The Hook Up: Am I coming on too strong?

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I wrote to you about a year ago about a problem I had with talking to women, and since then things have improved, but I’m in a bit of a situation. I’ve started dating this girl, and she’s amazing. I really like her and she really likes me. The thing is though, I’m currently torn between two conflicting, but very real, fears. One the one hand, I’m scared that if I’m coming across as too eager. She’s told me that her last two exes were very possessive and very controlling, and I’m worried that if I am coming across as too eager, she’s gonna think I’m the same and decide I’m not worth the effort. On the other hand however, I’m scared that if I hold back and try to be more aloof she’ll think I’m not into her or her feelings will fade. This is my first real, genuine relationship and I’m terrified of screwing it up this early on with my insecurities, but I can’t seem to stop focusing on these two fears. Any advice?—Torn

Anna says: Dear Torn, Has your girlfriend said anything to you about this? Caught you scoping wedding registries or picking out matching grave plots? In other words, is this a fear based in reality or one you think might happen because it has happened to her in the past? Since you supply no evidence to the contrary, I’m going to assume that this is mostly in your head and that there is no reason for alarm.

New relationships are scary though, I totally feel you (in a platonic way). We fret and agonize over whether the feelz we are feelzings are reciprocated. We daydream and send tentative text messages and practice disabling our OkCupid accounts. Until one day it is miraculously revealed—“Why yes! I do like you like you like me. Let’s glitter the town and then clean it up immediately because every day is Earth Day go green!”

Part of sussing out someone’s communication preferences is guesswork, of course. If you are a heavy texter and she isn’t, then you will probably figure out fairly early on not to send her 89 pictures of your amazing coffee foam swirl, what your bitchy coworker said today, and asking her what she’s thinking about several times throughout the day. But also, it doesn’t have to be a big guessing game. You could also simply ask her.

Especially since you seem so concerned about it. Tell her something like, “Hey, when you were talking about your possessive exes, it got me thinking, ‘I hope I never act like that!’ What kind of behaviors are you not a fan of so I’ll know what to avoid? And please feel free to tell me if anything I do makes you feel uncomfortable and I’ll do the same for you. Now pass me that compostable glitter.”

It might sound a little cheesy, but really this is pretty basic communication stuff and you might as well get comfortable with it now since this is your first “real” foray into lady lovin’ ‘lationships (it almost worked). Plus, everyone is different. “Possessiveness” to one girl, might seem like romantic behavior to another. One ex of mine liked when I acted a little jealous because it made her feel like I desired her. It was almost like she wanted a courtship ritual thing. I would tease her about people checking her out, which I did legitimately notice, and she felt happy to get a little extra attention. Other girls, possibly like your girlfriend, have past relationships that made them feel controlled or caged, and they tend to not be receptive to that kind of teasing, even if it’s mostly in jest. So, it’s good to find out.

As to “acting aloof,” I’d advise against that, especially if it’s not something that occurs naturally. There is something to be said of “playing it cool,” (especially with the texting. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s emoji parade or anything, but seriously, put the phone down once in a while and go look at clouds or something), but you shouldn’t have to pretend to be something you’re not or feel something you don’t in order to pacify someone else’s needs. One, it doesn’t work. You’ll still feel all the feelz, but will be sending conflicted messages to the contrary, possibly confusing your girlfriend, and definitely yourself. Two, if you can’t be genuine with your partner now, it sets a bad precedent for later on.

This isn’t to say you should dump a litany of insecurities on her and constantly seek her approval and validation—it’s OK to keep some of that to yourself, especially in the beginning. Don’t treat her like a therapist and you should be fine. Also, I know it might be hard to see into the distant future, but odds are, this won’t be your only relationship. So try not to place her or the relationship on a pedestal and have fun learning and being with each other. It’s OK to screw up and feel unsure—we all do—just don’t let it consume your life. As Gandhi never said, “Be the change you wish to see in the girl.”

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