Previous installments of The Toast’s advice column from two disparate and imperfect persons can be found here. Last time: Cultural Appropriation.
I have recently started seeing a Gentleman Caller. Things have not progressed too far, but they have progressed rather more quickly than I expected. This concerns me because I come with a decent amount of baggage. Like, sexual-trauma-related-mental-health-issues baggage that I am actively working on, but nevertheless seems like would be relevant information to know about one’s hypothetical romantic partner when embarking on a new relationship. But that’s not something I know how to disclose without sharing more than I’m comfortable with and/or scaring him off. How and when do I have that conversation? Do I even need to have that conversation, or is this just my self-sabotaging defense mechanism kicking in, trying to scare him off?
Nicole: Well, first, I’m very sorry about your sexual-trauma-related-mental-issues baggage. It’s really shitty that something happened to cause you to have it in the first place, and you definitely don’t want to find yourself apologizing for it when you DO have this conversation. It’s not as though you went to Louis Vuitton and said “what do you have in a vintage cries-during-sex? perhaps a crocodile skin jumps-when-touched?”
Second, and this goes for everyone whose problem isn’t a made-up problem about being too tall, I hope you have a good support structure and ideally a licensed professional you can talk to.
Now, this particular thing, with your Gentleman Caller. Are you worried or stressed that things are progressing more quickly than you expected, or does it feel natural? If the former, that seems like an indication that you’re already starting to get a little uncomfortable, vis a vis your baggage, and you should decide exactly what degree of involved you want to be with this person at this moment. If that’s “we already made out, but I’d rather go on a few more dates before making out again,” you can probably just communicate that without getting super specific. With what you’re carrying around, I’d just pay a little more attention to any sense than things are moving at all out of your control. That may not be the case! You may just be excited, and you’re organically getting closer to this Gentleman Caller faster than you thought. Great! At this stage, do you consider yourself in a relationship? Personally, prior to having a formal What Are We Doing Here convo, I don’t think you owe anyone an exhaustive rundown of your issues and history, and if it feels like you’d be sharing more than you’re comfortable with, you’re likely not quite there yet.
Things that would suggest that’s changed, and it’s time for a talk?
1. Discussions about exclusivity.
2. The minute you feel as though your past is something you want to share with this person.
3. When it becomes a problem. And by that, I mean “when your baggage is causing you to behave in a manner other than which you would like to behave in a perfect world where someone hadn’t tried to fuck up your shit.” You’ll have to listen to yourself for that one.
Mallory: With every passing week I become more and more convinced that I am the least qualified person in the world to participate in an advice column. Your problem sounds to me like the most delicious and wonderful excuse to ignore your Gentleman Caller and be gloriously, perfectly alone. You could just drop him, you know. Stop taking his calls and fade slowly off of his Contacts list in gchat and wrap yourself in a splendid cocoon of solitude and grew stronger and more vibrant by the day and buy yourself elaborate headwraps and conquer the world of business and laugh a throaty laugh to yourself every night in your cool, dark room. You could wake violently every morning and thrust a sword into the air, just to remind the air who’s in charge, before taking your toast and tea.
But, if you would prefer to continue seeing this man-person for a while longer and have not yet made your mind to pursue the glories of warrior spinsterhood, then I suppose a plan of action is called for. (I trust he’s very pleasant to look at and speak to and so forth.)
It’s altogether too easy, I think, particular in the early stages of getting to know someone, to mistake similarities in taste and habits and interests for character. Only a good person would enjoy tea with milk and Captain Picard and leaving parties early, one thinks to oneself, only to be blindsided a month later when said the tea-and-Picard-lover leaves one flat for the ex they never mentioned was still in the picture. Which is not to say your Gentleman Caller should be treated as a Bolter until proven otherwise, of course; simply that your peace of mind and emotional health ought to be your priority as you get to know him.
Is he consistent about small things? Does he do the things he says he’ll do? How does he respond to your developing closeness? When things progress “more quickly than you expected,” is it because he is prone to sudden, rash declarations, or because the two of you find yourself surprisingly wrapped up in one another? (Remember that you always have the option of taking to the sea.) Give him small things to carry before handing him something that will test his strength. Don’t test him, of course, or set him up to fail, or quiz him and watch to see if he slips up, but give him the opportunity to be decent to you. If he responds warmly and thoughtfully to small disclosures; if he does not share things you tell him in confidence or dismiss your feelings when you bring them to him, then and only then should you consider having the big talk (or two or three medium talks, depending on your ability to endure such things).
If you do reach that point with him, I have a few very stupid suggestions. Have that talk when you are sober, have it while the sun is shining, have it someplace you feel comfortable (whether that be at home or very far away from it), and eat a little something first. That’s always my advice. Eat a little something first. I don’t know if you’re going to end up with this fellow or not, but you should eat a little something first, so you won’t be hungry when you make your decision. You’ll do great. Half a sandwich should do the trick. You can save the other half for later.