I'm a 28-year-old single woman in New York City. A year ago I met a 29-year-old attractive and accomplished professional man while spending a month in San Francisco for work.
We bumped into each other a few times and he asked me out but it was too late to get together and I returned home without seeing him again.
Over the past year we have exchanged countless flirty e-mails and dozens of telephone calls, with the main theme coming from him being, when can I see you? When are you coming back?
I haven't been able to see him because I have been traveling the last six months for work and he is extremely tied down at work so he can never really manage to break away.
But the real reason for not rushing off to see him has something to do with this: When we speak, he tries to bring sex into the conversation. It's very unnerving to me. While I have been known to initiate pillow talk when in bed with a boyfriend, I've never done so over the phone, especially with someone I have never kissed before. It freaks me out to hear him say those things to me. He doesn't even know me and it makes me feel so weird.
He's not saying, "I want to have sex with you," he is saying the good stuff like, I want to do all this and that and then, dear Lord, all this other stuff.
Now, I do have my own desires and I am no shrinking violet. I've gone to bed with very sexual and confident men in my life, but none of them ever tried to talk to me like this on the phone. I guess I think they had more respect for me than to do that.
It just feels so unnatural and unromantic to talk like this when he hasn't even grabbed me and held me yet. Why is he doing this?
I do protest and laugh it off as much as I can, but he drags me into it and I don't know how to stop him without hurting his feelings.
I must admit that sometimes, it makes me not want to see him at all. How in the world do I respond to his detailed long-distance advances? We haven't even had drinks yet, but I know everything he wants to do to me.
Why can't I get past this? Do a lot of men do this? It makes me feel yucky.
Stunned on the Other End
The simplest thing would be to tell this guy to stop talking that way. On the surface of it, it's not very mysterious: He's doing something to you that you don't like, so it's your right, and some might say your personal responsibility, to tell him to stop.
But the fact that you haven't told him to stop raises many interesting questions. You said that you don't want to hurt his feelings, and that may be true, but it may not be the only reason. Are you unaccustomed to setting explicit boundaries with other people? Are you afraid of losing him if you tell him to stop? Do you hold out some hope that this relationship might blossom into something truly valuable and important? And to what extent do you take pleasure in this, however forbidden and strange; to what extent does it feel like an act of intimacy, however uncomfortable? After all, it is attention, even a kind of worship; if you have felt starved for attention, lonely, powerless, it may be giving you something you want, although not in the socially acceptable form you would wish.
These are all questions I wish you would think about. As to the first question, it's a funny thing about telling someone to stop doing something to you that you don't like. If you've never had any trouble setting boundaries the whole question of having to work it out consciously can seem preposterous. But some people get confused or frightened when they have to tell other people no. Fears arise that the other person will take the no as a global rejection, and that whatever relationship exists between you will be destroyed. Fears also may arise of retribution, or tit-for-tat response: If you tell him to stop talking that way, he may become aggressive and try to turn the tables on you.
But part of learning to set boundaries is learning that what's important is doing what you must do; it's more important than getting the result you want. Even though you may be ambivalent and have complicated feelings, you have to be firm in your decision -- like Dr. Melfi in the season opener of "The Sopranos," if you happened to watch that. It requires having faith that things will be OK, and courage to weather unpleasantness.
One more thing I would like to say: One's initial impression is that you're conducting a "long-distance relationship," a prelude to face-to-face encounters in which you would decide whether to pursue it seriously. But the fact that it's gone on so long without either of you clearing your calendar for even a weekend trip means that this is the relationship you are having. You have a relationship with a guy and this is what you do in the relationship: You talk on the phone and he says dirty things to you.
If you think about it that way, you might see a side of you that you hadn't fully acknowledged. So give some thought to that as well: This may have gone on so long because you're too timid to say no, but you may be doing something you truly enjoy and just aren't out of the closet yet.
Plenty for you to think about, no?
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