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Monday, February 24, 2014

SL Letter of the Day: Trust a Gut

Posted by on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 6:17 PM

I'm a 21-year-old bisexual male on the edge of what might be a potential relationship with a guy I really like who goes to the same college as me. We met online in November and went on two dates before leaving for winter break. We proceeded to talk to each other every day of break. When the new quarter started I went over to his house and we had sex for the first time. It was my first time being with a guy and he was super GGG. We ended up spending that whole day together and continued seeing each other. Recently our communication has been lagging since we are both busy college students, but I felt like I was the one initiating the few conversations we've recently had. I was afraid of losing him so I asked him if I should take a hint. He said that he hasn't had time to think about things and doesn't know what he wants right now. He said he needs to think about what he wants to do with himself and doesn't want to lead me on. I told him he already had. He apologized and said he understood how I could think that, but also said that he had never directly stated he had feelings for me. I don't expect to be a priority and have let him know that he shouldn't feel obligated to talk to me unless he wants to talk to me. I feel like I've screwed things up by coming across as a psycho and have damaged my chances of dating him. I would be fine if we kept things casual, but I just don't know how else to handle this situation. What do I do?

Boyfriend Interrupted

My response after the jump...


You don't mention prior relationships with either women or men, BI, so I'm going to assume that you're not only new to man-on-man sex, but new anyone-on-anyone relationships as well. Because inexperience is the only charitable explanation for your failure to recognize that you were being dumped. The boy didn't dump you in clear and unambiguous terms, probably because he's inexperienced himself, but he dumped you just the same. Allow me to translate:

"I just needed time to think about things." = "I was hoping you wouldn't call."

"I don't know what I want." = "I don't know what I do want but I do know what I don't want: You."

"I don't want to lead you on." = "I don't have the balls to break up with you in clear and unambiguous terms because I'm afraid of hurting you and I'm a coward so I'm gonna say things like 'I don't know what I want' and 'I just need time to think about things' and hope you'll connect the dots sometime after you're out of my apartment but you'll probably wind up thinking you still have a chance with me for weeks or months and then when you finally do realize that it's actually over—or when someone explains to you that it's actually over—the hurt will be much, much worse for you."

So what do you do, BI?

Don't call him, don't text him, and don't be too angry with him. You dated for a month, you had sex once, and then he realized—for whatever reason—that you weren't the right guy for him. That happens. Dating is equal parts audition and discovery process. He auditioned for you and the more you discovered about him, BI, the more you liked him. You auditioned for him... and, well, he didn't feel the same way. Rejection sucks, I realize (because I've been there), but it's unavoidable and shit like "I don't know what I want" only makes it worse. So when it's your turn to dump someone—when someone fails your audition—be honest and straightforward. Don't do to anyone else what this guy just did to you. Don't be a coward, don't speak in code, don't leave him or her or zim or zer or them or zem nursing false hopes.

One final thing to do, BI: trust your gut. Your gut was telling you to take the hint and guess what? Your gut was right. Listen to your gut next time. It's the great dot connector.


Comments (30) RSS

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VelhoSorriso 1
Best advice ever: Listen to your gut. Particularly with regard to relationships.
Posted by VelhoSorriso on February 24, 2014 at 6:57 PM · Report this
very bad homo 2
Yup. It totally and completely sucks, and I wish I had learned this when I was 21. There's nothing worse than getting dumped by someone who's too much of a coward to come and and, well, dump you.
Posted by very bad homo on February 24, 2014 at 6:59 PM · Report this
Original Andrew 3
@ 2,

Finding out that my first college boyfriend--who was VGL and way out of my league anyway--had banged half the men and women on campus wuz worse. Still replay the s-e-x like a mental DVD though. Wowza.
Posted by Original Andrew on February 24, 2014 at 7:09 PM · Report this
yep. the only thing missing from this advice was to reassure him he did not come across as a psycho, just confused and unsure. and that's totally natural for him to be those things at this point in his young life.
Posted by ellarosa on February 24, 2014 at 7:15 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 6
"He's just not that into you."
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on February 24, 2014 at 7:15 PM · Report this
I'd add that the time for this: "I would be fine if we kept things casual"...

...was before you confronted him about whether he was falling in love with you. Once you've told him that you felt he was leading you on, he can't possibly date you casually any more.

Posted by EricaP on February 24, 2014 at 7:43 PM · Report this
I almost feel sorry enough for this LW to hope that the other party was being misled by a friend who was handsome, clever and rich.
Posted by vennominon on February 24, 2014 at 7:58 PM · Report this
seandr 10
Let this be a lesson to you, LW - never fall in love again.
Posted by seandr on February 24, 2014 at 8:11 PM · Report this
Try not to dwell on it and move on. There's plenty of time to meet someone new. Just enjoy yourself.
Posted by Really Now... on February 24, 2014 at 9:02 PM · Report this
nocutename 13
You know what, BI, you should be unashamed of your conduct, which was fine at every step of the way. You were honest, you stood up for yourself, you put yourself in a vulnerable position. Getting your heart stomped is always painful, but you didn't come off as psycho with this coward--you let him know how you felt and what you wanted, and to a certain extent you called him on his bullshit.

Think of how much worse you'd have felt if you had maintained that "it's fine if we keep things casual" façade when you wanted more, for fear of scaring him off. This would have given him the opportunity to keep stringing you along with just barely enough of his attention and for him to say things that you wanted to believe or that you could twist into being what you wanted to hear, so that when the inevitable dumping finally came, you'd be so, so much more invested. And then in your pain you'd remember the myriad clues he'd dropped that you didn't let yourself acknowledge, or that you tried to bat away by being the cool guy. So on top of all the heartache you'd have self-recrimination and the feeling that you should have listened to him when you knew in your gut that he didn't want what you wanted.

This hurts now, but it is much better. And you've got your dignity and self-respect. You were true to yourself.
Posted by nocutename on February 24, 2014 at 9:17 PM · Report this
>"Does nobody remember college academic drama? "

No, I don't. Because it was only ever manufactured by those who couldn't prioritize their time. Or weren't terrible smart/capable in the first place. If you're not a triple major at Harvard, then there is time in the week to go on a date or two if you're really interested. Or (if you're a double major in ChemEng and Quantum Physics at Princeton), to at least communicate, "I REALLY want to see you but it will have to wait till next week."

People who think undergrads have it busy will be even more full of themselves as grad students, unavailable as professionals and never seen as new parents. You should dump them ASAP. Let them learn to prioritize their time with some other sucker.
Posted by DAVIDinKENAI on February 24, 2014 at 10:32 PM · Report this
Alison Cummins 15
No LW, you would not be fine keeping things casual. You would want more and you would be miserable.

Keeping things casual is an option for some people, not for others. It sounds like you are not a keeping-things-casual kind of person and that’s a good thing to know about yourself.

Something that makes it hard for some people to keep things casual is sexual bonding, where they fall in love when they have sex. (I do this.) If you experience sexual bonding then you will want to be careful about who you have sex with. If you have sex with an asshole and then fall in love with the asshole you can get yourself into trouble.

In my experience, men tend to wait for you to take a hint. They should be more direct, as Dan advises, but they often aren’t. You are likely to find yourself in this situation again. It’s not your fault.
Posted by Alison Cummins on February 25, 2014 at 1:21 AM · Report this
mr. herriman 16
i dunno, @14, i just started classes at UW back in january after a very long gap, and i've almost forgotten what everybody i know looks like. granted i'm old and out of practice, but having a full course load and a decent social life at the same time seems virtually impossible to me right now.

not that i think that has anything to do with the letter, just saying it's definitely not a breeze when it comes to time management. maybe it will get easier once i settle in. i hope so. i miss my people!
Posted by mr. herriman on February 25, 2014 at 2:36 AM · Report this
Dear LW:

Gods. I know this one. Know it like the back of my hand, unfortunately.


Dude, I know, it sucks. Happened to me not that long ago, and I'm way, way older than you.

But, as the Prophet would say, "brush your shoulder off".

He did a shitty ass job of dumping you. We've all been there. Take notes, don't do it to someone when you're in the other position, that's all we can ask. And not everybody is a complete jackass, I promise.
Posted by dagard on February 25, 2014 at 5:17 AM · Report this
Eudaemonic 19
@ 15: In my experience, men tend to wait for you to take a hint. They should be more direct, as Dan advises, but they often aren’t.

You know, I'd never thought much about this, but it's largely true. Same-sexers in the audience: How the hell do gay men break up?
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 25, 2014 at 5:24 AM · Report this
Sweetie, you didn't do anything wrong. You weren't a psycho; you were trying to contact someone you'd previously had recent contact with. You were honest, and you even said "look, call me if you want me, but don't feel obligated," thus putting the onus on HIM.

It hurts to be rejected, but it's not the end of the world. Have some Ben & Jerry's, watch the comfort movie of your choice, and move on. There are other fish in the sea.
Posted by Action Kate on February 25, 2014 at 6:21 AM · Report this
seandr 21
@Alison Cummins: In my experience, men tend to wait for you to take a hint.

For me, it's always felt ungentlemanly not to return a woman's affection and downright loutish to say something that would hurt her feelings.
Posted by seandr on February 25, 2014 at 8:42 AM · Report this
Egads. I remember this type well. This kind of bullshit was so common in the first several years of my dating life that I was well into my 20s before anyone broke up with me properly.

As it turns out, there are many ways for a coward to get out of a dalliance. There's the prevaricator: "I just don't know what I want right now." The missing person: "I'm afraid I have suddenly and irrevocably fallen off the face of the earth." The full-tilt jerkwad: "I am behaving so dickishly that you have no choice but to break up with me." The bad boy: "I'm just no good for you. You deserve better."

The downside of these approaches is that not only are they unclear to the person you're trying to dump (and thus often not effective), they also make you an asshole. I regret to say that I tried the coward's out on a fellow once -- gave him the ol' "I just don't have time in my life right now for dating" -- and, a few weeks later, when he pointed out that I will still active on a dating side, I had the audacity to be annoyed at him. Because why didn't he understand that I didn't really mean what I'd told him, I was just trying to be nice and spare his feelings? Ugh, not proud of my behavior there.
Posted by Kalakalot on February 25, 2014 at 8:49 AM · Report this
originalcinner 23
No one is born knowing the most diplomatic, least hurtful way to dump someone else. They don't teach it in school. You get there by experience, by being dumped horribly, thinking about it, and then deciding never to dump anyone yourself like that. Yes, LW is being dumped, but it's by someone who just hasn't learned how to do it elegantly. And conversely, we also have to learn when someone is making a dog's breakfast of dumping us. I'm glad I'm not still young and going through all this, on both sides.
Posted by originalcinner on February 25, 2014 at 11:12 AM · Report this
It's not specific to men, just to cowards, and it's shitty no matter who does it:

Garfunkel and Oates on The Fadeaway
Posted by Chase on February 25, 2014 at 12:38 PM · Report this
I disagree with the general conclusion that the ethical way to reject someone is to be crystal clear about your rejection. I think humans have good reasons for softening our rejections and making it just about the specific suggested event rather than a global rejection.

See here:…

>> both men and women have a sophisticated ability to convey and to comprehend refusals... [Typical refusals include tactics like] delay; prefaces or hedges (uh, well …); palliatives like appreciation; and explanation. The last is interesting: explanations usually go like this: “I would love to, but I can’t … >>

If you've had sex with someone once and they stop returning your phone calls, or only return one in four calls, and then are unwilling to get together... Then you know perfectly well that this relationship isn't going anywhere. You haven't been "dumped" because you weren't already dating, you were just getting to know each other. And there is no duty for the one-who-doesn't-want-a-relationship to say that explicitly to the other person. Most of us would prefer the face-saving indirect techniques, which is why we use them.

Kalakalot @22 wrote:
>> why didn't he understand that I didn't really mean what I'd told him, I was just trying to be nice and spare his feelings? >>

He totally did understand it, he just wanted to give you shit. He succeeded in making you feel bad, but you had done nothing wrong. You had been culturally appropriate, making it clear that you weren't interested in him in a way that did not suggest there was anything wrong with him.
Posted by EricaP on February 25, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
Alison Cummins 26
Ah yes, the old Guess vs Ask culture wars.…

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't even have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you're a Guess Culture person [ ... ] then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you're likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you're an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

The whole thing is worth a read.
Posted by Alison Cummins on February 25, 2014 at 2:08 PM · Report this
Alison Cummins 27
(Pegging EricaP as a Guess.)
Posted by Alison Cummins on February 25, 2014 at 2:10 PM · Report this
But the issue here is about about direct/indirect responses to direct invitations, and not about whether it's okay to ask in the first place.

I think everyone agrees that it's generally okay in our culture to ask someone out on a date. The issue is whether it's reasonable or misleading to say "I'd love to but I can't" instead of "No I don't want to go out with you."

Or, in this case, whether it's reasonable to say: "I haven't had time to think about things and don't want to lead you on" rather than "You're not the right person for me."
Posted by EricaP on February 25, 2014 at 2:20 PM · Report this
@28 That's fine, but if someone is struggling to accept an indirect answer isn't it easier to just drop the whole pretense and say what you really mean to resolve the situation? I think that's what everyone is pointing out. That instead of providing an endless stream of ineffective indirect responses he could have changed course after the first one to end the LWs doubts sooner. Not that the other guy did anything really horrible, maybe just a little thoughtless. And if the LW is anything like me he's probably thought of a million "reasons" why he didn't get the guy and was only thinking of how to rework his approach instead of ending it. Seriously though LW, pull those romantic notions out of you like a weed from the ground, roots and all, then after that if you two still value knowing each other there's always the possibility of friendship.
Posted by Really Now... on February 25, 2014 at 9:42 PM · Report this
Eudaemonic 31
@ 25: Then you know perfectly well that this relationship isn't going anywhere.

I think the point is that then people with good interpersonal skills know perfectly well that this relationship isn't going anywhere. Theorizing is easier if we pretend that average and less-fortunate people don't exist, but they stubbornly do so anyway.
Posted by Eudaemonic on February 26, 2014 at 6:00 AM · Report this
Mr Monic: Not being bound by such silly beliefs as its being caddish not to return offered affection, we break up with great elan. I could tell you more, but then I'd either have to kill you or convert you, and I'm not sure you'd pass the stiff entrance examination.
Posted by vennominon on February 26, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
I don't understand how "I haven't had time to think about things and don't want to lead you on" is any kinder than "You're not the right person for me". It is, however, more vague and cowardly.
Posted by DrVanNostrand on February 26, 2014 at 2:00 PM · Report this
Sati 34
Surely there's some middle ground between the inscrutability of "I don't know what I want" and the brutality of "I don't fancy you"?

Something like, "I'm sorry, you're a nice man / woman / SOPOTGS, but I'm just not feeling that zing. I think it's best if we quit while we're ahead, and I hope that you find someone who feels the same about you as you do about them."

Or is that too wordy?
Posted by Sati on February 27, 2014 at 6:43 PM · Report this
I just think that people ought to learn by the time they're teenagers that in our society if someone politely declines your invitation and doesn't suggest anything in return, and does that a couple more times -- that means they're never going to say yes and you should stop asking.

Whether you're inviting them to play ball, or to ball, the conventions are the same. You should not need them to spell out: "I don't want to play with you and I will never want to play with you."
Posted by EricaP on February 28, 2014 at 9:42 AM · Report this

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