Different Pace – He’s a Rabbit and She’s a Turtle

I’m a Jewish man in my late 30s and although I’ve been dating for many years, for a long time I didn’t feel emotionally ready for marriage. I dated in unproductive ways and looked for the wrong things in a partner. A number of years ago, I decided to go for therapy and really work on myself. I learned to connect better by building deep friendships, and I dealt with other issues that may have been holding me back.

For the past few years, I’ve felt ready for marriage. But one key issue recurs:

When I start dating someone, I’ll often see the potential much more quickly than she will. I’m not talking about love at first sight – what I mean is enjoying our time together and feeling that things are progressing nicely. But I don’t get similar feelings from the woman. Then after some time, when I’m ready to call it quits, she’ll say, “Thanks for giving me the time I needed, I’m really into this.” By then, I’m half shutting down, after having given, but not received back, for some time. That leaves us at an impasse.

What’s your advice on how I can deal with this?

Steve. D

It’s very common for one dater to become emotionally invested sooner than the other. A man may be attracted to his blind date right away, but it may take her a few meetings before she realizes she’s attracted to him, too. Someone who’s a bit shy or introverted needs more time than the other to feel comfortable enough to open up about themselves. A man may like his date from the start, and feel more positive about their potential as a couple with each successive date, while she’s thinking, “He’s a nice guy, so I’ll keep dating him and see what develops.”

Later in the courtship, one person may feel they’ve met “The One” and realize they have to wait for the other’s feelings to catch up. Even though logic tells us that each person is different and it makes sense that dating partners proceed according to different timetables, it can be very frustrating to wait around for the other person to “get there.”

Your situation may be even more frustrating because, in your mind, the women you’re dating takes too long to invest in building a relationship. This may be simply because the women you date have, like you, been dating for a number of years. They may have had their share of hurts and disappointments and are more cautious about opening up to another person and allowing themselves to form an emotional connection.

Some take longer to relax their defenses and allow true feelings to emerge.

In fact, a majority of people who have been dating for many years need more time than “younger” daters – to relax their defenses, move beyond superficial conversation, reveal some vulnerabilities, and allow their true feelings to emerge. It may be easier for you to do all of this because of the time you’ve spent working on yourself to get past your personal barriers. You can see the potential in a new courtship relatively quickly and are able to relax and allow a connection to develop naturally.

Your dates, on the other hand, may be telling themselves, “He seems like a nice guy and he has many things I’m looking for, but I haven’t connected to him yet. I’m going to take this one date at a time.” You also seem to be giving them an indication that you’re willing to allow things to progress at the slower pace they need, which may actually encourage them to take this longer route. Unfortunately, you can’t seem to wait that long.

Preventative Measures

Now that you understand the mechanics of this pattern, here’s how to break it. Our first suggestion is that you find a dating mentor/advisor – a married person you respect and feel comfortable talking to about dating. This person can be your sounding board and help you see things from a different perspective. He or she can also help you adjust your expectations about how long it will take for the relationship to start to come together, and to pace yourself so that you don’t become prematurely discouraged if your date’s timetable is slower than yours.

The mentor can also help you explore another reason why this pattern keeps reoccurring. Is it possible that you lose interest in a relationship once you sense that the woman you’re dating is finally developing feelings for you? Perhaps something is holding you back – you’re still a bit afraid of marriage, and you are subconsciously sabotaging things in the hope that ultimately the relationship won’t work out. This is just a possibility, but worthwhile for you to explore.

To move things forward, change the dating venue and type of activity.

There are also ways that you can subtly move things forward with a dating partner. The first is to do something different on each date – change the venue and type of activity, so that you’ll see different sides of each other and have more subjects to talk about. Some of your activities can be interactive (painting ceramics, skating, or helping each other shop for Chanukah gifts, for example).

Before each date, think of one or two meaningful things you would like to learn about your date or tell her about yourself. Think of how you’ll introduce the topic into your conversation, what questions you want to ask, and what information you’ll share. Be attentive to your date and ask questions that will convey your interest in her experiences, ideas and feelings about the subject you’re discussing. Gradually, you can discuss some deeper subjects as a way to get to know each other better.

If you start to feel frustrated that your date is taking too long to open up, or things are moving slowly for other reasons, it may help to let her know this. If there is any third party involved (i.e. a close mutual friend, or if someone set you up) and available as a go-between, ask if they can encourage your date to make an effort to bring more depth into her discussions. If there is no third party, think of a way to gently encourage her to do this yourself. Often, the pace of the courtship can pick up after the more guarded partner realizes that the other person needs her to open up more.