your own back. You're not going to choose some random, whatever dude over your own piece of mind and happiness. Honestly, I have been through countless shitty dating experiences and made countless mistakes – I've been jerked around and dumped – but after this, I felt mature, confident, calm, secure and just earned a whole lot of respect for myself. And that was a gift, a life changing outcome, that I didn't expect from this sort of awkward, painful, confusing situation.

GOOD LUCK! If I can do it, you can.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@rosyfive "Was that needy, crazy, desperate? Some of my friends balked when I told them this story. But you know what's ACTUALLY crazy, needy and desperate? Allowing a guy to treat you like an option, while a part of you dies inside and you start to hate yourself for not having the balls to walk away. Blowing up at him and crying about how he "doesn't love you enough" after you've strung the situation on too long and have reached an emotional breaking point. Like Polly says, saying what you want and relaying it in a calm, open manner shows that: you're mature and smart enough to know what you want, you think you deserve to get what you want, you're not ashamed of what you want, and basically that you know your self-worth and it's HIGH."

YES YES YES THIS so much. You are rock solid and amazing and I respect you so much for this comment.

dearheart (#4,203)

@rosyfive "I like you a lot and want something with you – but I like me more, and I'm going to make sure I'm getting what I want first and foremost." Full on hearts for eyes over that.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

Oh my god, Polly, I had the boyfriend who didn't say he loved me for a year!

I mean, after three months I definitely had feelings so I was like, "Look, I'm going to say I love you sometimes but it's ok if you don't say it back. You shouldn't say it unless you feel like it." I meant this. At that point, I considered myself a tough broad who didn't regard her feelings as important but cared for the fragile feelings of guys I was dating. And so thus began another 9-11 months of me saying it and him not saying it. And you know what? It was totally a joke between us, etc, but it HURT. It hurt that he didn't feel it.

When we broke up and then got together, I became more ruthless. Really, having been heartbroken already over this dude was the key to standing up for myself. And you know? He hated it SO MUCH. I had forced him to give me the key to my lovely apartment (80%of the reason he was dating me, I still believe) when we broke up. When I took him back reluctantly, I didn't trust him to respect me, so I didn't give him the key. He hated this and nagged me about it until I told him it was absolutely never happening EVER and then he'd make passive aggressive comments about it when we were together or "forget" he didn't have a key and then be sad, etc. He started saying I Love You but I realized I didn't feel it anymore and it made me question why I would put up with him treating me just as badly as he had before.

So I dumped him.

And he screamed at me and called me a selfish cunt, etc etc.

Honestly, it was the best compliment I've ever received.

Now, the guy I married had some vulnerability/communication/trust issues since he'd been in some bad relationships, and he was not on the same level with me when we started regarding commitment. But,difficult and painful as it was, I laid out my needs and wants and fears and expectations, and he laid out his, and we were able to begin the process of working out how to be together.

TL;DR:
So anyway, anecdata and all, when you're not getting what you need, so much better to stand up for yourself. If you don't, you'll never know if he would have turned out to be amazing for you. If you do, you will discover who he is. Is he just having a little trouble or is he actually kind of a douche? Only one way to find out and nothing to lose but Future You's Self Respect.

daveyjones (#260,361)

@Xenu01 my partner and i have been together almost three years, and neither one of us have said "i love you" to one another, except in a cutesy jest way. it's just how we are. but we do, i'm certain, love each other. i think something missing from this discussion is that, there are no hard and fast rules of communication that must be followed by everyone. what's important is communication compatibility.

1) He's Just Not That Into You. I personally think you can let this one go without the conversation. Why bother? There's no sign that he considers you more than a sexually-available pal.

2) oh, man I have played the "It's Cool, I Don't Need Anything More" game SO MANY times. And it's 100% NEVER worth doing. Partners cannot respect this move! Even the most wonderful, loving, commitment-potential man will let his interest drift if this is the game that's played. Because ultimately, the message one is sending is "I'm not that invested either, so no biggie", which is NOT what is actually meant/felt/intended. And such double-meaning is relationship death before the relationship evens goes anywhere.

Xenu01 (#244,135)

@Sharilyn Neidhardt Or, "I'm a weenie who doesn't need you to treat me with respect & consideration."

Either way, it sucks SO MUCH. WHy do we do this to ourselves???

chevyvan (#201,691)

@Sharilyn Neidhardt
Oh yeah. Being "Cool Girl" just means white-knuckling it through a relationship for months at a time. Having panic attacks in the bathroom and then collecting yourself so you seem as calm and open and available as you always are b/c you're *cool.* It's such a force of habit at this point in my life that I'm afraid I can't stop.

Danzig! (#5,318)

Gonna back up what Polly says (as always). I was on the other end of this scenario not very long ago but felt much the same confusion, and as Polly says it's a matter of what you want. It's important to make the distinction between what you want and what you feel you should want. I mean the former as in what will make you happy, and the latter as in what makes you feel "correct".

When I met this woman at 26 it was the first time a date seemed like it was on track to become a relationship. In my gut I felt like it wasn't working, and I wasn't enjoying myself, from the very beginning. But I didn't trust myself. I thought I had something that I was wasting on a reflex, "this will shift over time and I will come to appreciate this", I thought. I was being too hasty, or fickle, and I thought to master myself into wanting what I should have wanted, which was to be with a seemingly nice woman (who I had no spark with). I saw my best self as being in a relationship and I didn't understand why running from one made sense, so I wrote it off as nonsensical. That's a wrong thing on many, many levels.

It didn't get better, obviously. I waited and it got worse, and I put myself in a position where I had lied to this woman in the process of lying to myself about what I wanted. And it ended abruptly, with hurt feelings, less than two weeks into it.* At what point (if ever) do the sunk costs of a relationship start to weigh heavily? Given what you know about this guy, does it seem more constructive to try and light a fire under his ass to straighten up and fly right, or cut ties after 3 months? Is this worth the effort to try and salvage? Being alone isn't so terrifying. It certainly promises grander possibilities than this.

* What I would say in my defense was that I was scared by the irate texts I received over not keeping daily communication after our very first date, after I had told her my life was consumed by school, that I'm well autistic and that marathon conversation is often taxing and difficult for me. But in truth I should have trusted myself from the outset and not left open the possibility of progression. It was a lesson I would've learned in high school had I been a normal boy. I won't do that again.

paupaupewpew (#260,363)

As someone who spoke up but still fell for a hot-cold man…and dragged myself through a 3 year on-off again will-he-hear-me-now or won't he… i urge the writer to HEED THIS ADVICE, so you don't hurt yourself in the long run like I did… and even after/if he says YES to wanting to be with you..take time to make sure his ACTIONS back that up to meet your standards…or you can live in 3 years of limbo that will be twice as difficult to undo once the relationship finally dies.

Ớt Cay@facebook (#260,372)

One thing that sticks out at me upon re-reading is that she does mention that this guy's longest relationship was three months.

Squirrel Bait (#260,369)

Wait, wait, wait. The LW says that she has been with this guy for three months. It is now mid-February. So even if we assume that this letter has been sitting in Polly's inbox for a few weeks, they had only been together maybe two months tops at Christmas. That seems way too soon to be reading a lot of things into the valediction on a dumb Christmas card.

That said, I think the LW needs to move on. Have the conversation if you want to (if nothing else, it might be good practice at expressing your needs), but I doubt this is the complex, emotionally available man you seek. In my personal experience, when it's right, it's easy. Easier than you even thought possible. There is no anxiety about wondering how to make the other person care. Because when two people are mutually crazy about each other, it would be tough to STOP them from being in regular contact with each other.

skyslang (#11,283)

@Squirrel Bait I don't know. People have different needs. Some people need more space, some people need more contact. It's good to talk about what you need. The letter writer needs more contact–maybe this dude just needs more space. Maybe he just wants things to remain casual, maybe he just wants to move slowly into a serious relationship? There might not be a single thing "wrong" with him…except for the same thing that's "wrong" with letter writer, IE the inability to speak up about what he wants.
Just speaking from experience, as a guy who likes to take it slow. My BF likes to move fast. We talked about it early on and worked it out. 1.5 years later, smooth sailing, mostly. Talking is just good. As is not judging other people just because they've got different needs.

nadie (#807)

FUCK YEAH, POLLY!!

beetnemesis (#247,919)

This was wayyyy too long. I'm guessing there's a certain word-threshold she has to meet, but seriously.

"He can't read your mind. Be clear about what you want. Don't compare new guys to your ex."

Boom, done.

discombobulated (#239,798)

@beetnemesis yeah, why would you want to read something passionate and personalized when you could read 20 words of advice-column cliches?

BeenThereDoneThat (#258,177)

Freakin great advise and so tinely. I love reading the comments almost as much as the advice

AbigailHolt29 (#260,473)

my dad got a fantastic gold Mercedes S-Class Diesel by working online. learn the facts here now C­a­s­h­S­t­o­r­e­d­.­c­o­m­

"What's nuts is that it's sometimes easier to feel feelings for a guy who's WRONG for you and essentially uninterested and unavailable than it is to fall for someone who's totally and completely in your life, present, willing, interested, invested, etc."

It IS nuts! I'm in a situation like that right now, where I've started seeing a guy that is really cute, smart, funny, interesting, etc. but on the other side I have a, ahem, guy on the side who is probably wrong for me for all the right reasons and yet I feel like I'm more interested in that than the one I know I sould be pursuing. I guess I'm concerned that maybe the natural attraction just isn't there as much for the first guy, but I don't know! It's also probably way too soon to tell.
But be comforted, LW, you are not alone.

bkallday (#254,948)

DAMN, GIRL. That was fucking magnificent. Thank you!

missydee (#272,296)

First off–Polly, you rock.
I love it every time you bring up the ubiquitous fear we modern women have of being "That Girl". I've shared it with many friends and they've brought it back up to me in many a conversation about dating and men.
Secondly, RIGHT ON with this one.
A year and half ago, I started a madcap whirlwind of online dating, burnt out on it, met a guy I really liked and we had a non-monogamous thing going for almost a year. It's what I wanted, it's what he wanted, it was all good.
And then? In the process of dating him and also other people, I started to notice how much I really loved the more "boyfriendy" things some of the other guys I was dating were doing for me. Keeping in touch, making me feel thought of, talking about the future, stepping up and helping me with shit, telling me they were in love with me. And one day, I woke up and wanted a boyfriend. A monogamous, ready-to-fall-in-love boyfriend.
It was clear to me that I needed to tell this guy (who I liked more than the others) how much I cared for him, which had not felt included in the territory we were covering. And also that I needed to break up with him. I was no longer getting what I wanted, because what I wanted had changed. I wasn't sure what to do about it, and I actually stumbled upon Polly's letters and her words gave me such insight.
I told him I loved him. He told me he was too scared to risk telling anyone he loved them (and how if he COULD risk it, though, he'd say it to ME. Ha ha.). The next week I told him I thought we should just be friends, that what I wanted had changed, and laid out the things I needed and wanted now.
And? I expected him to say, "That doesn't work for me." or "I just don't want that." (because he'd pretty clearly told me he didn't want that when I said I loved him). I wasn't imagining HE was the person who would give me those things. I just knew I needed them. I thought he was going to say, "I know I can't give you that."

But he didn't. He told me he wanted a chance to do all those things. And he started doing them. And he told me how in love with me he is and how much better his life is with me in it.

Five months later, he's not perfect. But he is trying, and mostly succeeding, to be the guy that I choose. And he seems to clearly appreciate that I am CHOOSING him. He opened a door once I told him exactly what I needed from a guy, and stepped up and is trying to be it.
Sometimes, they'll surprise you. You just gotta be clear about what you need. I'm "That Girl" sometimes and thanks to Polly I LOVE when I realize I'm being her.

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