Not all advice need be professional. Sometimes your problems merit a bit of unvarnished honesty from a dude equipped with nothing more than a computer and a conscience. Luckily for you, I’m that guy. Welcome back to Tough Love.
This week we’re addressing how to navigate the very modern issue of blooming love during a pandemic between two people who haven’t met in person.
Note: I’m not a therapist or health professional of any kind. People ask for my advice and I give it to them. End of transaction. If you have a problem with it, feel free to file a formal complaint here. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.
I matched with a guy on a dating app in October just as the pandemic was worsening again. On top of that, he’s temporarily living in another city for now and isn’t ready to move back or visit yet.
Since we matched, we’ve texted every day and gone on multiple FaceTime “dates.” We’ve had really vulnerable conversations about our pasts but not our feelings about each other. I am about 99 percent sure I would like to date this man IRL as soon as I can but I fear I’m setting myself up for disaster. I would never ask him to commit when we haven’t even met but as the months have gone on I can’t really tell if he thinks of me as more than flirty friends. I’m worried that when the pandemic ends we either won’t be looking for the same things or he won’t like me. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from this inevitable heartbreak that doesn’t include just forgetting about him?
TL;DR what should I do about my virtual pandemic-ship now that it looks like we will both be safe to dare by the summer?
Frustrated in Quarantine
Dear Frustrated in Quarantine,
The problem you’re dealing with has been part of online dating forever, but it is also one unique to this horrible plague year we’ve all been living through. Even before the pandemic, your basic issue was an annoyingly common one: how and when do you know when to turn a friendship or an infatuation into a full-blown relationship? No two situations are the same, but two common questions pervade them all: “What are we?” and “Do we want the same thing out of this relationship?”
So though the pandemic has prevented you from meeting IRL, you aren’t in completely uncharted territory here. To my mind, the only way out of this maddening gray-area is to have the tough conversation with this dude. What you’ve spelled out suggests you’ve established the bedrock of a healthy, supportive relationship. You’ve had candid, vulnerable conversations about your pasts. You’ve gone on “FaceTime dates,” which at a minimum suggests some kind of romantic intent in your virtual hangouts. (You did meet on a dating app, after all.)
That said, you have a right to know how he feels about the relationship you’ve struck up over the last five months. Where does he see it going, potentially? You’ve spent the better part of half a year getting to know this guy, which has birthed a certain sense of uncertainty, given that the direction of your relationship has been left unaddressed.
The thought of asking him these questions is uncomfortable, for sure. But it’s possible he’s feeling just as sheepish, and the great unspoken elephant in the room could vanish in a matter of seconds once he reveals he too would like try things out in person. You’re going to have to be clear and direct, however, since it seems, at least at this moment, that you’re the only one who’s mulling over the future of this relationship in a serious way.
Being direct can pay off. It’s also possible that this conversation won’t be easy, so be prepared. Consider asking him a few general questions (with your own personalized touch, of course):
- We’ve spent a lot of time talking throughout the pandemic, and I’m just curious if you see this as something we could pursue in person, once it’s safe to do so?
- I’ve developed feelings for you, and I’d like to try this out in person to see where it goes. What do you think?
Notice that you’re not demanding that he commit to anything. You’re merely asking whether he’d give this a shot, were cyberspace not separating you two. That’s the emotionally honest, mature, adult way to go about this. There comes a time when you have to stop bullshitting.
Another thing that you have to be prepared for: It’s possible that he’s leaning on you for emotional support in this trying time and doesn’t actually want anything to grow out of your relationship. Sometimes, people just want a buddy they can text, call, or chat with when they’re feeling lonely. And it can be a totally manipulative and selfish when one party wants something beyond FaceTime calls and the other doesn’t. This happened to me with a couple women I dated years ago. It didn’t feel great, but I eventually wised up to it and stopped playing the game.
Bottom line: he owes you an answer. But you need to be direct and honest as you ask him for one—and you can do it in ways that don’t demand he move back to the city just for you.
That’s it for this week, but there’s plenty more Tough Love to go around. Please get in touch by describing your dilemmas in the comments below or by emailing me at the address you see at the bottom of the page (please include “ADVICE” in the subject line). Or, tweet at me with the hashtag #ToughLove! Also, DO NOT EMAIL ME IF YOU DON’T WANT YOUR REQUEST FEATURED and PLEASE KEEP IT SHORT. I don’t have time to respond to everyone just for fun. ‘Til next time, figure things out for yourself.