We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, onto today’s topic: what to do if you like someone more than they like you.
Q: “I've been dating someone who I know is into me — but not as much as I am into him. He seems kind of emotionally unavailable. He’ll sometimes disappear for long stretches of time and I won’t hear anything from him. I'm not really looking for a relationship, but at the same time, I know that liking someone more than they seem to like you (even if they treat you well) can be a recipe for getting really hurt. I just can't seem to stop myself with him. Should I just get out now even though I don't want to, or do these things just have to run their course?”
A: Thanks for the question! Your note made me wish we could have a mini therapy session, so I could ask all of the questions that came up for me as I was reading what you wrote! Since I can’t be there to lead you through it myself, here are nine questions to ask yourself if you’re dating someone who isn’t as into you as you are into them.
“Do I know I like them more for sure?”
First, I want to start with your belief that you’re more into this guy than he is into you. Are you so sure that’s true? Here’s why I ask — it can feel really vulnerable to like someone. We all have these parts of ourselves that we think are unlikable — or even unlovable. When we’re with people we like, those parts of ourselves can feel really activated. We think there’s no way that other person could like these parts of ourselves! So most of us are quick to think that we’re more into other people than they are into us. It’s a really common theme that comes up with my clients. Of course, there’s no way to know exactly how much he likes you, nor is there a way to gauge how much he likes you against how much you like him. Still, I’d try to refrain from comparing your feelings.
“Is that a problem?”
The other place I want to challenge you is whether or not it would matter if you currently like him more than he likes you. People’s feelings unfold at different rates, even in serious relationships. You never know where things could end up between the two of you. If he seemed disinterested in you, that would be a different story. But as long as he shows some specific interest in you and the connection between the two of you, I don’t think him being slightly behind you feelings-wise needs to be a problem.
“How long has it been?”
One of the most important dynamics at play here is how long the two of you have been seeing each other. If you told me it had just been a few weeks (or even a couple of months), I’d probably tell you not to stress so much, and to give things a little space to unfold. If you told me this had been going on for months, I’d tell you it’s time to have a conversation with this guy about what you each want. You don’t need to move into a monogamous relationship, but you should both let each other know what you’re looking for.
“Do I know what I want?”
I know I started with this guy’s feelings for you, but ultimately your feelings are what matters most. Do you know what you want out of your romantic relationships at this point in your life? You said you’re not “really” looking for a relationship. That’s perfectly fine; no one’s telling you that you need to want a relationship right now. But it’s important to make sure you’re honest with yourself. You shouldn’t have to settle for less than what you want.
“... And am I being honest with myself?”
This is Part 2 to the above question! Sometimes it can be really, really hard to be honest with ourselves about what we want, so that’s why I’m encouraging you to ask yourself multiple times. Take some time to think about this question. What do you truly want? If you know that deep down inside, you’re secretly hoping this turns into a relationship, it’s important for you to be honest about that, and to be willing to walk away if that’s not what he’s looking for too.
“Does this person treat me with respect?”
I was curious about your comments that this guy seems “emotionally unavailable,” and that he disappears for long stretches of time. He doesn’t need to share his whole backstory or open up his entire life to you, but he should treat you with basic kindness, decency, and respect. If you don’t feel that from him, then it’s definitely time to move on.
“Are they up-front with me?”
Similarly, do you get a sense that this guy is straightforward and honest with you about what he is or isn’t looking for right now? Have you and this guy talked at all about what’s going on between the two of you? Has he been up-front with you about what you’re looking for? Here’s where the timeline issue comes into play again. If it’s just been a few weeks, it’s normal to not have had a talk about where things are headed. But if it’s been months, you’re definitely overdue for a chat. If you get a sense that he’s toying with your emotions, purposefully withholding from you, or even lying to you, it’s time to re-evaluate this arrangement.
“What am I getting out of this relationship?”
You didn’t really mention anything in your email about what you like about this guy or the arrangement the two of you have together. Do you genuinely enjoy your arrangement? What specific aspects of your dynamic do you like? Again, you don’t need to want to be in a relationship, but you should still want there to be some sort of benefit to the time you’re spending together. Maybe you’re just having a great time with him. Maybe the sex is fantastic. Maybe you enjoy being able to see him and being able to see other people at the same time. Whatever it is, make sure there are specific ways that you’re benefiting from the connection.
“Am I happy with things the way they are?”
Ultimately, what this boils down to is your happiness. As long as you’re happy with things the way they are, and aren’t trying to move this relationship in a certain direction, I think you’re fine. Yes, there’s always the risk of getting hurt, but you run that risk in any relationship you ever get into. On the other hand, if you can feel that you secretly want it to turn into something more, it might be better to have a conversation with him about where he thinks this is heading. If he’s clear that he doesn’t want it to be more than it is now, then you might need to make the decision to move on.
Wishing you the best of luck!