I am having some guy trouble. The guy I’ve been seeing for the last 10 months is a little hard to read. I feel like we’re in a relationship because we act like we’re together but he has said in the past (at the very beginning) that he doesn’t want a relationship. He has said that we are enjoying each other’s company and are having fun. I know he’s been burned in the past and is scared to go into a serious relationship. Our feelings are out on the table. We’ve said I love you and have gotten mushy with each other. I have spent time with his family and for all I know they think I’m his girlfriend.
The troubling part is that he has his off days. Days where he seems to not want to talk to me, or he’s being very distant (physically and emotionally). Every time I try to talk to him about it, he apologizes and reassures me that everything is fine. I’m the kind to overshare my feelings and he’s the kind to be more reserved. So what should I do? Should I try to push him to talk more? Should I back off? Is this whole thing just doomed from the get go?
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Dear He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,
The struggle to define relationships these days is real. There are more and more situations in which you’re “talking to” or “hanging out with” someone without a label. Knowing what role we play in a person’s life can be difficult because we are more free to casually date than ever. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, because at least we don’t have to marry the first person who looks our way anymore. It’s a social climate in which it is much easier to explore our identities and sexualities and what truly makes us happy, whether that is being in a relationship with one person, several people, or no one at all. However, it does mean that you can see someone for 10 months, tell each other “I love you,” and meet his family, and still not be entirely sure what is going on.
Labels are not as important as the relationship behind them, but they serve a purpose. When things are defined, it is easier to trust your partner. You know you are monogamous (or have agreed upon some sort of mutually respectful arrangement otherwise) and you know they aren’t just going to disappear one day. It is a deeper commitment that feels like a safety net.
But again, a label is not nearly the most important or best part of being in a relationship, and if it is for you, you are in it for the wrong reasons. There are plenty of unhealthy relationships that have included even more serious labels, such as “spouse,” but are only partnerships in name.
Put the “Are we in a relationship?” question aside. Does this person respect you? Does he make you feel good about yourself? Forget about what he has or hasn’t said; what do his actions say about how he feels about you? I ask you these things because it can be easy to get caught up in the label without seriously considering whether you really want to be with this person or not. If it is an otherwise healthy relationship that makes you happy but you are just stressed about where you stand, then it’s important to talk to him about this.
I wouldn’t necessarily interpret the fact he pulls away sometimes to be a bad thing. Personally, I am a naturally more reserved person, and there are times when I just need my space. It doesn’t mean the other person has done anything wrong, but solitude and silence are very important to me, and there are some things that I either can’t or don’t want to talk to other people about. I need the people who love me to allow me that space, but this isn’t always easy to communicate, particularly with my more extroverted, emotionally expressive loved ones. Maybe the guy you’re seeing is the same way.
Also keep in mind that no one is naturally good at sharing their feelings. It takes practice, particularly in the context of a romantic relationship, and how fluent you are in expressing your feelings has a lot to do with the environment you grew up in, as well as the people you surround yourself with. Men in particular are socialized not to express their emotions, meaning that many grow up without the vocabulary to talk about what is going on inside. It sounds like you have different communication styles, which does not mean that it won’t work out; it just means that you will have to meet each other where you respectively are. This is a normal part of the work that goes into relationships, and if you want to continue being with him, it will be an ongoing project for as long as you’re together.
As to the DTR conversation: In the beginning, he said he didn’t want a serious relationship, but that was 10 months ago now. A lot has changed since that initial conversation, and it sounds like it is time to check in again and see how you are both feeling about it. Sitting him down to have “a talk” may make it too intimidating for someone who is not eager to verbalize their feelings. Chances are, there will be a natural way to bring it up in conversation where you don’t have to make a big deal about it, taking the pressure off of the both of you. Be honest about how you feel, and give him the space to follow suit. Understand that if he has been seriously burned as you said, he may still need more time. The important thing to keep in mind here is to not take it personally. Let him own his feelings, own yours, and try to be as nonjudgmental as possible. This will go a long way towards creating a space in the future where you both can communicate with each other openly.
At the end of the day, relationships require a lot of emotional work, labeled or not. If this person is worth it, pour love and energy and care into understanding what is going on beneath the surface. If he’s not, then now you know what you want out of future relationships, and that is something that is valuable in its own right. Best of luck!