Friendly but no-nonsense relationship and dating advice for women in their 20s and 30s, from the guy perspective. Come back for biweekly posts and "tips of the week." Skip to the advice...
My friend Jocelyn and I were talking the other day about a guy she's been seeing, Jake. Jocelyn and Jake share a group of friends and have been dating for a couple months, but a lot of the time they spend together is with their mutual friends. It's been bothering Jocelyn that she and Jake don't make more plans on their own, and because of it, she really wants to have "that" conversation, the one about what we're doing and where we're going. As I've done before, I warned against pushing a guy into having that kind of serious talk at this stage in the game. But I also came up with an easy way to evaluate this kind of dilemma, one that's so obvious I almost didn't mention it.
Before you take a certain approach with a guy, try asking yourself: "what would I think if he did that with me?" In Jocelyn's case, I pointed out that it's way more common to hear a guy talk about how cool the girl he's dating is because she's "chill" than because she "likes to have conversations about our relationship." Think about it, what sounds better? Yeah man, I really like this girl: she's totally relaxed and we've just been having a great time together, or Yeah man, I can really see a future with this woman: she gets anxious and brings up our relationship and our future a lot, and we have ambiguous, uncomfortable conversations about it. Women might be a little more into talking about relationships than men, but seriously, what would you think if a guy you were dating for a little while suddenly wanted to have an intentional conversation about how serious you were and whether you saw a future together? If he was bringing it up based on his own uncertainty, you'd probably think he was kind of anxious, maybe a little pushy, and unless you're the kind of person who likes to reassure and comfort people, the whole thing would put you off. Well, it's the same thing for us guys.
When I asked Jocelyn what she would say if Jake started the same kind of relationship conversation with her, she shrugged and said she'd tell him that they should just enjoy their time together and see how it goes. I pointed out that if that's all she wanted to hear from Jake, she had her answer already, since he's still around and they're seeing each other a couple times a week. So instead of having an awkward conversation, I suggested she try making some plans with him that were separate from their friends, so they could enjoy more one-on-one time and deepen that aspect of their relationship.
Another question on the blog recently came from someone who was in a long-distance relationship. This person, who I'll call Natalie, was feeling uneasy in her two-year relationship: when she and her boyfriend were apart, he was not in touch as often as she wanted, and even though they still had a great time when they were together in one place, she felt like he was pulling away. After explaining this dilemma, Natalie also referred, almost as an afterthought, to the multiple times she'd tried breaking up with her boyfriend because he was getting distant, and to a slip she'd had while they were apart.
From the guy perspective, this was another straightforward case of asking Natalie what she would think if she were in her boyfriend's shoes. Try it yourself: if you were in a long-distance relationship and your boyfriend of two years broke up with you a few times out of anxiety or uncertainty, would you want to call him back right away when you were apart? Or God forbid your long-distance boyfriend had a little slip, would you be texting him during your busy day to tell him how much you loved him? My guess is your answers are no and no. So did Natalie really think that her boyfriend was a totally different kind of human being than she was, one that wouldn't be put off by having someone breaking up with him out of nervousness, and even have a slip while they were apart? Maybe not, but she was so wrapped up in her own anxiety and uncertainty that she couldn't see her own contributions to the situation clearly. When I suggested to Natalie that the solution might be to focus on herself -- on relaxing and keeping her anxiety under control -- she was able to see things a little more from his perspective, and agreed with me.
A lot of the questions I get on the blog or from women I know are in some way about "mixed signals." For many women it can seem almost impossible to understand or guess how we're feeling, or why we do the things they do. But although many of us are a bit less expressive or outwardly analytical, in the end we're not that different; we are attracted to most of the same core traits in women that women are attracted to in guys, and this includes a confidence and happiness that don't exactly go hand in hand with worrying about what a guy thinks or the status of a relationship. Instead of wondering and worrying, think about what really makes you fulfilled, whether it's with a certain guy or not, and go for that. Guys find this attractive, even if it pulls you away from us. And if this change in focus seems like too big a step to take all at once, try something else first: just ask yourself what you would think, if you were in his position. If you're honest about this, and maybe get a little help from someone who is outside the situation, it will tell you a lot about yourself, too.