Everything I Need to Know: Deciding What You Want

AdviceWe’re back with Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Romance Novels, where, with ample romance backlist and as much objectivity as caffeine can provide, I give advice. Today’s letter:


I am a long time lurker and I am in need of some advice. I have recently met a guy through an online dating site. We IM’d every day for 3 weeks (we also talked on the phone) and then met in person. That meeting lasted the entire day. We continue to talk almost everyday and have gone out again. I keep getting mixed signals from him. When we talk he sometimes references wanting a chance with me. But he is continuing to meet people on the dating site. Before we ever went out he told me he was a friends first and see where that goes kind of guy.

I am okay with that as that is how I operate. I just think that I would rather he didn’t reference dating me and telling me he is going on a date with someone else in the same conversation. I would be okay just being friends with him, but I have the feeling that if I let this continue I am going to get hurt. Am I just deluding myself? Should I tell him that I can’t continue this way? Should I just go with the flow and stop worrying? My feeling is if he really wanted a chance with me then he’s got it and why is he dating other people. If he doesn’t want a chance with me then why does he keep mentioning it?

Sign me
-So very confused

Dear So Very Confused:

In a romance novel, it’s no secret or mystery that the hero will like the heroine and the heroine will like the hero, and at some point between them, lips and assorted other bits will meet. In real life, there’s that pesky lack of omniscience to deal with. It’s so annoying, especially when, as it seems from your letter, you’re not sure what he wants… and you’re not sure what you want, either.

I think there’s two problems here. First: his definition of the word “dating” and your definition of the word “Dating” may be two very different things. Does “dating” imply exclusivity or not? You seem to think you’d like it to, while his definition seems to be entirely different.

Second, what do you want? It sounds to me like you have a rather fun friendship with this guy, despite his mixed signals of “wanting a chance.” You talk often, you see each other. You’ve told me a lot about what he’s saying and what he’s doing, but what about you? 

So answer this question: what do you want? What does “having a chance” mean? Is his referring to dating other women a question of manners and courtesy, or is it a question of your being unable to voice aloud that you’d like him to stop dating others and focus on you. Or, do you want him to come to that conclusion on his own?

If he’d like to have a chance with you and he says so repeatedly, you need to spell out what has to happen for him to have the opportunity to be your boyfriend. If you’d rather be dating-as-maybe-friends, that clearly means in his world, he will date other women and meet other women. If that bothers you, you need to speak up.

If you don’t really want an exclusive relationship, then ask him to keep the details to himself. You can set the terms of conversation. If he sees you as a friend, then he feels comfortable telling you about other women he’s seeing. But if he sees you as someone with whom he’d like a more meaningful relationship, telling you about other dates seems a strange thing to do.

If you want to stop worrying and wondering altogether, you need to figure some things out for yourself. First, ask yourself if you want an exclusive relationship with him. If you don’t, then let him do his thing and you do yours, and ask him not to dish about other chicks he’s dating as it bothers you a bit. If you do want that relationship, then speak up and tell him what you want.

He may keep mentioning the idea of being with you to gauge your reaction. He may be mentioning it because “having a chance” with you means getting you in bed. Who the hell knows? The only thing under your control is your actions and reactions.

So: make your signals clear, and see how he responds. Decide if he is the one you want to take your chance on, and then offer him that chance he’s been talking about – and explain the terms you’re comfortable with.  If he is what you want, go for it. A little miscommunication never hurt anyone, except when it adds 200 pages of conflict when a simple conversation would have solved it. Being the heroine of your own happy ending does require that you ask for what you want instead of waiting for it to come to you. Sometimes, figuring out what you want before you act on it is the harder of the two.


General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Kim says:

    Dear Sarah (the future Dear Abby?)

    Your last two lines say it all.  After waiting unsuccessfully for life to happen for me, I figured out what I wanted and I made it happen.  13 years later, I now have a loving husband, 2 children, 2 cats, and a mountain view in warm Hawaii. 

    Best wishes to So Very Confused.

  2. 2
    SheaLuna says:

    I see this as two separate issues:
    1. He’s still dating other people.
    2. He’s telling you about dating other people.

    Problem numero uno isn’t a problem at all, as far as I’m concerned.  It sounds like you’ve only been on a couple of dates, so expecting him to date you exclusively isn’t realistic and you shouldn’t be dating him exclusively either (at least until he says he wants to see you exclusively and you agree that’s what you want).  If this is a problem for you, you shouldn’t be meeting guys online because that’s the way online dating works. 

    Problem two, however, is a HUUUUUUUUUUUGE problem.  You know in novels (and let’s face it, real life) where there’s always some jackass that has to compare the girl he’s with to other girls he’s dated or brag about how many girls he’s slept with or something similarly icky?  These guys are either arrogant fuckwits, completely lacking in self-esteem, or both (believe me, it’s possible).  Well, you’ve met him. This guy is THAT guy.

    By telling you about his dates with other women he’s letting you know that’s he’s got other options, that he’s “a catch”, that he’s wanted.  Sort of the dating equivalent of driving a penis car.  This guy isn’t the hero.  He’s the guy you meet BEFORE you meet the hero.

    My opinion… stop wasting your time on this guy and hold out for your hero.

  3. 3
    scribblingirl says:

    IMHO, you don’t want to be that “I’ll-settle-for-you-until-something-better-comes-along” girl and that is what will happen if you continue on with him. He is still out there doing what he wants to do and telling you about it. From what you are saying, your feelings are already getting compromised. If you just want to have fun then by all means continue with this guy but if you are looking for that “hero”, move on before you get in too deep

  4. 4
    darlynne says:

    Whoa, this could be my letter thirty-plus years ago, but without the on-line, IM thing. Is he in his 50s, name of … never mind.

    SheaLuna nailed it. You do not want to own the penis car, although a test drive now and then can be fun. They look hot, but the steering is wonky and the rear view mirror lets him gaze soulfully into his own eyes.

    If nothing else, it’s just rude to talk about dating other people. Maybe he’s trying to keep his distance, maybe he thinks he’s helping you keep yours, but for what?

    Think about what you want and need. I married the VW beetle and never looked back.

  5. 5
    Joan Sherwood says:

    I agree with SheaLuna totally on her point 1.

    On Point 2, he’s talking about dating other people, I think it depends on how it’s coming up. If he’s going out of his way to talk about multiple other dates, yeah, maybe he’s just trying to up his “catch” status. On the other hand, if you asked him what he did over the weekend, and he replies, “Oh, I went to the park with Jane and we saw this amazing frisbee-catching dog event, [more about dogs and not the girl blah, blah],” then I think he’s just being upfront and honest. If you’re dating several people, and the most interesting part of your week is what you’ve been doing while out on a date, and someone asks what you’ve done that’s interesting lately, it’s difficult to completely avoid mentioning the person you were with.

  6. 6

    Well said, Joan. I don’t think anybody should be taking dating advice from me, but I do think, depending on how he presents it, the guy should get some honesty-cred for letting her know he’s seeing other people. There’s nothing worse than getting emotionally invested in somebody only to realize too late that they’re not actually on the same page…and didn’t have the decency to make it explicit. Yeah, depending on how he puts it out there and how much detail he offers, it may be tacky or even manipulative, but at least he’s giving her the information she needs to figure out where she stands with him.

  7. 7
    Joanna S. says:

    I agree with Cara and Joan – I think it depends on how he is talking about the other women.  If it is merely, “oh, what did I do this weekend?  Well, I went out with Lucy and had fun,” then he is being honest.  But, if it’s more like, “Wow! I had the hottest weekend ever with this chick named Lucy.  You know, she’s very bendy,” then he is considering you his reserve girlfriend for when he’s “ready to settle down,” and you need to move on to better, more mature men.

    However, I think it’s also a bit wrong for him to keep taunting you with this “I could take a chance on you” bit…take a chance how exactly?  And why would being with you be chancey?  Thus, I completely agree with SB Sarah as well.  There is nothing wrong with taking control a bit and asking him to clarify what he means or his possible timeline.  Tell him that you’re fine with being friends first, but that you are not cool with being friends forever with all this “take a chance” talk.  It’s misleading.  Also, feel free to tell him that you are not a guy-type friend and so he does not have to brag about his conquests with you, especially if this relationship could lead to something more.  Tell him, if he’s ready to take that “chance” then you’re ready, but mutual monogamy is important (if indeed it is for you).  And so, if he’s not yet ready to take that “chance,” then you are not going to put your life on hold either. 

    And I can’t stress enough that it is important that you keep dating too!  You don’t have to date everyone you meet, but you need to make sure that this guy is who you want to fight for in case fighting is required.  And the only way to do that is to try out other options.  You may surprise yourself by finding the guy who’s willing to fight for you too – and willing to do so right from the start.  It took a long time for me to find That Guy, but when I did, let me tell you, it was worth all the failed relationships and heartbreak because they let me truly appreciate him when I might not have before.

  8. 8
    willaful says:

    Wow, this brings back some painful memories. I would not touch this guy with a ten-foot-pole, myself. I suppose trying for a little straightforward chat just to see is a reasonable plan, but I suspect your instinct that you will wind up hurt is right on the money.

    straight69 – sounds good! ;-)

  9. 9

    What’s wrong with exclusive dating, even at the beginning?  If a guy likes you enough to keep seeing you, he shouldn’t be trolling for other girls.

  10. 10
    Diane/Anonym2857 says:

    Could also be he’s starting as he means to go on … if you do take things further and become a Real Couple, if you’ve already been so open as to discuss his other dates, does this mean he’ll continue to chip around forever and will expect you to go along with it? Are you supposed to be ok with that too?

    And also, if he’s so open about talking about his other dates to you, then chances are he’s talking about YOU to the other dates.  How does that make you feel?


  11. 11
    Polly says:

    Just talk to him. Maybe he doesn’t know you want to see him seriously. Maybe he does and is playing you. It’s hard to say from you letter. You know you want to be more serious. Does he? Unless you’ve been upfront about what you want and feel, I think you’re doing him a disservice by expecting him to intuit what you want.

    There’s nothing wrong with not dating exclusively at the beginning. What’s way more of a problem, and which thankfully you don’t have, is assuming you’re exclusive and finding out you’re not.

    I agree with everyone who said context counts. If he’s bragging about other dates, that’s a very bad sign. If he’s just mentioning them, it could be considered part of full disclosure.

    Good luck figuring out what’s best for you.

  12. 12

    Oh internet dating how I love you. And yet, you make the world so much more confusing.

    I noticed that with internet dating, that it was SO difficult to pin people down. Sparks were always flying, one night stands were as rampant as bar hook ups,(I can never figure out why this happened) and the only way to cut through all that bullshit was to just be upfront about what you’re looking for. Nothing scared a potential heartbreaker away than me saying “I’m looking for a long term committed relationship.”

    Oh and a good long read of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”
    Good Luck!

  13. 13
    Susan says:

    I don’t have many rules, but I do have a rule for dating, which is thus:

    Starting out casual and non-exclusive is fine, but once we start hittin’ it, you better not be putting that thing anywhere else.  I’m not saying that if he likes it he better put a ring on it, because after a few dates that can be a little, um, insane.  But.  If we’re naked, we’re exclusive.

    This has definitely meant a few things ended before I would have liked them to.  But I don’t have crabs!  So that’s nice.

  14. 14
    Bianca says:

    Speaking from my personal experience (read: YMMV), I really don’t believe there are such things as “mixed signals” in relationships.  If he wanted to seriously date you, he would not be seeing other girls or mentioning dating other girls, period.  He would make it clear that he wanted to be with you, and only you.  All this “taking a chance” business sounds like he is just keeping you on the back-burner while he gets a feel for what else is on the marketplace.

    My advice would be to ditch him or stick him on the friends list.  Life is too short to be someone’s consolation prize; I’m sure you are better than that and deserve better than that.

  15. 15
    Jessica says:

    Maybe you should just get busy doing other things to see if he misses you, or is even really interested in pursuing you.  Not in a game-y way. Just do it so you can keep some normal distance while he is playing “the field.”  You will find out quickly if he is just another jerk.

    All this talking and spending time together just makes you like him before you know how he feels about you.

    In other words, see other people, and put him on your friends list, but give him the option of being with you.

    YMMV, been there done that!

    I married the one that asked me out every week for the next weekend, and called me even if I was out and about, or busy (same for him)!  We met online too.

  16. 16
    Isabelle says:

    Mmmmm. I think,as has been said above, that your last two sentences articulate what you really feel about all this.  Also, bear in mind that some guys use internet dating to keep a “stable” of women going eg: Jane on Monday, Kate on Tuesday etc.  It probably isn’t in this case, but do bear in mind that it can be manipulative to blow hot and cold, which I what this sounds like.  There is another option, possibly: he could be very shy and trying to sound like it’s no big deal to protect himself.  That’s a possible, although I don’t understand why he has to a) date other women at the same time as you b) it’s a bit crass to tell you about it (so you don’t raise your hopes) then c) talk about a chance with you (raising your hopes). You would also be taking a chance with him. He speaks as if he has the upper hand or something.. Except he isn’t taking a chance, because he told me he was a friends first and see where that goes kind of guy which sounds like he’s taking it slow and safe and casting his net wide!
    This man sounds totally lukewarm, sorry, but you could find out by taking the initiative and next time he brings up

    taking a chance

    , to get some straight answers, or date others yourself and see what his reaction is.

  17. 17
    isabelle says:

    Sorry about the formatting above!

  18. 18
    Brigid says:

    He actually sounds like a wuss. Men like to catch, women like to be caught. It’s a biological imperative. Just like a hunter doesn’t go out in the woods and taunt the deer, “Well, I COULD shoot you, but, you know, if I miss, I could TOTALLY shoot that deer over there,” a guy doesn’t go out in the dating world and tell a girl he’s dating everyone on the block.

    He’s not putting it on the line. His whole, “I just want to be friends first!” schtick is guy-speak for “I’ve been hurt, and I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” Guys don’t go out with girls with the intent to be friends, unless they’re still licking wounds.

    And you, fair letter writer, deserve better than to be strung along. You deserve to be treated well, and with respect. You have something to offer. Make him come after it.

    Without the harem.

  19. 19
    Anon says:

    He is rude and confused about what he wants.  Why would you want to be with someone like that?  Don’t make excuses for him.  He obviously has enough excuses for his behavoir.  Throw him back!

  20. 20
    Anne says:

    Gracious sakes!  Rather a breach of etiquette to tell you about dating other women when he is dating you.  I daresay you should say at once that you prefer more genteel discourse.  It does come to mind that he may not know what constitutes proper etiquette.  This would never do in my book.  One simply must have standards in these matters.  And stick to them without fail, least you be pursued by an Unsuitable Person.

  21. 21
    Anne says:

    I was called away for an hour of dull duties and, so, had a lot of time to think.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently an avid non-user of online dating sites.  My mileage was Not-Good-In-A-Scary-Way.  I hope you will forgive any offensive snark.

    Over the 10 years or so I tried using those sites, I did gain a bit of insight about these sorts of communications. 

    The famous “friends first” phrase
    Talking every day via IM
    wanting a chance
    telling you he’s dating others

    He may not be doing this consciously, so give him a break here.  In the end, here is how I whimsically see his internal conversation on this matter:

    “I don’t really know what I want so I’m taking a stroll down the buffet line.  We’ve dated and, while you are not the sort of spice I’ve warmed up to yet, you seem tasty so I am keeping you securely nestled your place.  I’ll keep you secure on that steamy table by using those magically delicious IMs every day.  If, in the end, you are the tastiest piece on the buffet, I’ll promote you to the dessert table.”

  22. 22
    Lindsay Hill says:

    Dear Confused,

    You told us a few things that he said – he is going on dates with other people, and he wants a chance with you.  You said you feel that ‘if he really wanted a chance with me then he’s got it and why is he dating other people? What you didn’t tell us is what you SAID to him.  Did you say “I like hanging around with you, you’re fun, but I don’t really take things further than hanging out unless we’re exclusive.  How does that sound to you?”  If you’re not sure he got your message (WARNING: guys catch greased piglets faster than hints), try what Susan said above . . .

    Starting out casual and non-exclusive is fine, but once we start hittin’ it, you better not be putting that thing anywhere else.  I’m not saying that if he likes it he better put a ring on it, because after a few dates that can be a little, um, insane.  But.  If we’re naked, we’re exclusive.

    (Susan, I think we might be soulmates!) I said that same thing to a guy I met online, after some hang-outs and some make-outs and a couple weeks went by. We were both going out on other dates too, but I liked him best. Flash forward to a year later . . . things are good, but I sure can’t tell you where our first anniversary is.  What does the modern woman go by now?  When we started getting ‘exclusive,’  like 11 months ago?

    If you were already straightforward and upfront with him and he’s playing dumb, find someone else for romance.  If you’re not sure if he got your hint, tell him again and see if he’s up for it. It’s okay if his version of being single involves more casual dates than yours, or if he’s not that great at reading hints.  What’s not okay is if he’s playing dumb to keep you in reserve, or if his idea of being exclusive involves more causal dates than yours.

    Being upfront might not be all that comfortable when you put your cards out on the table and have to wait to see if he’s still playing . . . but it’s better than being played. Online dating is supposed to have the advantage of putting some of your preferences upfront so you weed out the people who aren’t for you.  Be upfront and do some weeding! It’s the only way to find out if ‘Mr. Right Now’ could be ‘Mr. Right.’

    Best of luck, and be safe! Always meet in a public place for the first couple dates, and If you don’t have a good internal ‘creep detector,’ get a friend to meet potential Misters with you. Internet dating beats meeting people in a bar, as long as you use your head. Check out some online dating safety sites to bone up on safety.  Worst case scenario, you waste a couple minutes. Best case scenario, you save your life by automatically avoiding a dangerous situation.

    Happy hunting!

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