Such as… relationships!
Now, it’s been a fairly common complaint that I’ve covered a lot about getting phone numbers, getting dates and sex, but not giving all that much coverage to getting into longer-term, more committed relationships. As criticisms go, it’s a valid one – I do tend to focus more on the intial and interim stages of courtship, dating and/or pick-up (for lack of a better, less loaded term) because frankly most of the time it’s a case of “learn to crawl before you walk” and the better you get at the early stages, the better the odds of finding someone who’s just as interested in something more serious with you as you are with them.
But in fairness, sometimes it can be difficult to make the leap from casual dating to something more serious. In fact, if you’re more used to casual relationships (or no-strings attached sex, fuckbuddy relationships or got too deep into PUA culture), the headspace needed for making the transition can feel utterly unfamiliar, even alien.
So let’s talk about what it takes to get that girlfriend you’ve been looking for.
Standard disclaimer: The advice here applies equally to men and women, regardless of pronoun usage.
So before we get too deep into things I should point out that this is not necessarily first date material. Ideally you will have had a couple of dates and a pretty good gauge as to whether there is some mutual attraction going before you start feeling out the potential for a relationship. If you start pulling some of this out before you’ve even had your first kiss (or – and I’ve seen it happen – before you’ve even got the phone number) then you are going to come off as crazy intense and most likely scare the living hell out of your poor date.
This is also about building a relationship, not about trying to get a fuckbuddy or a hit-it-and-quit-it situation. Building up somebody’s emotions and expectations just in order to use them sexually is an incredibly shitty thing to do.
Keep this in mind.
Know What She Is Looking For.
You can’t just assume that, because you’re on a date, you’re both seeing this as an audition for a relationship. People go on dates for any number of reasons beyond potential life-partners. Some go on dates because they’re new to an area and are looking to meet people and build a social circle. Some are looking for sex, some are looking for activity partners. Some are just looking for friends but are vaguely open to more if it all works out. Some people are only interested in a casual relationship.
You need to understand this: if someone you’re interested in does not want a serious relationship, you cannot change their mind. The worst thing you can do here is agree to a “casual” relationship in the hopes of convincing them that you are, in fact, the exception to their rule. All you are doing is wasting your time and hers and opening yourself up to heartbreak and disappointment.
Trust me: I have been there, done that, printed the t-shirts and have the angsty, passive-aggressive LiveJournal updates to prove it.
I cannot stress this enough: some people just are not open to the possibility of a relationship on any level and there is nothing you can do about it. Tattoo this backwards on your forehead so you can read it in the mirror in the morning. Shave your head if you need the room.
However, this doesn’t mean that these people are hanging around, present but disguised, like a dating minefield. As a general rule, the people who simply aren’t up for it will let you know early on – either directly (“I’m not looking for anything serious,”) or through context that you can easily recognize.
Yes, there will be people who aren’t up front about being interested in a relationship. Some of them honestly don’t know. There is nothing you can really do about these people – as often as not, they may think that they’re interested (or ready) for a relationship and discover much to their surprise that they are not.
Some of them are simply dishonest about the matter. These people are assholes. Unfortunately, potentially encountering assholes is the price of entry for being in the dating game. The best thing you can do is sharpen your instincts and learn to detect them early so as to not invest too much time or treasure in them.
Set The Relationship Frame
Nobody wants to get hurt. And yet, dating requires deliberately putting oneself in (emotional) harm’s way; when we start dating someone, we are putting ourselves in a position to be rejected, which can be scary. Because we instinctively avoid pain, we will act in ways that are contrary to our long-term goals or self-interest for fear of being hurt.
As a result: dating can be annoyingly nebulous and vague, with each person being afraid to disturb the status quo for fear that doing so will ruin things. Even couples who know that there is something deep and intimate growing between them will put off wanting to address the matter for fear of misjudging the situation.
Men are especially prone to this; we are socialized to not be as open – or as comfortable – with our emotions as women are. We are expected to run on instinct, to just know things, apparently by clairsentience, rather than to talk about them. Even worse is the fact that pop culture has taught us to believe that relationships – like sex – are things that just happen without really having to talk about it. They just build and build until that climactic moment when everything falls into place.
When we’re dating with an eye towards a relationship, you don’t want to bring up the topic too early for fear of appearing emotionally over-invested or needy, when you aren’t. At the same time, you want to be sure you’re on the same page with the person you’re dating.
Some people believe in explicit communication – everything must be dragged out into the light and examined in great detail. But while this can be a good thing, it can be a bit much for many people. Some people actively dislike explicitly talking about relationships and where things are going, while others are – by temperament or by experience – more attuned to implicit communication.
So how does one implicitly communicate the idea of building towards a relationship?
Well, one of the ways of doing this is by framing the interaction.
Framing is the meaning that surrounds the event or the interaction. To use a classic negative example, a Nice Guy who’s been stuck in the Friend Zone may take his crush out to dinner; in an attempt to add meaning to the event – and thus push things towards convincing her that he’s really sex-material – he may make jokes about how “hey, this is kind of like a date, huh?” He is attempting to set the frame that this is a romantic event, with all of the potential inherent in one. Theoretically, should his crush not challenge the notion that they’re on a date, then she is implicitly agreeing to the frame – which in turn establishes him as someone she would be willing to date.
There is more to framing however than just verbally establishing the meaning. We respond to deeds far more than we do to words; the creation and management of expectations through actions and implications is also a form of framing.
Framing – setting the meaning of an event – through actions and implications is one form of implicit communication, and a way of communicating intent without necessarily forcing things to an awkward conversation. To quote Mssrs. David Gahan and Martin Gore: “Words are very unnecessary/ they can only do harm”.
So how, exactly do we do this?
To start with, we talk about the future. Not to the level of “so what will we name the kids?” but about what we hope for and expect out of the future, whether it be three weeks from now to years. You may notice that some people – men especially – who are looking for a more… informal relationship1 will often avoid any discussion of future plans that are more than a week or two out for fear of setting themselves up for the “where is this relationship going?” speech. When we talk about our future plans and long term goals with people we are dating we create the expectation that they will still be in our lives to see it, if not explicitly be a part of it. Similarly, bringing up theoretical long term plans based on mutual interests – say, mentioning that she might want to go with you to a concert coming up in a month – builds on the expectation that you will still be seeing each other a month from now.
For another, consider the amount of time you spend together. Once you get out of college and enter the job market, it gets harder to work out the time to see people you don’t actively work or live with; the more time you devote to seeing someone, the greater the implications for your relationship with them. Going out one night a week with someone you’ve been seeing bespeaks of a casual relationship. Seeing each other twice, even three times – assuming, of course, that this doesn’t lead to her feeling smothered – says far more about the level of interest that the two of you have in one another than words alone might – and helps set the frame that this is more than just two people who enjoy one another’s company.
Acting like a boyfriend in a relationship helps to set the tone and meaning of the interaction; slowly building emotional intimacy and connections carries the message that she means more to you than just as a friend with potential benefits.
Keep in mind: this is about implicit communication, not about trying to mind-fuck someone into being your girlfriend. You aren’t trying to slow-boil her into a relationship, you’re setting the tone. If you’re experiencing push back – she starts cutting back how often you see each other, you’re suddenly talking on the phone less and responses to texts are slower and slower in coming, you’ve likely pushed too far, too fast. Slow your roll, Romeo; dial it all back until she’s comfortable.
- which is to say, no-strings attached sex or actively seeing other people [↩]