Hanging out

I've been casual with him for two years, but I think we'd be great together. Should I go for more?

Published October 20, 2003 7:40PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm two years into a casual romance and would love an outsider's take on the situation. We're both in our early 30s, living in NYC. By "casual" I mean e-mailing every few weeks, seeing each other every month or two. We both travel quite a bit and I've been dating other people, so I had been happy having him as a fun "background" romantic presence in my life.

About six months ago we had a period of a bit more hanging out. A question started creeping into my mind -- after more than two years, what are we? We always have a great time when we're together. There's lots in common, lots of laughs, and a crazy physical attraction. There's something between us that has kept both of us coming back, not letting this thing between us just fall away, which is saying something in NYC. So could there be something more here?

So we talked. I told him I was getting curious as to what more time together would feel like -- do we have the makings of something more than a casual romance? He likes me, too, thinks we are and could be something special. But, due to some recent and not so recent failed romances, dating the wrong people, he's squirrelly, a little screwed up, and gun-shy about taking a real shot with me. We have no sense of what it would feel like to be a real presence in each other's lives. But we've been doing this for two-plus years, so we know each other really well and are super-comfortable around each other. He's a little freaked about how fast we'd take off if we did this.

What should I do? I like him. I'm attracted to him. Those feelings are mutual. I think we'd be great together. Our personalities complement each other really well and I feel that we want a similar kind of life. Should I just step out of this thing altogether and hope that my absence makes him stop holding this thing at arm's length? (A few months ago I pulled out, he called a few weeks later missing me, and we picked back up.) Or should I keep in it and hope that eventually he'll relax? Or will that just keep him from ever making a decision? But will casting him out of my life really prompt the decision I want? This whole thing is just a little weird to me. I tend to look at things very straightforward -- you like someone, you go for it. His foot-dragging and his past holding him back is kind of foreign terrain for me (and it's not like I'm looking for a ring, just more frequent interaction!). Or is this all code for he doesn't like me enough?

Too Casual

Dear Too Casual,

You have posed several questions that I can't answer, because I can't predict the future and I can't read minds. But you have also said enough to allow for some suggestions. If all you want is more frequent interaction, I don't really see the problem. Just make arrangements to get together a little more often. Go for once a month, then try for twice a month. How much more frequent do you want to make it? Frequency itself isn't the issue, though; I think there is more going on here. You say, "I think we would be great together." I think you want him to be your boyfriend. You are just trying to find a cooler, less definite way of saying it.

I am aware that many people in their 30s are trying to prolong their nonaligned status and avoid fragmenting into little nuclear units. Bless you for that. It's healthy and wise. But that's no reason to equivocate or tell half-truths. Let's look at things in a very straightforward way. Do you want to eventually marry him? That's what you are actually talking about. You are talking about a relationship that grows closer and closer until it does, eventually, turn into a kind of marriage.

So if you would like to marry him, then keep at it. If you would not like to marry him, then let it be what it is. There's no sense struggling over the monthly frequency of your interactions if there is no future at stake. It simply doesn't matter. If you don't care for each other enough to want to be with each other more, if you are not dreaming of building a life together, then the relative frequency of your dates is kind of irrelevant. It is just a kind of entertainment that you can get anywhere.

I would say that if you really like to be straightforward, then that is the brass tack down to which you must get.

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