I have a cold, dead heart.
Well, not really but pretty much, yeah. I was married to my ex-wife for nearly a decade and the end of our relationship was really complicated. I feel almost certain that I don’t have the capacity to be in love or be in a relationship ever again.
That being said, I still want to get laid, of course. But my issue is this: I feel as though I’m being pretty up front with my dates about my emotional limitations from the start. However, even though they tell me that they’re okay with not being in a relationship and just having sex, it always ends up feeling like they actually aren’t okay with keeping it casual, expect more from me than I have to give, and I end up disappointing them and being the bad guy.
To make things more complicated, I take a little longer to warm up to people so I’m not very well suited for random, one-night stands. I’m more looking for a friends-with-benefits arrangement that can stay that way without becoming more.
Is this possible? Is there some way that I can avoid this pattern from happening over and over again? It makes me feel as though I just shouldn’t date or have sex with anyone at all and am incapable of not hurting the people that I get involved with and that just sucks.
Thanks for any advice,
I’m catching a whiff of at least a tiny bit of heart left in that chest in your concern that you’re hurting the people that you date when you can’t give them as much emotional connection as they would like. So, we can at least cross off the idea that you truly do not care for others and/or have the emotional landscape of a serial killer — phew!
Being guarded after such a long-term relationship and what sounds like a very disappointing heartbreak is understandable. It’s also understandable that you feel stuck between a one-night-stand rock and a just-enough-emotional-connection-but-not-too-much hard place. It’s not an easy balance to strike and it’s certainly not an easy one to strike with another person’s mind, body, and emotions involved.
To achieve this kind of connection, you’ll have to get better at stating your boundaries even when they’re not ones that your date wants to hear, and probably at times re-stating them, with plenty of check-ins and honesty.
Know that you’re allowed to have boundaries around your emotions, body, time, and space. They don’t have to be the boundaries everyone else has and they certainly don’t have to be the boundaries that anyone else wants you to have. Part of a consent process in any capacity — emotional, legal, sexual, etc. — involves a negotiation process: you present what you want and are interested in (sex outside of a true blue Relationship plus friendship), your date does the same, and then you each decide for yourselves if you want the thing the other person is offering.
Your responsibility here, Heartless, is to make sure you’re presenting your current boundaries as honestly and up front as possible so that your date can determine for themselves if they’d like to go for it.
Of course, it’s never as simple as this. Emotions are unpredictable and expectations creep up higher and higher sometimes with no one the wiser. You can’t control other people’s emotions and expectations. However, you can control yours and your reactions to changing circumstances.
Trust that you will know how to deal with someone else’s growing emotions if/when the time comes without zooming so far into the “I will inevitably disappoint you” future that you never even give another date a shot. That’s a great way to never get laid again.
Unfortunately, disappointments and hurt feelings are part of the pile when it comes to sex and dating — which is true whether you are open to “traditional” relationships or not — but you can’t let this risk outweigh the benefits of intimate human connection. If disappointing another person by setting clear boundaries for yourself feels riskier than a complete absence of intimacy, it may be time to do some deeper explorations around your personal self-worth.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.