Dating at Midlife/Confused

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QUESTION: Hi Dr. Belove,

Thanks for the opportunity to ask a question of you.

I have been dating a really wonderful man for about 6 months now.  We have known each other for about 16 years and for about 6 of those years he tried on many occasions to get me to date him.  During that time I went out to dinner with him from time to time but was not interested in anything else as I was still emotionally involved with someone else.  We were fortunate enough to cross paths again once I had the other person out of my life for a couple of years and we began seeing each other regularly.  I find it amazing to think that he basically has always waited until the timing was right for us both and never really gave up although we both dated other people during the 6 years.

In the beginning of the relationship he talked a good bit about his feelings for me.  Was very good at articulating how he had felt about me for a long time.  We talked very openly about how we felt, what we wanted for our lives etc.

We see each other every day, and have the most incredible time when we are together.  Everything is absolutely perfect from the standpoint of how we get along, the fun we have, and how comfortable we are with each other.  What I don't understand is that he suddenly doesn't talk openly about how he feels about me anymore.  I see it in how he looks at me, feel it in his touch as he is very demonstrative and if I ask a direct question about how he feels... if he sees our relationship as being something that has the ability to move into something more, he says he definitely does.  If asked what he thinks, he says he likes where we are and how things are going.  That he feels very happy when he is with me and believes what we have is very good.  BUT he doesn't just volunteer these things like he did in the beginning.

I truly believe with all my heart that he feels them, I just don't understand why he stopped openly sharing them unless asked directly.  

His history with women that he has shared with me is that he has been hurt before and is happy taking things slow and ensuring that we are both happy with where we are.  When we have talked, he says that he isn't so set in his ways that he couldn't/wouldn't be open to sharing his life, and/or marriage again with the right person if we both felt it was the right thing.  So he does have the ability to commit.

During the time we have been together he spent the night with me 2 times when we first started dating and hasn't since.  However, he does say that he will again down the road.

We have never "officially" said we were exclusive, however, we are together every night and he says he is not interested in seeing any one else, dating anyone else or spending time with anyone but me.  But it has never been actually labeled as our being exclusive.  He spends time with my family (children) and I spend time with his...  so that is good too.

Bottom line and what I am trying to figure out here is what in man speak does all this mean?  Why in the beginning of our dating was he so openly verbal about his feelings, now 6 months into it, he keeps it close to the vest unless I specifically ask him what he is thinking about us.

I have always heard these crazy little "rules" like a woman should never ask a man questions like "where is this relationship going", that you shouldn't even think of having "the conversation" until you have been together for a year if he hasn't brought it up. etc.  

I really try to rely on how he treats me and our relationship rather than putting so much stock in "hearing" how he feels and labeling the relationship....  however, a part of me would still like to hear it.  The more I am with him, the more invested I am getting in this relationship and I believe he is too (from his actions) I would just like to hear it too.

I would love your thoughts on how to get what I need from him in knowing how he feels and what he wants without messing anything up by having to hear rather than just relying on how wonderfully he treats me and how well he takes care of our relationship.

How do I get the best of both?  And why did he openly say it in the beginning, but not now.  (btw.... even though I believe he does love me, we haven't yet said it)

ANSWER: Dear Leslie,

This is a lovely and sensitive question and I want to thank you for describing your situation so thoroughly.  
My reaction is complex, maybe as complex as your question.  I think that's a good thing in a mature woman, this complexity.  It shows that you have reflected on your life.

I think maybe I will share with you many various reactions and then wait to  hear what you have to say.

I love the part about how you have known each other a very long time and how, after many years, he recognized the chemistry between you and wanted more of it.  Those feelings are true and they never die, you know. Only a great betrayal can change a friendship like that.  So it's no surprise that you both kept your appreciation of each other and of your unique friendship.  So where you find it "amazing," as if such things rarely happen, I find it "beautiful," and a blessing, yes, something to be grateful for, amazing the way many blessings are.

The thing that seems to puzzle you is that he "suddenly doesn't talk openly about how he feels about me anymore."  It's a good point.. You know relationships like this are like a blessing and the ancient meaning of that word is that a blessing is something astounding and amazing and yet, when it's steady and reliable, there is  a temptation to take it for granted.  That's why ancient people and some religious people give thanks before every meal. It's so they never take a good meal for granted, even though it's a regular thing.  

Well, you can't be doing this all the time so people make a routine of it.  At certain times you regularly say your appreciations.  And at other times when you are especially overwhelmed you say them spontaneously.

And that's how it works with relationships. You create little rituals and often people evolve these spontaneously, like touching wine glasses and looking in each other's eyes. LIke touching your lover's ear.

An important part of this is that it's done together as a shared ritual. He does something. She does something. It's a dance. It's pleasant.

So this isn't working between the two of you and you are worried about why it isn't working.

I can't tell yet why and I don't know what your part is in this process. It is a dance and it does involve both people.

One possibility is that you get really nervous about it and that makes it less fun.

Another possibility is that you expect him to do his part before you do yours.

another part is that his way of saying I love you is to do things. For many men actions speak louder than words.  

Another possibility is that he's settled down and is happy and at peace. That happens sometimes.  The relationship becomes stabilized and the next thing is that there is a new phase and people want to just know how it is when things are regular, normal, easy, automatic.  (That's when the little rituals of gratitude become important. But they are not the same as reassurance. They are more like saying grace.)

Another thing to think about is what exactly do you need?  Are you scared he doesn't really love you? Are you scared he will change his mind?


Okay.

I've given you all sorts of things to think about and I don't know how helpful any of this is.
Let me know. Feel free to follow up

Thanks again

Philip Belove, Ed.D.
www.datingatmidlife.com
www.drbelove.com
drbelove@drbelove.com










---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dr. Belove,

Thanks for the thought provoking reply.  

I do feel that I have finally reached a place of reflection in my life after many failed attempts at midlife dating.  One of the things that I have to work hardest at is being comfortable with "stabilized". All other relationships I have been in have been with the proverbial "bad boy" and brought constant chaos.  Cheating, lying... lots of chaos.

Enter this wonderful man who is stable, sweet, honest, sincere and interested in me.  6 years ago he asked me out for the first time.  I agreed. Being with him made me nervous because he was such a good man and had just recently divorced.  I felt he was vulnerable being so newly divorced, and he was so nice that I was afraid I would hurt him.  I was not in the best place in my own life and head and really needed to deal with the turmoil of other men I had been with for a very long time.  So, I backed away.  He continued to reach out to me and I simply ignored his calls, texts etc.  After a long period of time, he would reach out again and we would repeat the process.  When I would finally agree to go out with him I would agree to dinner, but would meet him somewhere so that I didn't have to feel the pressure of anything more.  And then... I would disappear again.

Finally 6 years later, we ran into each other one day and both of us were available and he tried again.  This time I agreed to dinner, allowing him to actually pick me up and we have been together pretty much every day since.  It was right timing.   We have good laughs at times about it only took him 6 years of pursuing me to get me to this point. And we have talked candidly about why the road took the turns it did.  I regularly acknowledge that for whatever reason, he never completely wrote me off.  His response is that he knew if he could ever get me to take a chance, it would be good.  

So maybe it is that I finally after 6 years let him in my life.... and now he has gotten into my heart and I just simply need reassurance from time to time that he hasn't changed his mind or decided it wasn't all he thought it would be.

Also, I think part of it is that my past relationships have been of the type that we spent the night together all the time, said I love you fairly early in the relationship and due to all the drama in the relationship there was constant reassurance because the reassurance always came on the heels of something bad that happened so they had to tell me how much they loved me and beg my forgiveness.  So perhaps I am so used to the constant reassurance that came often time from fear of losing me due to guilt over something and being with someone where things are just "stable" and not in need of constant reassurance is out of the norm for me and just a bit uncomfortable.

Maybe.  I am kind of thinking aloud through typed words.

As to the nonverbal ways appreciation is shown, I believe it goes both ways with generosity.  We are both very demonstrative people.  We hold hands, snuggle together when we watch tv, hug often. Which is what I try most to focus on to gage how he feels even if he doesn't say it.  So that part does work between us.... I just think due to what I said in the earlier paragraph, I just need the verbal reassurance that I am reading him correctly from time to time.  Again, perhaps that is part of my baggage.

I am not that way all the time... just on occasion the need for reassurance rears its ugly head.  And when it does and I don't get it from him, you are correct in the assessment that I pull back because I get nervous about it and wait to hear him say what I need him to say #do his part first# and then when he doesn't I get insecure even though his actions never waiver from "showing" me how he feels.

Also I think that part of my waiting for him to do his part first is because he shared with me that he dated a woman in the past that wanted more than he did at a faster rate and she put a lot of pressure on him so they broke up.   With me when I do ask/say something he continues to say he is happy where we are, thinks what we have is very good and that he feels it has potential to be much more than it is when the time is right.
So... I feel that I have to wait for him to make all the moves #from deciding if we are exclusive, saying I love you# so the same thing doesn't happen.  Then when he doesn't make the moves so my need for reassurance isn't met I feel insecure again and we have this vicious cycle.   So far I have been able to manage this fairly well in his presence with just an occasional episode.  And when I have those moments, he handles them beautifully... reassures me that he is very happy, very content, and sees a long future for us.  Then we go back to the simple touches, hugs, time together with no real verbal reassurance to speak of until the next time.  

What I need ... is to hear on occasion what he is thinking about us, but what I should do is be grateful that he shows me how he feels every day in all the wonderful things he does whether he says it or not.  What I need to do is to stop letting it make me so insecure that it impacts the way I feel and thereby making me nervous which causes me to start pulling back.

And perhaps lastly what I need is to be confident in that for a man to keep trying for 6 years to get me to give this a chance, because he knew it would be "good" if I did, he isn't likely to just change his mind without good reason.

What I want #even though for all these years I have said I didn't until now#is when the time is right and the person is right... to move toward spending my life with someone.  #and he says the same thing so we are on the same page there#  What I don't want is to spend years waiting for it to happen with someone it isn't going to happen with and watching yet again for life to pass by.  #I spent 10 years with the last man waiting for something that never happened#  I don't want to rush him, or this relationship we are building, but at the same time I don't want to wait for years and nothing happen either.  But I don't know where that fine line is.  There seems to be no magical answer on the Internet on how long before it is appropriate to say you love someone, and how long you should date before expecting more.

He is very comfortable and confident in his life.  He says he is not so settled that he doesn't see himself being open to sharing his life with someone.  He says he is fully capable and open to committing to someone.  However, while I want it to be when the time is right for us both, I don't want that to take forever. :0)

Answer
Nice follow up. Thanks

First of all, let me remind you that you might want to establish a working relationship with me, as your coach and so on.  To do that, arrange for a conversation (first one is free) and we can talk about the other specifics and so on.

Now to respond to your follow up.

A few paragraphs stood out for me:

"So maybe it is that I finally after 6 years let him in my life.... and now he has gotten into my heart and I just simply need reassurance from time to time that he hasn't changed his mind or decided it wasn't all he thought it would be. "

That's sort of sweet.  I would think that he would hear that and be willing to do that. If not, then that's an interesting little issue and a sign of challenges to come.

"he knew if he could ever get me to take a chance, it would be good. "

That's interesting.  It suggests that he had a very special intuition about you. It could be that some of the things you are not completely comfortable with, the drama and so on in your heart, he actually finds rather appealing, as if there were life and passion in you that he wants.

"the reassurance always came on the heels of something bad that happened so they had to tell me how much they loved me and beg my forgiveness.  So perhaps I am so used to the constant reassurance that came often time from fear of losing me due to guilt over something and being with someone where things are just "stable" and not in need of constant reassurance is out of the norm for me and just a bit uncomfortable."

Good theory.  There might be a lot to this.

"thinking as I read'  Yes, that's how this process works.  It's an exploratory conversation.

" I just need the verbal reassurance that I am reading him correctly from time to time.  Again, perhaps that is part of my baggage."

Could be.  CAn he work with that? What does he do?  Might he feel he will not say the right thing, etc.  What are his reactions to this? This sets up an interesting conversation between you.


"not that way all the time... just on occasion

Might be useful to know what triggers this

" I need ... is to hear on occasion what he is thinking "   You can do this. You have to set it up the right way.  We can talk about this...

"how long before it is appropriate to say you love someone, and how long you should date before expecting more. "

Everyone has a different rhythm.  And of course you will be tested, both of you. There is a sensitivity you also don't seem to know how to connect with.  Maybe that's also something to talk about.  Maybe something is distracting you from making clear intuitive readings.

I hope this all helps.  If I don't hear back from you immediately I would love to hear from you later when things become more clear.

thanks again

Philip Alan Belove, Ed.D.
drbelove@me.com  

Dating at Midlife

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Philip Belove, Ed.D.

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Hi. I`m Philip Belove (that is my name, really). I`m 71 and I`ve been a psychologist all my midlife, the past 35 years. My specialty has been counseling and coaching other midlife adults.  I think we all figure things out as we go along, but even more so at midlife. Being between 40-ish and 60-ish and single is like being a stranger in a strange land. I`ve learned which questions help people find their own way. I created this category, I publish a blog at www.drbelove.com and I write articles for various web sites. My commitment is to help people 1) understand and improve how they deal with others, 2) understand the forces that rule the relationships they are in, and 3) make the decisions which will shape, or create, or end those relationships  so they achieve the goal of midlife development  to finally live with personal satisfaction. I`ve been divorced twice myself. I`m in a satisfying relationship with a fine person. I`m very interested in learning about your challenges and in offering what I can.

Experience

Professionally: Licensed Psychologist. Marriage and Family Therapist. Coach.Author. University Lecturer. Personally: I'm 71. I've probably made all the big mistakes, er, learned the big lessons.I've forgiven myself and made many apologies and I've made it into a good, stable, sweet relationship. I now have a perspective on midlife.

Publications
Please check out my book, Rabbis in Love, at www.rabbis-in-love.com Also my blog at www.drbelove.com The Rabbi book was done as part of a research project. My collaborator, Marilyn Bronstein, and I wanted to interview couples with very successful marriage and also we wanted to talk to people who cared as much about their spirituality as love. Maybe being able to love and be spiritual were one and same, we thought. So we found a rabbi couple and the interview was so astounding that we interviewed nine more rabbi couples. One dropped. They'd revealed too much. It's a fascinating book and, Jewish or not, religious or not, these couples do a lot of things right and there is a lot to learn from them.

Education/Credentials
Masters in Counseling Psychology, Alfred Adler Institute Doctorate in Consulting Psychology, focus on family therapy, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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