How do I keep it slow with someone I’m really into?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I have been in therapy for all of my adult life, and have been doing my work and making a ton of progress on myself. As a result, I’ve been generally feeling better, and have had the good fortune to meet a new cute person whom I’ve been dating for a little over a month.

Things are going really well, and I feel safer and more solid in this relationship than I have with any in the past. But I am worried about going unreasonably fast, especially emotionally, since I feel like this kind of healthy attachment is new for me.

How do I keep things at a reasonable pace, while still being authentic about how I feel about this new cutie? We seem to be very compatible, and I want to grow and nurture the connection we are building while not engaging in old bad habits or jumping into anything too serious too quickly. Is this just my anxiety talking?

Femme Avoiding the UHaul Stereotype

Dear FAUS,

So now you know: therapy will ruin your life.

You’re going along, all clammed up and bottled and pressured and squished and alienated or clingy or volatile like you liked it and then you start talking and learning and improving and BOOM there are feelings all over the goddamned place.

I mean, we didn’t like life pre-therapy, exactly, which is why so many of us have started counseling (and I can’t speak to why you went) but it certainly is FAMILIAR, this packed-down/messed up/not functioning well way of life.

In all seriousness, I’m glad that you are feeling better, doing the work, and making a ton of progress on yourself. I know how damn hard the work is. And how much the work is SO worth it.

But I also know that being vulnerable after whatever stuff sent you to therapy in the first place can be like bungee-jumping with a brand-new tested cord and you aren’t sure exactly how much slack there is.

So I can see why you would be worried about taking things too fast, and perhaps this rush of feeling and, more importantly, this sense of solidity is — paradoxically —- shifting ground under your feet. An unfamiliar and therefore somewhat frightening sensation.

But you know what? You have worked DAMN HARD. And you have earned yourself some joy, if you can find it. And it seems you’ve found a chance for a certain kind of joy, now. I say go for the feelings, and the time together, and the delicious heady joy of a new relationship.

Certainly exercise good judgment and don’t demand constant togetherness, but slowing things down through artificial means by pretending to be less available than you are, waiting a certain amount of time before responding to a text, and those sorts of well-intentioned ‘putting on the brakes’ moves can come across as manipulative and perhaps like you’re playing games, and that just isn’t a good way to start out a solid relationship. It can feel unsettling for yourself, as well.

So go out with this person. Enjoy their company. Text sweet nothings before bed. Have lots and lots and lots of sex. Become weirdly obsessed and drive your friends nuts talking about this cute person. Shake yourself out of an intense memory of them at an office meeting and smile a secret smile. Do all of these things, as often as you both want, and as heedlessly as you both want.

But it’s not just your anxiety talking when you say you are afraid of moving too fast. Love famously impairs our judgment with dopamine, lowered serotonin, and rising cortisol levels —  triggering the most primal parts of our brain, and diminishes access to the frontal lobe. “When we are engaged in romantic love,” explains the Scott Edwards in a Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute newsletter, “the neural machinery responsible for making critical assessments of other people, including assessments of those with whom we are romantically involved, shuts down.”

So: you need to proceed and live your one glorious wonderful life and dance in the rain and sing to them and find yourself almost skipping as you walk down the block, but you also need to remind yourself that your brain isn’t functioning at its highest capacity.

This is why you need to follow a very specific threefold rule for the first few months to year or so. Avoid the three L’s: confessing your love, making life plans, and living together.

You can really jack things up by labeling a new relationship as ‘in love,’ out loud, too soon. This can add pressure to the relationship to take a shape it doesn’t want to take, and perhaps place expectations on it that the relationship itself cannot sustain, yet. So take your time with those words. Don’t go rushing to “I love you” in the first few weeks or even months. You can also scare the crap out of yourself, if you have issues with past relationships (if you are human, I mean).

Making life plans or even vacation plans early on might feel romantic, but having to walk those back later can be pretty anxiety-producing. And yeah that U-haul. No. Don’t sign any leases. Keep your own apartment, even if you find yourselves constantly in each others’ spaces.

Feeling with abandon (as scary as that probably is for you if you haven’t had solid-feeling relationships before) but not signing on any dotted lines, no matter how much you want to, is going to keep you out of the worst trouble that this altered state can bring you.

I am so glad you have this chance to use your new skills in searching for joy, and enjoying it when you find it. I hope you can enjoy it with as much abandon as your heart will give you.

You’ve got this. Go get ’em, tigress.

 

Her fiancé’s oversharing gets under her skin.

Dear Gentle Butch,

I am the luckiest woman, engaged to a sweet, soft butch (my term, not hers) who loves me as much as I love her. One of the things that I love most about her is how she loves so many friends and family and builds deep, emotional relationships.

On the other hand, I open my heart to her, my kid, and just a few others.

My fiancee is willing to share just about anything about herself whereas I’m very strategic about what I share and who I share this with, too — erring on the side of caution.

Unfortunately, she shares things that are too private about me, too. And the way she represents me isn’t always right, either. For example, she told a friend that I don’t care for someone in the queer community — and although I’ve heard a bit of crap about her, I don’t personally know her, and I am publicly neutral about everyone unless they are abusers.

I think there’s a fine line between being able to process things about me with friends and making representations of me. She doesn’t get this because she’s just sharing things with people she loves.

Our relationship is based on love, trust, and consent. I know I will need to go out of my comfort zone, too. I’d appreciate strategies and vocabulary to help us get on the same page.

Dyke Disclosure Overexposure

Dear DDO,

I’m going to level with you: I’m the ‘open book-connector-person,’ and OH did I have things to learn.

It takes screwing up a few times to get it right, I think. It’s probably unavoidable.

But telling a friend that you don’t care for someone in the community, regardless of whether she misrepresented you, feels like it crossed the line from processing into gossip. That’s a fairly big screw up.

Has it affected your trust? Has it made you feel a little unsafe? Do you sometimes find yourself dreading what you will hear next?

If so, then tell her. Let her know exactly how you feel when she exposes you like this.

You say she loves lots of people and forms deep relationships. That must mean she is very empathetic, and cares about feelings and a sense of connection.

So one really important thing your fianceé needs to know is exactly how much pain this causes, and how her revealing things erodes at your trust. The very thing she fosters closeness and builds trust with in her relationships with others has the potential to harm your closeness and your relationship.

So what I would suggest is being very clear about those boundaries so she knows where not to overstep, give her categories of information you want held back.

It may be very obvious to you that she shouldn’t talk about, say, your sex life or your family of origin’s alcoholic tendencies. Not to mention whom you care or don’t care for in the community.

But it will not be obvious to her.

Talk to her. Share with her the impact these disclosures have on you emotionally. Give her clear guidelines.

And give her a release valve. People who think-through-talking-and-connecting need at least one friend they can really open up with: to complain about how you keep forgetting to unload the dishwasher but also to work through thornier issues, which may involve revealing some of your sore spots.

But she needs to ensure that it is only one or, at the most, two people she shares with this way, and that they understand this is just between them.

It may sound like I’m coming down a little hard on her, and I really do understand how confusing and even frustrating it can be to hold back when you’re a talker.

But she’s the one who needs to do most of the transforming here. Respecting a partner’s boundaries should supercede nearly all other considerations.

Your job is to be extremely clear about what you need to feel safe — and to be as forgiving as you can when she invariably messes up in the process of figuring it all out.

How do I support my awful coworker’s daughter?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I work in a small office of only a few people. My least-favorite coworker (I’ll call her Susan) has a teenage daughter (Hannah), who is queer, but is not out to her family. (It’s complicated how I came to know this.) And, while I have met Hannah a few times, we don’t have a close relationship. My coworker frequently laments her daughter’s rejection of boys (chalking it up to immaturity) and tells us her plans for “socializing” her daughter (with or without her consent). Hannah is involved in drama club at school, which seems pretty social to me, but Susan is dismissive, saying Hannah is too introverted to be good at it (which is not necessarily true).

Most recently, Susan told us about Hannah bringing a boy home. Susan was glad that Hannah is making friends with boys, but disappointed that her interest in him is only friendly. On top of that, her husband freaked out and went full-on patriarchal. He insisted on meeting the boy first to see if he “looked scary,” imposing time limits on visits, making sure she keeps her door open, etc. Susan told this in a smiling dads-will-be-dads kind of way. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to laugh or what, but it was all I could do to contain my horror.

Susan always sounds exasperated when she mentions her daughter. I hate to hear Susan sound so down on her daughter all the time and I am never sure how to react. I don’t want to accidentally out Hannah, or make it sound like I’m telling Susan how to raise her children. But they way she talks about her daughter, queer or not, is appalling to me.

I should mention that I am also queer and quite out about it. My wife and I have casually offered to spend time with Hannah after she and my wife bonded a little bit over a shared enthusiasm for YA fiction. Hannah is very shy about reaching out and when we have made tentative plans, Susan tends to make it inconvenient so that Hannah cancels. We have not persisted, afraid it will look like “recruitment.”

I really want to be an ally to this girl, but I don’t like her mother at all. How should I respond to my coworker’s stories and comments about her daughter? Do you think we should try contacting Hannah again?

–Coworker Didn’t Get the Memo

What a heartbreaking letter.

It’s so incredibly hard to watch a parent pull this crap when you are helpless to intervene.

Well, mostly helpless.

I think you have done what you can with Hannah. You have made it clear you’d be willing to hang out. Her mother has made it clear that she is going to passively resist this as much as possible, but Hannah will eventually have more mobility and freedom. I imagine she will learn to drive or take public transportation, for instance. If her father allows it. (I HOPE I am joking about that.)

I assume Hannah knows you are a couple. She knows who to turn to if she needs to, when the time comes. And that is so, so important.

Now, the next stuff I’m going to say is fully optional. You are hereby cleared by me, as a queer and a parent of a queer, from any other responsibility. You can back away quickly when she talks about her daughter. You can change the subject or put your fingers in your ears and hum. She sounds like a very irritating person, on top of everything else.

But.

As a parent, I’m feeling like I need to at least give this damn lady a sliver of the benefit of the doubt.

To be clear: I think she is just a thoughtless parent who believes its her job to control her kid’s life and that there is only one way to be happy and she knows what it is, so she’s going to try to force her daughter into the shape she thinks is best.

Oh and that she thinks her husband believing that he owns his daughter’s sexuality and body is funny.

But.

On the off chance she is sharing this with people because it was a bit unsettling to her and she wants to see a reaction to gauge how weird some of this is, responding naturally might be just what she needs.

And she might be deeply frustrated with her daughter’s refusal to fit into the shape she’s trying to jam her into, and talking a little might help her see how ridiculous she is being.

You don’t have much to lose — she is already passively-aggressively keeping you from her daughter, so it’s not like you have a connection to her that will be in jeopardy.

So there are two ways to go, and this probably depends on how comfortable you are with confrontation.

One: I think she needs to see that some people are horrified by her husband’s behavior. I think she needs to see you recoil and say something like: “Actually, some of the best actors are introverts.” I think she needs to see you narrow your eyes over her bemoaning over her daughter not having a boyfriend already and looking skeptical. And if you can have a natural, honest reaction to what she says without telling her off, you will probably empower others around you to do the same.

Two: you can be empathetic. Or mime it. When she starts talking about her daughter in that antagonistic tone, you can say in a warm and kind tone: “It sounds like you’re pretty frustrated with her.” If she is, and wants to talk, she can — and increased intimacy might give you a chance to offer her other insights. If she isn’t, and hadn’t realized she’d taken on this tone — well, that’s information for her, as well.

I get it. I want to save all the queerbabies with parents like this (and worse, of course), too. But you have truly done what you can right now for the girl, and you’re continuing to be. And for her mom . . . showing her that it’s possible to have a happy life and a stable relationship even if you’re queer might help her to stop frantically attempting to force heterosexuality on Hannah. 

Good luck. And remember it’s always an option to just change the subject or walk away, for your own mental health.

Can I still make a woman orgasm?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I’m a fairly well adjusted single lesbian. I’ve had female lovers since I was a teenager, and have had a fairly fun and active sex life.

However.

My last two major relationships were with women who could not orgasm. So, it’s literally been more than 8 years since I’ve gotten a woman off.

And now I’m nervous.  What if I’ve forgotten how?

Signed,
Stone Butch’s Bottom Blues

 

Dear SBBB,

The wonderful thing about sex is that every woman’s orgasm is different. I’m not going to say that’s also the awful thing about sex, because if we were all just coded creatures that all orgasmed the same way, would sitting around pushing each other’s buttons be as fun? (I said AS fun.)

So the thing is this: you DON’T know how to make ‘a woman’ orgasm. You know how to make the women you have slept with orgasm, except for the two who don’t. And neither does anyone else.

There. All better, now?

No, really.

One of the many terrific things about sex is that you are getting to know how someone’s body not only looks, feels, tastes, and smells — but how their body (and their sexy sexy brain) works. One of the specific joys of sleeping with someone you don’t already know how to get off is the journey getting there!

It’s unlikely you’re going to just quickly get each other off in a rote fashion. You have to pay attention. You have to explore.

No. You GET to pay attention. You GET to explore. And you get to listen.

One of the things I’ve heard a lot of women say is that sex between women has fewer expectations than sex between a man and a woman. There isn’t a generally-accepted definition even of what sex IS.

How freeing, right? To have no expectations? No definitions?

And how terrifying.

If you lean into that fear and let it make your pulse race, if you let feeling a bit out of your element add excitement instead of panic, you’re going to at the very least have a great time.

And if she’s good at knowing what she wants and using her words? All the better.

You can’t forget what you don’t already know. So go get ’em. Get yourself some knowledge, and take your time learning it.

 

How do I break up with my massage therapist?

How do I break up with my massage therapist? I have been seeing a massage therapist for almost a year, and I have recently developed very strong feelings for him.

There is no chance of me pursuing a relationship with him — aside from his professional obligation to not date clients, he is straight and we are both married. But my feelings are causing me enough distress that I need to stop seeing him.

Do I owe him an explanation, or should I just ghost on him? I have a session booked that I set up before realizing I need to stop seeing him, and am not sure what to say when I cancel the appointment. 

— Wondering

 

Dear Wondering,

Right now, your feelings are just in your head. And you need to keep them there.

Clients getting crushes is one of the hazards of bodywork professions. And unless you think he’s done something to cause this over and above just doing his job and being attractive to you, you need to just cancel the appointment. As quickly as possible, so as not to hold up his schedule, of course. By email. Just cancelling. Nothing else.

Offering him an explanation only gives you the chance to confess your very strong feelings, which would really just be for you. Maybe you even have the tiniest eentsyest squeentsiest fleeting fantasy that he will say: “I am in love with you; I’m leaving my wife and I already know your husband is fine with this!”

Or even that you think perhaps he has a secret crush on you, too, and then you can be secretly in love forever even if he never tells you and you can quietly swoon for each other for eternity — or you can imagine he’s doing that.

I’m sorry if I’m being harsh on you. I could be completely off-base on this.

But you did word changing massage therapists as ‘breaking up,’ and you described clinical visits as ‘seeing him for almost a year.’ Sounds like there was a capital R Relationship in your mind already. Our minds do SO MANY DAMN THINGS to tell us what we want to hear.

Whether I’m correct about any secret or subconscious motivations you may or may not have in telling him why you are switching massage therapists, I am correct in one thing: telling him why is going to cause him a lot of discomfort and possibly anguish.

Most bodyworkers are worried about this happening with a client. If you tell him why, you have just lobbed your attraction at him, leaving him with knowledge that will help him exactly not at all. And then he’ll have to deal with it.

While I’m pretty certain that straight men have less baggage around this than women do, unwelcome sexual attention is just that: unwelcome. I promise you he will not feel a secret thrill at your confession, nor will he go home with a little smile on his face or anything that the “I should say this” part of your brain is telling you.

He will feel uncomfortable. He might go through your interactions wondering: did I cause this? Was I not professional enough? Is this happening with anyone else?

All of which could very much get in the way of him doing his job effectively, and just in general make him very anxious.

Please don’t burden this guy with your feelings. You can’t help feeling them, but you can help making them anyone else’s problem.

Quietly cancel. Find another massage therapist. I suggest hiring a nice lady.