As I’ve written a few times now, I take my time when it comes to dating new people. I’m nearly always friends first. Sometimes I like to joke that my dating style is ent, like those giant trees in Lord of the Rings. An ent has all the time in the world. They can take all day saying goodbye or hello, if that’s what they want to do. They have unrivaled patience and caution. But they can cover massive territory, too, if it’s what needs to be done.
For the most part, this style serves me well. The one downside is that occasionally it can strike someone I’m dating like apathy, especially if their relationship style is more sprinter than marathon runner (as mine is).
But I don’t move slowly in relationships because I don’t care. Or because I’m demisexual or demiromantic. In fact, I’m both hypersexual and hyperromantic. The entire process of holding back with people requires a huge amount of self-control.
Here’s why I do it:
1. Moving slowly bores people who have impulse control issues.
If you move slowly, you come off as boring to some people. I used to be really worried about this. I felt like I had to jump right in bed with people because I was scared of losing that connection. You know, I felt like I had to “seal the deal” as quickly as possible before I lost their interest.
But I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t be catering to people who are impatient or have short attention spans. And I’ve found that if there’s real chemistry there and the person I’m courting has a modicum of self-control, then they can wait for things to develop naturally — especially in a polyamorous context where timing tends to be a bit more forgiving (bigger windows of opportunity) and the scheduling is more complicated.
People with self-control issues however, especially those incapable of delaying gratification for any length of time? They typically get bored or think you don’t care about them.
And that’s a good thing. Saves you a lot of trouble down the road.
2. To make sure you fit into my life and protect myself.
This one’s fairly obvious. I like getting to know people very well before I become too involved with them. And that usually involves not just one on one romantic dates but being able to see them in a variety of settings: How do they behave at parties? On double dates? At gatherings with the rest of my web? In public?
I’m a deeply social creature who regularly finds myself in a variety of environments, and any time that I haven’t ascertained how a person I’m dating behaves in all of these settings, it has been at my peril.
There’s little worse than finding you have amazing one-on-one chemistry with someone on dinner dates and during romantic rendezvous only to find that they act terribly when you’re around other people. Being rude to others and/or doing things you find deeply embarrassing or unacceptable.
And it’s not always evident in private.
3. To protect you, the new person I’m dating.
Look, you should probably be vetting me, too. Taking your time. To figure out if I’m what you want in your life.
Especially since it’s extra weird for some people to date me because I’m a writer. Lovers have encountered every predicament imaginable due to the writing job: Some get upset when I write about them (even after saying it’s okay). Others get upset when I don’t write about them enough. Still others read themselves into pieces that I write that aren’t actually about them (true story: I once had a piece that two people thought was about them, and it was about someone else altogether). This is true whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
And sometimes I work truly bizarre hours because I have deadlines and run my own business. It’s my job, and work has always been important to me.
That said, I’ve dated people where none of these things were an issue whatsoever and who are really cool about my job.
But in any event, if any of this is going to be a problem, it’s better to know before we get too seriously involved.
And who knows what other dealbreakers you might discover about me if you take a few seconds to suss me out before we U-Haul and marry.
4. To protect my partners, the other people I’m dating.
Going slowly gives my other partners time to emotionally adjust to the fact that there’s going to be someone new in my life.
Emotions are on stone age brain time. They are dumb and slow. Emotions can take a little while to get with the program. Is it always convenient? No.
But I try to be as kind to my other partners as I would want them to be to me, if our roles were reversed.
Taking my time with new partners is part of that.
5. To protect my metamours, the other people you’re dating.
And your other partners deserve a bit of adjustment time, too! I don’t want to be a jerk to them. I figure they’re going to want to take a little time to get to know me. Know that I’m not going to be someone who is bad to you.
I don’t know what all you have worked out with them either — and it can take some time to talk through it.
It’s probably better that I fully understand your situation and you, mine, before we do anything rash.
6. Sex bureaucracy can take a while.
STI testing can take time to schedule and complete and get all the results back. Even if you have very recent testing, it can be a bit of work to have all the proper discussions with everyone in the web. You and I can have one thorough discussion fairly quickly if you’re up to speed on sexual health (15 minutes) but it takes longer than that if you aren’t. And you might need to talk to all of your people, and I might need to talk to all of mine, individually. There might be a bit of back and forth in our separate webs.
There can be a bit of bureaucracy built into the process. Which means there’s also a bit of time wrapped up in it.
I can’t jump right into bed with you without forgoing giving informed consent to my other partners. And that’s a trade-off I’m not willing to make.
7. I enjoy delayed gratification.
Look, it can actually be fun waiting. I love the thrill of anticipation. I’m someone who enjoys not only gratification in the moment but looking ahead to possible futures. Thinking about what could be. It’s can be really fun to stretch out the flirtation a bit. You can have fun with it, like a kind of emotional striptease.
Delaying gratification for me inevitably makes satisfying that desire so intense when it eventually happens.
8. I’m busy. And if I like you, odds are that you’re busy, too.
The reality is that if I’m seeing you one to two times a week on the regular (or even once or twice a month depending on what we have going on), I really, really like you.
I don’t have a ton of free time. I work a lot. Have two other partners. I’m an adult who owns a home and has responsibilities.
And I’m attracted to other people who have a lot going on. I tend to date other people who also work a lot and date multiple people. Because I date interesting people, and interesting people usually have a lot going on.
Things come up. It happens.
I don’t want you to mess up your life to see me. And I would hope that you wouldn’t want me to mess up my life to see you.
Sometimes this means we’re slow at first until we can figure out a way to make the scheduling work (or periodically when one of our lives gets crazy).
If someone can’t deal with that, it’s fine; it’s probably just not going to work out well.
9. ORE is just as wonderful as NRE.
When I was new to polyamory, I used to worry that if I didn’t hit a relationship with full force when it was new that I’d lose a one-time opportunity. That’s because New Relationship Energy (NRE, a.k.a. limerence) only typically lasts for 6 months to 2 years. After that, the butterflies in the stomach new relationship feeling often fades. And what you’re left with is Old Relationship Energy (ORE).
But I’ve come to realize that ORE is just as good as NRE. It’s true that older, established relationships have different energy than new ones. But they’re just as alive.
Martial arts master Bruce Lee, of all people, drew a fabulous analogy:
“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.”
It reminds me of camping — when you want to build a cooking fire, you start with one that burns hot and bright, but it’s the coals you really want to do your nice even cooking. And this takes a bit of time. So once the intensity has burned away, that’s when the real magic begins.
But it’s subtle. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, if you don’t know how valuable or important those coals are, you can overlook them. And think the fire has burned out.
It can be a delicate balance between security and excitement, but loving someone you’re with? It’s well worth the effort.
And besides that, I actually have NRE resurgences from time to time with older existing relationships. I’ve come to realize that it’s not as one-time of an opportunity as I once thought.