I am a long time reader of your blog, I feel like this is what it would look like if Cosmopolitan ran a science journal.
Anyways, I am contacting you in search of advice. I am a nerd-girl, moderately attractive, so I find myself being the one initiating relationships (and sadly ending them.) Recently I asked out a fellow college student of mine over Facebook. We know each other through a gaming club, but we don’t get to talk much because it’s a large club, and I don’t see him other than that because he’s a theater major and I’m a science major. I decided to ask him out after two jokes he told; one on binary, the other on medieval weaponry.
I asked him if I could buy him a coffee, he responded immediately saying yes, and then we scheduled a time. My main issue is this:
Is it a date?
How do I know if he knows it’s a date?
Have I Made A Huge Mistake
There’s a part of me that’s absurdly tempted to link to one of a dozen hot takes and thought pieces on the whole “kids these days don’t go on dates they just ‘hang out'” idea that goes along with tut-tutting about hook-up culture but honestly? Most of the problem comes from people coasting on the ambiguity of the situation; a sort of Schrödinger’s Date that can be both A Date and Not A Date at the same time, so that one or both parties can save face if it turns out that the other person’s not into them. The irony, of course, is that trying to avoid that fear of rejection actually ends up making things worse as everyone tries to figure out whether this is A Date or not and respond accordingly.
But here’s the thing: rejection isn’t as bad as all that. It stings, sure, but like ripping off a bandage, it’s better to do it quick and clean than to drag it out. If someone’s not into you, it’s far better to find out before you’ve invested time and money into them, even if you’re just talking about the span of a half hour and the price of a cup of coffee.
Now, there’re times when it’s more likely that you can assume that a) yes, it’s a date and b) they know it’s a date. Met at a bar? Probably a date. Some flirtiness, some physical contact, especially beyond what most would consider to be friendly-touchy-feely? Almost certainly a date. Person making a point of buying the other person coffee/dinner/what-have-you? Well… there’s a little ambiguity if you squint (or, if like many nerds, you don’t believe that other people could find you attractive) but likely a date.
But you know how you can make sure that they know it’s a date? Spell it out for them. Ideally when you’re asking them out, but at least while you’re on the date. If you’re feeling especially shy or awkward about trying to wedge the d-word in, you can always bankshot it with “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you out for a while…”which not only feels less intimidating but allows for both a subtle compliment (you’ve been into him for a bit) but can play on the nerd cliche of “bashfully forward” that many people find appealing.
And if he still doesn’t get it… well, sometimes you just have to beat a person about the head and shoulders with a clue-by-four. Or, y’know. Just plant one on him and hope he doesn’t assume you tripped and just ended up on his lips.
Dear Doctor NerdLove,
Way back in the dark ages (late 90’s) when my husband and I first started seeing each other we sat down and had a conversation about monogamy. We agreed (18-year old me and 22-year-old him) that if ever there came a time when one of us wanted to pursue a secondary relationship that we had the freedom to ask for permission for such a dalliance. That all seemed fair and equitable and incredibly distant and academic to my younger self. Honestly, that agreement still seems reasonable to me on an intellectual level.
But here’s the thing, we’ve been been married for 16 years, we have two children, and for every single one of the last 18 years (the two we weren’t married for and the 16 we have been) the idea of being non-monogamous has really never come up. Until now. Six weeks ago, after an admittedly long dry spell spurred by poorly treated depression on my part, he came to me with a question. He’d met a lovely young woman he had feelings for and wanted to pursue a relationship with.
Now, philosophically I have no issue with polyamory. And, after all, I did agree that this was a permissable question and potentiality way back in the way back. That said, I won’t lie when I say I was upset. But after I’d taken some time to process I gave him the go-ahead. What I didn’t anticipate, and couldn’t have really, is that the poorly controlled depression I mentioned above was actually entirely untreated bipolar disorder. As he was gaily off wooing this new woman I was sitting at home going absolutely batshit insane. At this point we’re all on the same page, mostly. He continues to see his new lady friend with the caveat that they are taking things very slowly out or respect for my mental health. Meanwhile, I am getting on new meds and getting my ass into therapy.
However, in the interim, and also depending on which pole I’m at, I am either one hundred percent okay with his secondary relationship or absolutely devastated by it. I’m hopeful that once my meds start actually working I’ll be in a better place to know what my actual opinions are. I guess my questions are these: since I was cool with this all prior to losing my shit will I go back to being cool with it? Is my husband being a jerk to keep dating his other partner while I am having a major depressive episode? Am I fooling myself thinking I can be okay with this? I really can’t sort out which feelings are real and which ones are my mood disorder fucking with me. With the caveat that you have no clue what’s going on in my own twisted psyche, does this sound like a fair and ethical scenario or am I actually getting the short end on things? I know how it feels right now, but seeing as I’m deeply depressed I don’t really trust my own judgement.
So a couple things first.
The fact that you made this arrangement 18 years ago2 doesn’t mean that you’re now soul-bound to it. You and he have done a whole lotta living, growing and changing in the intervening years. The circumstances under which you made that arrangement back in the day are not the same as the ones that stand now. So it’s not inherently unfair to you to say “ya know, I’ve got some issues with this,” and re-open negotiations if you feel that you’re not necessarily ok with it these days.
The other thing is that you don’t want to overlook how you feel. If you’re in a place, funky brain chemistry and all, where there’re regular times when it is ripping your heart to shreds, it is totally fine to pump the brakes on things. The fact that the origins of said heart-shredding comes from a chemical imbalance doesn’t make it any less heart-shred-y. Just as with depression, just because you know what the root cause is doesn’t mean you magically stop feeling it or you’re able to somehow power through it by sheer force of will and come out not feeling horrible on the other side. Those feelings are real. They still hurt and dismissing them because you know that it’s a depressive episode doesn’t make them go away or invalid.
Plus, let’s not discount the possibility that the times when you’re fine with it could be coming from a manic episode.
Of course, opening that particular can o’ worms is a great way to completely paralyze yourself and leave you continually asking yourself what is reality anyway.
Opening up and maintaining an open relationship isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone, and one of the keys to making it work is the understanding that both of you have the right to call the question. Relationships are a continual negotiation and when circumstances change, then the terms of the relationship should change with them. If one person is miserable and the other is having the time of their lives, that’s inherently not fair to the miserable person. The point of an open relationship is that everyone is ok and on board; if opening things up is going to end up doing more harm than good, then you shouldn’t open the relationship.
If you’re unsure about how you feel or whether those feelings are being influenced by wonky brain chemistry, then the best thing you can do is temporarily close things while you wait for the medication to do it’s thing (and acknowledging that it could take a while to find meds and dosages that work for you). And honestly, I’d say if you’re going to close it up while you’re getting your disorder under control, then close it up all the way. Which means your hubby calling things quits (for now) with the new girlfriend. Yes, it’s a shame that he doesn’t get to explore things further with her the way he’d want to but a) you need his love and support right now and b) there’s no point in frustrating him with what he can’t have or setting things up where oops he slipped and broke your arrangement.
Close things for now, get yourself in a better place and re-examine how you feel. If you legitimately are ok with it, you can reopen it again and everyone can pick up again later. And just in case you haven’t already, I suggest you both do your due diligence with regards to polyamory. Check out The Ethical Slut, Opening Up and More Than Two to help you both talk about what you want and how you’re going to make things work.