Friday, 13 September 2013

Apparently Interested, Has Girlfriend

Here is an interesting email I received last week:

Hello, Dear Auntie Seraphic!

Good to have you back from Rome!
I remember [that] being pursued or even courted to some extent by young men with girlfriends or fiancées was a nightmare to me when I was in my late teens, and it strongly affected my dating experience. I would think like “He pursues/courts me = he has a girlfriend = he’s not interested” and, as a result it got me to even more absurd thinking “He doesn’t pursue me = he might be interested”. Or, “I’ll have to chase after him MYSELF, because if HE’s doing it, this means trouble”. Oh, dear. So confused I grew up. Even now I tend to be overly cautious when somebody shows interest and overly proactive if they don’t that much.

Have you got any clues about what to do when a man with a girlfriend pursues you? How to set boundaries if he appears regularly in your social circle or at work? How to figure out he’s just friendly towards you and you shouldn’t panic too much as long as you don’t get involved emotionally? Are there limits to already taken men pursuing a Searching Single Woman? 

Note: I don’t mean chat-flirting as such, but rather a more “courting behavior”, like for example calling you up regularly, getting out of his way and going places you go, scheming to get you alone, buying you small things, touching you etc. Would be great if you could shed some light onto that issue. I think some other women can relate, too.

Much blessing to you for your wonderful ministry!

You may be thinking, "Hey! What kind of so-and-so gets interested in somebody else when the so-and-so is in a steady dating relationship already?" 

(Auntie Seraphic looks shifty and sneaks towards the exit.)

Oh dear. How badly I behaved when I was young. You would not have thought it to look at me, since I was as cute as a fluffy bunny, but really... I think it's because I didn't get the boyfriend I wanted in high school. Also I had a very 1950s concept of dating, which is that you were supposed to go out on dates with as many guys as possible (who all pay) until the one you really fell in love with asked you to marry him. 

I don't think that's so terrible, actually, if that's what happens. For example, if a whole lot of guys on a dating site (if you care for dating sites) ask you out for coffee, then I think it is absolutely fine to meet every single one for a coffee. 

However, that's not usually what happens. What usually happens, or happened in the 1990s, is that one guy asks you out, and you like him okay, so you go out with him again, and then no other guy asks you out. The only guy asking you out somehow turns into your boyfriend and you think, "Cool! I have a boyfriend! And he's a nice guy. I like him. My mum likes him. Everyone likes him." And since in Catholic circles the boyfriend pressuring you for sex is a universally accepted reason to break up with him (and can destroy his reputation), you can be in a comfy boyfriend-girlfriend relationship for years, eventually getting married, sure, unless you get so bored you become enthralled with someone else.

Or so seemed to be my thinking. In hindsight, I should always have called it quits after Date 3, or at least pondered the injustice of it all, especially re: who pays. Recently I got an anonymous comment claiming I was am a cheating rhymes-with-itch, and I must be putting my husband through hell. Really, sometimes I wish I were more forgettable--or, since apparently I am not, that I had been a better girl.  

Anyway, the point to this confession is to observe that it's not just guys with girlfriends who start showing interest in other people. Some girls with boyfriends do, too. The question is whether they sincerely want a regime change or if they merely want two relationships at the same time.

Most people deny their true sexual nature every day, which is a good thing, since most people have a polyamorous orientation. Married people who put their spouses above their own selfish impulses suppress their polyamorous tendencies all the time. And if you don't believe me, ask yourself if you've only ever been sexually attracted to one person, or even just to one person at a time.

It's probably not a shock to know that marriage does not magically make men stop being attracted to other women. It may be a shock to know that women keep on being attracted to other men.  But, really, I think faithful women should get as much (or almost as much) credit as faithful men. Temptation gets thrown in women's way, too. Some men, like some women, will stealthily court married people they have their eyes on, the sneaks.

Some people think that the best way to cope with polyamorous tendencies is just to give into them, but in an "honest" way, so that everyone knows who is involved with everyone else. In these arrangements, there are "primary" partners and "secondary" partners. This presumably gives the "primary" partner the feeling that, hey, at least she's/he's still number one. Their "partner" can do whatever he/she wants with the "secondaries" just as long as he's/she's "emotionally faithful" to the "primary." This is complete and utter garbage, involving the exploitation of, at very least, the "secondary" partners, but hey. It's "modern" and "sophisticated" and "revolutionary"---and as old as the oldest profession.

And it's the way many people secretly operate. They justify their courtship of others (potential unwitting "secondary partners") by remaining, in some ill-defined way, faithful to their girlfriend/fiance/spouse. And therefore, what you need to know, if some guy whom you know to have a girlfriend is quite obviously into you, is what he is up to. SO ASK.

This is no time to be subtle. This is serious stuff. If a man is your work or study buddy, and you enjoy chatting at lunch, that's great. But if he has a girlfriend, you shouldn't find yourself often alone with him, or having long phone conversations with him at 10 o'clock at night, or getting presents from him, or being touched by him in a non-touchy culture. Either there is something seriously wrong with his relationship with his girlfriend, or he wants to have his cake and eat it too, i.e. the stability of monogamy and the excitement of polygamy. Ask him which it is.*

Or, to preempt any lies, tell him you're not comfortable being alone, getting late phone calls, receiving presents or being touched by a guy with a girlfriend. In either strategy, all you have to lose is an immature guy who puts his polyamorous tendencies before the woman in his life. And, frankly, a guy who hasn't reached that level of maturity and virtue yet is not marriage material. Maybe he'll be marriage material for someone someday, but he isn't now.  

*If he's an elderly, married, childless man who quite obviously adores the young folk, you may want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I know one man like that--a sincerely fatherly, very generous type. And there was at least one nice young foreign seminarian + middle-aged, married "Canadian mother" type relationship at my M.Div. school, and I think either party would have been staggered and hurt if anyone had questioned it. Today I am contemplating only same-age relationships.


Anonymous said...

Something similar happened to me when I worked at a small law firm. One of the men there had a long-time girlfriend, but he was also clearly interested in me. He, however, was enough of a gentleman not to have prolonged conversations along with me- if we went out to lunch or drinks, it was with other people we worked with, too. About six months after I stopped working there, he asked me out for drinks. I agreed, assuming either he invited our other old colleagues or he had since broken up with his girlfriend. Neither were true, I found out after we were already eating the happy hour pizza. He paid, and I was a little horrified that I accidentally went on a date with a guy with a girlfriend.

I think if this had happened again, even once, I would have asked him what was up, or told him I was uncomfortable, as Seraphic recommends. Since it was only the once, and I think he was genuinely confused as to whether he wanted to jump ship or not, it was fine. It probably helps that while I found him super-attractive, I wasn't all that interested in him, anyway, so I wasn't in the least heart-broken he didn't choose me.


TRS said...

I get stuck in what you describe,, I'll go on a date with this guy I'm only mildly interested in, because I feel to open to Gods will, I should go out with whomever asks me. How can I know in one conversation whether I should write the perfectly nice guy off?
Then I continue to accept dates, with the intention of accepting dates from anyone else who asks until I see a front-runner. But it turns out I'm dating the guy I wasn't really interested in, because he's the only one asking.

I'm tired of it. I just want the right guy to come along already.
How do I explain to guys that I'm happy to get to know them, but I think dating should be another step entirely, and I'm not so sure what that step looks like?

Seraphic said...

My advice is that you should go out for coffee once with anyone who suggests it--unless he is an out-and-out heel you shouldn't been seen with, and you know it. And after that, if you're interested and have good reason to think you share Core Values, go on two dates (if he asks). If you're really not "feeling a spark" after the third appointment, tell him you think this is going to be a friendship thing.

This is the only way I can think of to give good guys a serious chance, and then to slip out of a situation earlier, when it's just a blow to his ego, rather than later, when it's more of a stab in the heart.

I had exactly three dates with really cute Mexican guy. It was totally all correct, and there was no fourth date. But that was totally okay. I enjoyed our dates, he was a perfect gentleman, and we're both married to other people, and he had the good manners to get married, like, three years after me! :-D

Pearlmusic said...

TRS: I don’t think that it is God’s will you should continue to date a guy you’re not interested in even if he’s the only one who’s asking ;-) But I get your point, as I’m generally for men being the ones who call and women who respond. How frustrating it is, when you feel virtually unable to respond!

Of course, you will not know at first, and there’s nothing wrong with dating more than one guy at once. To be honest, I hate the word “date” and I insist on coffee to make it neutral for a start. This is also a fair excuse for initial “non-exclusiveness”. After some time, you’ll have to clarify that you’re not interested in anything but “just friends”. How long does it take “to know”? I have no idea, really. This might differ depending on a case. Seraphic recommends three dates, so as not to lead the guy on for too long and it seems reasonable, but it depends on your and the guy’s timing.
Seraphic: you covered almost everything one can think of on this topic.

Being attracted to someone who is taken or if you are taken, is nothing wrong in itself and you usually cannot help it and cannot hide it. You just have those sparks of interest in your eyes.
And I don’t see anything particularly shifty or wicked in that, to make things clear. It would be terrible for people in relationships not to be able to enjoy their interactions with members of the opposite sex other than their partner/spouse. It would be equally terrible for Single people not to be able to enjoy their interactions with already taken members of the opposite sex.

The other thing is whether you keep it modest or not. And the responsibility is equal for both parties, in my view. So I can fully agree that if you’re Single, your responsibility is to be straightforward if something makes you feel uncomfortable or is obviously inappropriate (sometimes it is helpful to involve a third party opinion, if you have friends in common), unless, of course, this person is not fully committed yet and aims clearly at winning your heart and becoming exclusive with you. But, from what I know myself, these are signs showing that you might probably have to flee at once:

He/she doesn’t stop courting you even after they are committed (engaged or married)

He/she tries to deny that something’s wrong in there when you mention being uncomfortable. If this person really likes and respects you, they will not be willing to continue to make you feel bad

He/she is spying on your personal affairs (without you letting him/her know about them), is jealous about them and tries to render your dating plans fruitless. If that’s your case, don’t hesitate to run away.

TRS said...

True, i do agree with auntie of course, and aunt pearl (hee hee). But keep in mind... In the world... Three days = horizontal mambo... So I feel the need to clarify sooner than that.

I'm not saying I feel I HAVE to date them for some period of time. I just don't know, after all these years, how much time is enough to say, "yeah, I'm not going to evere want to have sex with you." I have a problem toeing that subtle line between, " this person is attractive, if I get to know him, I may be attracted TO him." and just being attracted to the person!

What I do know for sure, if I find them attractive, full stop, they are not interested in me. Or if they are, they quickly fall off the planet after a few dates. (Other times, we become dear friends.)

I have struggled, in that I've never found many catholic men to date, so I do have to date Christian men, and in most circles, one doesn't get to pounce on faith details right away.

Ugh. It should NOT be this complicated!

Seraphic said...

No, indeed. I don't think there is anything in BEING attracted to a lot of people, just ACTING on it. (And where have we heard this before?)

If you are dating someone who believes in the "Third Date Rule" and only find that out on the third date, then most definitely there should not be a fourth.

I think three meetings ideal because people are rarely their best, least artificial selfs on the first date, and they are much more likely to be themselves on the second date. The third date should confirm or overturn any positive feelings you get.

Possibly the world is right that "third date" does have some definitive character. But what it gets wrong, of course, is that now it is time to sleep together or break up. So weird.

I wonder if the world would suggest anyone ever get married after the third date? Because if you know someone well enough to put your body and soul at his disposal, then...?

Pearlmusic said...

Haha, I'm sorry if I sounded like an agony column a bit ;-D Hope you didn't mind.

I wish it was less complicated, too. I know this feeling: you are going to a party, to a new church, starting new job, new classes or anything and sort of "scan" the circle for Single men. And you think: this one's a hottie, that one - nice, that one - not bad. But, er - this - so annoying, oh no, never! And this particular one is the first (if not only) to ask you out. Ooops. What a shame! I've been there and I don't have a clue about how it works for other people that they're swept off their feet and "just know", or they managed not to write one another off before they "knew" and their core values met, and all that. And I wish we didn't have to think of any rules and count dates, really.

Midwest Miss said...

I'm hesitant re giving older men the benefit of the doubt. It's nice in theory: So-and-So is just being fatherly, and in our culture that can look a little odd; not to worry, it's all fine. In practice sometimes it's not at all fine but it's masquerading as something healthy.

The mentor I'm thinking of turned out to be a sociopath with terrible (sexual) intentions. He compared me to his daughter and made sure all his actions were easily explained away, so I was confused for a while.

Most fatherly men ARE good, and generally the good mentors I've known were either already aware of or very receptive to healthy boundaries.
Regardless, please trust your instincts and read up on "gaslighting". If _______ felt weird/sexual/romantic to you, but he or others insist it was platonic and kind, reset the boundaries STAT.
Even if _____ is similar to what he does with others and it's clearly platonic then, even if everyone else trusts him, even if he's in a leadership role, even if he's from a culture where _____ would be normal. You are always allowed to be cautious, and you don't owe anyone your trust. Even if he really is a good guy. You deserve to feel comfortable, so even if there's nothing inherently wrong with _____/So-and-So you get to set the boundaries to your comfort level.

I know that's not at all what you meant to imply by your addendum, Auntie S, but had I read it while under the mentorship of said sociopath it'd have been problematic for me.

Seraphic said...

Noted! Sometimes you may NOT want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let's face it: some men are just creepy, manipulative so-and-sos who will tell any lie to get what they want, which usually ends up being sex.

I suppose the same could be said for women, although I am having a hard time imagining a wily over-50 woman trapping some 20-something youth in her plots when... Oh, actually, I wrote about one in my "Seraphic Singles."

Seraphic said...

And I'm sorry that happened to you, Midwest Miss! What an uncomfortable situation to be in.