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May 8, 2012 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
Dr. Love, I have been dating a guy that I met online for about 3 months now. We hit it off wonderfully and began to build a great friendship immediately. Initially, I told him that I was not interested in giving myself intimantely until I was in an exclusive relationship. After almost two months of only seeing each other but no real discussion of commitment, we slept together. I immediately began to feel uneasiness about what that meant and whether or not we were building towards a serious relationship. We had a discussion about it and my guy assured me that he was not a fly-by-night operation but did want to take his time launching into something serious because that type of comittment meant a lot to him. I respect that and whole-heartedly agree. However, I have found myself feeling like he's pulling away. The texts are more spaced out and infrequent (though we have never gone a day without some form of communication) and the phone conversations have gone from every night to 2-3 times per week. Now, I completely understand that the beginning stages are new and exciting and those intial 5 hour conversations EVERY night do dissapate to make room for normal life, but I feel a shift happening here. I am not sure if it's due to comfort or if he's scaling back for a let-down. I've seen all of the blog posts offering advice and they all seem to give similar advice of how I should behave. Mainly, "follow his lead", "pull back a bit as well", "take time to invest more in your own life", and I am prepared to do all of those things, but I want to know if I should discuss my feelings with him or will this portray me as "needy" and scare him away. I definitely don't want to chase him and that's how this new shift is making me feel so I am preparing myself to pull away a little, but I can't turn off my feelings and I would feel like I was denying myself if I don't talk to him about it. On the other hand, I don't want to do so at the cost of sabbatoging the relationship. What should I do?
A girl with needs, who's not needy :)
Here's what you said happened: You told yourself that you wouldn’t sleep with him unless you were in a sexually exclusive relationship. Then after two months of dating exclusively, and no discussion of “commitment” to quote your words, you slept with him. Then after you slept with him you tried to have an honest discussion with him in which you were hoping for full "emotional disclosure" from him. To that end, you asked if you were building toward a serious relationship. It was after you tried to talk with him about your future that he started to run away.
Without your realizing it, you freaked him out when you had the talk because you came across like you were asking for a commitment. Specifically, you seem to be using the words commitment and exclusivity interchangeably. But, in fact, these two words don’t mean the same thing! Your relationship is only a couple of months old and you can’t expect a man to give you a commitment so early in the game. But you can say that you will only have sex with him if you are sexually exclusive with each other. This needed to be said up front before you had sex! One thing’s sure. You’ve learned a lesson. In the future, the sexual exclusivity discussion needs to happen before you give yourself sexually.
Here’s exactly what I think happened to him. When you had sex with him and then you had the talk about building toward a serious relationship, he thought you were looking for a commitment, when what you really meant was you want exclusivity. By the way, asking for more than exclusivity so early in the game is what triggered his fear of commitmentFear of commitment is invariably caused by wounds suffered in childhood. Fear of commitment can be caused by a deeper fear of being taken over, devoured, wiped out, and/or trapped and unable to get...(Click for full definition.) reaction.
When you asked him whether you’re building toward a serious relationship it feels like your own anxiety and need to gain a sense of control got in the way. The result is it made this guy feel like you’re trying to trap him in a net by asking for a commitment too early in the relationship, long before he knows whether you’re right for each other or not.
To permit a new relationship to grow into a serious committed one, you have to be willing to “sit” with the feelings of unease that come from living in limboland. In truth, it will take time to know whether you are right enough for each other to form a serious, committed bond. To get to this point, you have to be capable of taking the ride and tolerating the discomfort associated with the limbo state; this means you must surrender the illusion of control and allow your relationship to unfold.
Now you can see why it makes sense to not have sex until you feel more certain about the rightness of the relationship. If you add sex to the mix too early, before the relationship is solid, you take an emotional risk in that you can bond to someone with whom you actually may not be able to form a lasting relationship with. The bond you forge through the physical intimacyAn intimate relationship is a particularly close interpersonal relationship. It can be defined by these characteristics: enduring behavioral interdependence, repeated interactions, emotional...(Click for full definition.) can cause your heart to get tied up with the wrong person.
Now where do you go from here?
Because you didn’t have the discussion about sexual exclusivity beforehand, your discussion after sex made you seem needy to him, like you’re trying to force him into a commitment. So now you're walking a tricky tightrope in which you have to do some repair.
I don’t agree with the advice you’ve been reading on the net regarding just giving him space. That’s not taking care of yourself and setting your own clear boundaries. At the same time, you need to set your boundaries in such a way that you don’t come across as needy, controllingExamples of controlling behavior include within an intimate relationship include: one partner isolating the other from his/her friends or family; not letting ythe partner go out of the house, to the...(Click for full definition.) and like you’re trying to put a net around him.
You can achieve both ends by being brutally honest and clarifying what happened, what you didn’t say and should have said and, most importantly, clarifying that you believe you have given him the wrong impression—namely that you are looking for a commitment right now, which isn’t the case. When you clarify that you aren’t trying to trap him, he’ll feel more at ease and will want to come closer to you again.
Keep in mind that you have to have the right mental/emotional outlook or else you will come across as needy. But, you won’t sound needy if you aren’t needy! And the only way you won’t sound needy is if you are willing to love yourself, truly honor your own boundaries and take care of yourself even if this includes letting him go. If he senses that you are this independent, you will not only not sound needy, you will actually bring him closer to you again because your independence will give him the breathing room he needs, allowing him to feel that you aren’t actually trying to put a net around him.
Here’s how you can speak about this so that you take care of yourself and still not make him feel controlled and backed into a corner.
You could say: I think I gave you the wrong impression that I’m looking for a commitment right now, which isn’t true.
Ask if it’s true that he read you this way.
If he says yes, then continue to explain: The misunderstanding came about because I didn’t let you know before we slept together that the only way I am comfortable in sleeping with you is if we are sexually exclusive. When I brought the issue up after we had sex, the words I used regarding wanting to work toward a serious relationship came off like I am looking for a commitment now! Obviously, I want to have a serious relationship that leads to a commitment, but it’s far too soon for us to know whether WE are right for each other and meant to have this kind of relationship together. What I want to clarify is the fact that I’m not willing to have sex with you unless we’re exclusive. Are we on the same page?
Given that he’s had such cold feet, I wouldn’t push the other question of whether or not he wants to work toward a serious relationship. You don’t need to push that point now. If he’s exclusive with you and the relationship is fun and feels right to him, a serious relationship will develop naturally and he should want to go forward with you and commit.
If he isn’t willing to be exclusive sexually, then you will want to tell him that you are going to start dating other men.
You have to be Zen about this guy. You know you want him, but as sad as it would be, you must be prepared to widen your net and continue looking for a man who is ready to give you the sexual exclusivity, and ultimately the serious relationship and commitment that you deserve.
If he says that he’s not sure, he needs more time, etc., etc., then you tell him without anger that that’s fine, but that you’re going to start dating other men.
By doing this, you are placing yourself in the driver’s seat, where you should have remained all along. You are showing him that you are a woman who respects herself and who is wanted by many other suitors. You are not needy; you refuse to chase him and you are not willing to wipe out your requirement of sexual exclusivity in order to keep him. Instead, you will place yourself back on the market and pick the one man who gives you the kind of relationship that you deserve. This doesn’t sound needy; it sounds healthy. Believe it or not, taking this self-loving and self-affirming position is a magnet for men.
If this guy is capable of love and intimacy, he’ll stand up and take notice. And he will fight to keep you.
If he isn’t willing or capable of being sexually exclusive with you, it’s better to know it now, sooner rather than later, before you become even more attached.
The bottom line is, no matter how much you like him, if he’s not prepared to give you what you want and deserve then he isn’t for you.
Promise to let me know what happens.
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