For the last five months, I have been exclusively dating a guy friend. We were acquaintances for two years before we reconnected at a friend’s party in October and started going on dates immediately after. We’re both in our mid-twenties and I’d like to move things forward a bit, but I see two possible red flags. First, every month or two, he will just drop off the grid (he’s not online, doesn’t answer his phone, doesn’t answer his friends) for half a week, even if we had plans. Generally, I’m okay with him needing so much alone time, but I’m not fond of occasionally being stood up.
The second red flag: although he’s stayed overnight, we only kiss. He has no problem initiating making out, but any time I’ve tried to turn the make-out session into something heavier, he kisses me even softer or pauses altogether. When I ask if he is all right, he says he’s fine. I’m afraid to try for anything below the belt yet until I get more signs from him. I can tell that he’s turned on, but no action is taken. He’s pretty shy and I don’t want to make him feel bad by bringing it up in conversation.
Also, as a girl, I also feel uncomfortable being the one to bring out the “define the relationship” talk. I don’t need to be thinking about marriage or moving in together; I just want to go out with him more often and everything that comes with that in bed. How do I let him know I want to move this forward? — Stuck in Limbo
JOE: My suspicion is that he has either been abused or feels he has some reason to be embarrassed about being sexual with you. If he were very religious, you probably would have mentioned that. So I suspect he is afraid of something — either trauma from his past or your predicted reaction to his body (it could involve sexual orientation, but you mentioned that he’s obviously aroused, so I think that’s less likely). Generally, aroused men in months-long exclusive relationships with overnight stays are not going to turn down sexual advances, just as in generally, the sun rises in the east. When they do turn such advances down, something significant is usually wrong.
I’m not sure why he drops off the grid for days at a time, and there are too many possible explanations (migraines, secret agent missions, advanced yoga practitioner, really bad narcolepsy, and so on). However, I think that’s a secondary issue, to be solved later. It has to be resolved, but I don’t think it’s the first thing to work on. In my opinion, you should find a non-threatening time (maybe when relaxing during a sleep-over night) and say that you really like him and want the relationship to grow, but that you’ve noticed he seems hesitant to pursue anything physically. Ask him if he too wants more out of the relationship and gently ask him why he’s been so hesitant physically. If you have any future at all with him, that discussion should yield answers. If you cannot talk to him about it, you have no future with him. Be prepared, though, for some heavy answers.
JAREK: I’ve always had a problem with the delegation of responsibilities between genders in a relationship. I’m not sure what being a girl has to do with having the “relationship talk.” Guys don’t need to be the first to say “I love you,” girls don’t need to be the “emotional” ones, and it is no one person’s responsibility to address issues in a relationship. This is 2011 — if you want something go after it.
Regarding the red flags: half a week isn’t all that long, but when it involves blowing off previously made plans and not giving you ample warning, then he is not respecting your time or your friendship (regardless of relationship status). That needs to be addressed BEFORE the relationship talk happens. The second red flag could be a number of things. One is he doesn’t want things to progress sexually out of fear of leading you on or giving you the wrong idea. This would suggest he is not ready for a relationship just yet, but respects you enough to not just sleep with you anyway. Another is he is embarrassed for some reason, such as having an STD. This discussion needs to happen AFTER the relationship talk. There is no real point in discussing it before since sex isn’t even on the table now. So, figure out what is behind red flag #1, then see if you still want a relationship. If so, talk to him about it. If he’s on board, find out what’s behind red flag #2. Then decide if you STILL want the relationship. If so, go for it. If not, walk away.
DENNIS: Alone time is understandable, but standing you up is not. This isn’t even a relationship issue here. It’s common courtesy. If you’re going to bail on someone, you have to let them know. (Well, unless you live in Southern California, in which case “sorry, I flaked” is, like, a totally valid excuse for disappearing on someone.) Anyway, if you don’t want to have the boyfriend talk, then just explain that standing someone up, whether an acquaintance, friend, or significant other, is just not cool. Honestly, him needing a few days of alone time every month or two seems like nothing. Flaking on plans you’ve made… that’s something. So, if he continues to be flaky after you’ve talked to him about it, well, then that might tell you something about the way he handles relationships.
As for the kissing issue, first off, you might want to find out what his religious background is. That could answer your question pretty quickly. Yes, I’m only half-joking here, but there really might be something about his personal values that you’re not aware of. Also, if you don’t want to have “that talk,” you can always tell him that you’d like to go a little further physically, but you want to make sure he’s comfortable first. This way, you’re very delicately placing the, ahem, balls in his court, and the way he responds might also help you figure out what exactly he’s feeling. Given what you said about his shyness, you might want to tip-toe around the issue, but I think you can easily address it without grabbing the aforementioned balls and whacking them out of the park.
ART: That whole disappearing thing should be enough to send you in the other direction. That is a full-on boner-killer, and no one should put up with it. And it sounds like he’ll just keep doing it until: 1) he overdoses on whatever drug he’s on while he’s disappeared; or 2) someone finally has the balls to tell him to knock it the fuck off and he finally listens for once.
Is this guy worth working so hard for? He won’t even take your shirt off after five months, or, if he has, he won’t give himself the sweetest of releases. That is fucking weird. If you are going to move this forward, you need to be able to talk about sex candidly. If you’re in your mid 20s you should be able to talk candidly about sex with any partner you have, serious or otherwise. Yes, it’s always uncomfortable, but mild discomfort ahead of time will allow for fantastic pleasure afterward — and no babies!
And as for your last point: you need to get over your notions of gender roles, first of all. This is the early 2000s (I forget the exact year), and like it or not you now have the same responsibilities as a man. If you have a feeling, you are the one who has to talk about it. That is advice you should take with you for all future relationships, because it will never stop being true. Bottom line: he doesn’t respect your time or your needs. Get out of that shit ASAP.
* If you’d like to ask the guys a question, simply email me at email@example.com with “His Take” in the subject line and I’ll pass your question along to them.