You Need Help: What Does “Going Slow” in a Lesbian Relationship Look Like?

Q:

I am 33 (female, she/her) and dating 31 (female, she/her), it’s been about three months now. She has said she wants to go slow which is fine however I tend to move fast (last relationship moved in after four weeks) so this is an adjustment for me. She also isn’t a big texter and we can go days without having a proper conversation, which is compounded by the fact that she won’t discuss anything via text except for the weather or how work was. This is resulting in my feelings going up and down; when we see each other I feel connected and like I’m building feelings and then we have days or more of barely speaking and when we do it’s about the weather and my feelings go down. She is willing to compromise and do more phone calls in between dates but is holding firm at no texting about anything other than the weather. I acknowledge these are her boundaries and I probably need to learn a thing or two about going slow.

How do I keep my expectations in check? What does going slow mean for lesbians, when the stereotype of a U-Haul is pretty applicable to me most of the time? I like her, and I enjoy spending time with her, but it feels odd to me that my feelings aren’t on a steady incline and it’s weird to me to not talk for days on end. I don’t think I want to end it, and I don’t want to push her away by pushing this with her. We’ve had two conversations about our differing communication styles so far and I hope she can meet me half way but I definitely need advice on what “going slow” looks like. Thank you.

A:

Okay first of all: is she a meteorologist? How much weather conversation is possible in any given day! Do you live in an area with a lot of natural disasters so the weather is like, a pertinent topic? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT PRIORITIZING WEATHER TALK AS THE EXALTED SOLE TEXTING TOPIC!

That said, let’s move away from what I want to know for myself about your local climate and what you want to know for yourself!

“What does going slow mean for lesbians, when the stereotype of a U-Haul is pretty applicable to me most of the time?”

Unfortunately, and as is so often the case, there is no one answer to that question, and it’s totally different for different people depending on your circumstances! Especially co-habitation since that has a huge economic factor as well. (I think we often leave that out of the conversation, which is so weird! At least personally, financial circumstances were usually the #1 or #2 factor driving premature commitments in my past relationships.) Barring any external circumstances that make moving in together necessary, moving in together in under a year seems fast, as does getting engaged in under a year. Beyond that I think you’ll find a variety of opinions.

Other milestones I’d put into the “pace” category are things like the speed at which you start sleeping together, calling yourselves girlfriends/partners/etc, being each other’s plus ones for events, being public about your relationship, meeting each other’s friends, meeting each other’s family, spending holidays together, making it clear you are dating on social media, becoming exclusive if monogamy is your thing, etc. Those are all also things that are tough to put a timeline on, especially during a pandemic!

I’m also not sure if you guys are still casually dating or if this is a Relationship. It seems like it might be somewhere in the middle? If it’s a Relationship then I think she probably has a secret double life or else is simply not the right match for you and you should move on to more verdant pastures with lighter wind chill.

If you’re still just dating, then read on!

I think what we’re basically trying to do here, in terms of managing expectations, is enabling you to get comfortable judging the quality of your relationship not for your mutual willingness to prioritize emotional whims and romantic rapture over common sense but by the actual connection you feel to a person. New Relationship Energy can be a thrilling high, and making additional premature commitments can often provide a rush to sustain that high. But what’s underneath it? Do you have enough in common and do you enjoy each other’s company enough to last beyond that first flush? Relationship experts believe that in the early months of seeing someone, it’s healthiest to take a lot of physical space because spending all your time together up front can create a false sense of intimacy before you really get to know them — “It’s counterintuitive, but if you want to see [a new partner] more in the future, see them less now.”

As many long distance relationshippers can attest, when you aren’t together all the time, it makes the time you do spend together special, which seems like has been the case for you and this person.

Momentum can build within a relationship without spending a lot of time together or being up all night on the phone or hitting any of those milestones or making any of those commitments in the early months! It’s great that you are open to considering that a relationship can be healthy and can grow without falling into the “lesbian relationship cliches” that can often lead to unhealthy attachments, a relationship driven by circumstance rather than choice, or the idea that the only way to fall in love is to do so quickly, obsessively or self-destructively.

But… as for what’s happening here, specifically?

It’s difficult for me to answer this without knowing why her boundaries are what they are — there are legitimate reasons for not being able to text like “having a newborn baby” or “a demanding career as a forest guide in the deep recesses of middle earth,” but you haven’t indicated that’s the case here so I’m just gonna work under the assumption that she wants to go slow simply for the sake of going slow.

And in that case, my lord it cannot possibly feel good, let alone feel exciting or thrilling or romantic, to be abiding by this many restrictions three months in! At this point, it is not unreasonable to expect that you will communicate every day on topics unrelated to cloud cover.

Some form of daily communication is also a milestone, and it tends to hit pretty fast, in my experience, regardless of how ‘slow” the rest of the relationship goes — working the other person into your day-to-day life, from good morning texts to nightly phone calls. This is all part of the process of getting closer; they learn the dimensions of your world and vice versa and that opens up new avenues for connection and conversation.

Only communicating when you see each other for occasional in-person dates might make sense very early in the relationship, but emailing, texting or talking on the phone are also part of the dating process! I’m not sure how long you can have one without the other and still feel that things are moving along. I don’t think there’s necessarily a lot for her to lose here, either — talking to you every day or so isn’t signing a lease, if you break up then it wouldn’t take long for her to re-adjust to a life without those phone calls.

I don’t think texting frequently is necessary for a relationship to grow, because I am 40 and I spent most of my life in a world where doing so was either impossible or expensive. There’s something very cute and old-fashioned about not texting, actually! But in that imaginary cute scenario I am envisioning you having nightly phone calls or physical meet-ups where you catch up on everything you didn’t talk about during the day, and that you’ll also text when you have important or exciting news to share or something else pertinent on your mind, which it sounds like this person has forbidden?

It sounds like you are okay adjusting your speed and moving forward slowly, but is this moving forward at all? I’m worried that the dynamic in this relationship is already pretty skewed. You’re making adjustments to suit her requests and she’s not making any to yours and she’s seemingly insisting the adjustments only feel weird to you because you’re not adequately managing your expectations / have an unhealthy pattern of rushing in too quickly in the past. That specific paradigm — you wanting something reasonable from her, her telling you that it’s your own unrealistic lesbian cultural expectations or psychological baggage that is preventing you from understanding why her way is superior — is bad.

So. I want to talk about this psychological concept of “bids” in relationships. Bids are basically requests for attention. The example used in the Atlantic article I just linked is an avid bird-loving husband pointing out a goldfinch flying across the yard and saying “look at that beautiful bird outside!” The article notes: “He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.”

The wife can “turn towards” or “turn away.” She can show interest in the bid or support the bid, like by looking up at the bird or complimenting the bird. Or she can ignore that the bid was even made, or respond minimally, or, even worse, respond with hostility, like “don’t bother me with your birds you silly old man, I am making a spreadsheet!!!!” If a person refuses enough bids, contempt builds up, kindness vanishes, and the relationship will eventually fail.

That’s the paradigm I’d use to judge how well this relationship is working for you, or not: does she turn towards your bids or turn away? I’ve been in relationships where we lived together and plowed through every milestone with gusto and were in near-constant contact for the first few months and then fast forward to two years later when eventually my bids were denied so often that I started not only questioning their interest in me but whether or not I was interesting at all. And I know that I can trace relationships I personally fucked up to the myriad bids I began denying of theirs.

But! I’m also a person who likes a lot of space and independence, and it doesn’t sound like you are that type of person! Maybe you’d be a better fit with someone else who likes more communication and more intimacy and to be more intertwined. Regardless of pace, are you both heading towards the same destination? I think the worst case scenario here for you is that you will find your bids repeatedly refused, because it sounds to me like that is already happening a lot and it’s only been three months!

I’d hate for you to text your person mid-day to tell them that you were chosen to be a contestant on The Amazing Race or that the pain in your side turned out to be ovarian cysts and have you get silence or “heat wave talk only plz” in return. It sounds to me like you’ve already lost most of your bids, and while a new relationship doesn’t have to feel like you’re in your own personal rom-com, it should not feel like one of those crime docu-series that are 10 parts long even though they really only have enough interesting footage for two parts. You know what I mean?

In conclusion, I hope that you find someone — whether it’s this partner or somebody else — who casts their gaze immediately skyward every time you take note of the presence of a beautiful bird, and not just because she is flying through a notable snowstorm.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Riese

Riese is the 40-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2988 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. Letter Writer, I know we know exactly two paragraphs of information about your relationship. However, I can tell you from personal experience that when I was the one leaning hard on “let’s move slowly” in past relationships, one of two things was happening:

    1. They were someone I liked, but they were legitimately moving at a pace that made me uncomfortable and raised eyebrows when I told friends about it (the 30-something who asked me to be her girlfriend after two dates and cried when I said I’d rather wait a while longer for a commitment, the high school boyfriend who wanted to get married before we turned 20). It really sounds from your letter like that is not what’s happening here. You’re making an effort to turn toward those bids your person is making for space, just like Riese is saying.

    or

    2. I just… wasn’t that into them. This usually didn’t become conscious for a while, sometimes even until after *they* ended the relationship. I wasn’t investing in the relationship because I just plain didn’t want to. This wasn’t because the other person was bad, or because I wasn’t attracted to them, or because I didn’t like them or enjoy their company. It was just because for whatever reason, we weren’t a good fit, and my feelings knew that before my brain did.

    Everyone’s communication style is different. Again, We The Queer Internet don’t know a whole lot about the person you’re dating right now. That said, I’ve thought I was “just the kind of person who didn’t like to text” before, and it turns out that when I’m really in love, I send novels in 140-character chunks. Even when I’m not in the mood to talk a lot myself, I look at my person’s texts or emails or listen to them talk on the phone and just get so happy with the way they are. You deserve to be with somebody who looks at you and the way you communicate and thinks “Ah, yes, finally!”, and to have that be a mutual feeling. Only you can decide if that’s this person. Do a Luke Skywalker, search your feelings, and chase joy.

  2. Riese, I love your writing! This was wonderful advice to read. That last paragraph is exactly what I want for myself and everyone I love. Also I absolutely love talking about the weather so for ME PERSONALLY if I bring up the weather constantly in texts that is actually my way of wanting to connect!!

    • Also here to represent people who love texting about the weather! I dated someone who got very excited about normal weather events and it was delightful.

      In all seriousness, though, I appreciated reading this and hope everyone is able to figure out what they need.

    • i am so excited for BOTH OF YOU and all your conversations about how many inches of snow are in the future and perhaps also why it is so hot in the sun but like freezing in the shade, this is SIMPLY adorable

  3. One thing I discovered last year when I resumed dating in earnest was that it’s okay to want to be treated a certain way or be fulfilled by something (ie texting every day) and that it’s really okay if the other person doesn’t feel the same way. It doesn’t mean that one or both of you are bad or unloveable, it just means you have different priorities for romantic relationships. It sounds like you may be a person who likes talking to your person every day (and perhaps having them be excited to hear from you?), and she isn’t that type of person.

    I don’t know this person, but it also sounds like she may have had some negative experiences with communication in the past, hence her firm boundaries around texting. Do you know if those boundaries extend to her other relationships? This might be a universal policy, not just a romantic one, in which case it’s unlikely she’s going to change soon. I would say that wanting to regularly hear from the person you’ve been dating for three months is not moving fast, LW. Don’t doubt the things that make you happy or feel fulfilled in a relationship, they’re just as valid as what she wants.

    Also, forget tops vs bottoms, the new thing is are you the bird-watcher or the spreadsheet-maker in the relationship? I am quite literally the spreadsheet person in my relationship, but I will happily look at a bird anytime.

    • “it’s okay to want to be treated a certain way or be fulfilled by something (ie texting every day) and that it’s really okay if the other person doesn’t feel the same way. It doesn’t mean that one or both of you are bad or unloveable, it just means you have different priorities for romantic relationships.” yes yes yes! people end up mismatched for all sorts of reasons, and it sounds like this is a blameless communication style mismatch.

      • yes!! one thing i’ve noticed in a few past relationships is that I can only maintain the “frequent texting” for a few months when i’m still caught up in it and we’re getting to know each other for the first time. then eventually we get to a place where we’re not texting each other all the time… but they still are texting all the time! it’s just that they are no longer texting ME all the time lol. i think it’s difficult to find someone who is a good match for you on every level though!

  4. I’m stuck on the texting piece – in my professional role as a therapist I’ve seen lots of relationships fall apart due to texting being used instead of talking. If you need to add emojis to make sure the right message is conveyed, then there might be too much emotional subtext or content for a text. Perhaps the other person has had similar experiences.
    Chatting on the phone a few times between dates does seem reasonable. imho.
    Riese, love the birder/spreadsheet analogy!

  5. Ooof. This reminds me of a previous relationship where we were keeping things casual but I thought they might get less casual? Instead they just got more casual. I found myself thinking, “I am open to any type of love language but I wish my partner would use at least one”! If they’re not making you feel loved and valued between dates, I’d reconsider.

  6. I want to chime in as a very text-averse person! During the first few months of dating my current partner, we had similar mismatched strategies concerning texting. Texting with a romantic partner made me really anxious, and they wanted to text every day. We found it helpful to find out what the needs behind our relationships to texting were: I needed to feel control over when I choose to interact with a date (because of past experiences where I felt ambushed and controlled via text) and they needed to feel connected to me. We decided to compromise by having them ask me before sending a cute message or a selfie, having phone calls, and writing letters to each other twice a week (cute and vintage). In the end, and I learned this from non-violent communication, texting every day or not texting at all are not needs, but strategies used to get needs met. I think extending compassion to and communicating your underlying needs would be a good avenue if you both are willing to find a compromise that can address those needs.

    • As someone who ALSO asks people not to text me bc of getting soooo angsty about texting – particularly in dating contexts, am appreciating how this framing of it as a strategy rather than a need totally reframes things.
      In the past, the best word I’ve had is “boundary”, but “strategy” not only feels more accurate but gives more room for the other person to propose alternative options!
      So, obviously everything the rest of what y’all said makes more sense for the letter writer, but just a note of gratitude to Renard for my own life ✨

      ❄️🌨☀️☔️🌪🌥☃️☄️

    • I have a complicated relationship with texting myself, mostly aversion, and it has caused me a bunch of angst in both friendships and relationships. I found your explanation of communication dynamics *super* helpful! Thanks so much for sharing your insight!

    • Actually this is really great and interesting to hear because I do think it’s really weird how we’ve all just accepted the invasion of texting into our lives as a necessary component of life without much critical thought about what impact it has psychologically or if it makes relationships any better than they were in the pre texting era

  7. i agree with everything about bids!

    and! i have not fucking clue how to build intimacy with texts?!? the weather boundary seems kinda arbitrary and like it could use some exploration, but i understand wanting to limit texting generally. there are a lot of alternatives, phone calls sound good, voice memos are great, letters and postcards are romantic & special!!

  8. Great article. I think each of us deserves to meet his love. In general, there are many good adult-themed online resources with which you can have a great time and make all your sexual fantasies come true. For example, I recently found a great site https://kinkazoid.com/small-dildos/ that provides a detailed overview of the different types of sex toys that I usually use with my sexual partner for more intense sensations. And I can say that this has a positive effect on our relations.

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